Building a Culture of Employee Appreciation

Apr 05, 2011 — Allan Pulga

At my first-ever retail job, as a clothing salesperson for a summer job, I was most motivated by money: commissions. The store wasn’t very busy, so when customers came in, I was interested in speaking with them and providing good service – both to get more sales but also to make the time pass faster.

I used to think I wasn’t motivated by anything else. But I realize now that I was wrong. When I did something well, nobody commended me or gave me a pat on the back. The store manager was rarely working when I was in the store - it was always the assistant manager. But neither was in the habit of showing employees their appreciation. I believe that a little encouragement, on top of the commissions I was earning, would have motivated me so much more.

Because the store had no culture of employee appreciation, I underestimated the value of personal recognition. I was only focused on the money.

Money AND Encouragement are Better than Money Alone

A 2009 study by the International Association of Administrative Professionals and OfficeTeam (a staffing company in Menlo Park, Calif.), found that there is often a disconnect between the type of appreciation employees want and what their managers think they want, wrote Nadine Heintz of Inc. Magazine.

“Managers responding to the survey ranked promotions and cash bonuses as the two most effective ways of recognizing employee accomplishments, but workers said they preferred an in-person thank you or having a job well done reported to senior management,” wrote Heintz.

In the case of my summer sales job, my managers likely made the same assumption. Either they didn’t think recognition would motivate me, or (out of shyness, laziness or some other reason) they weren’t in the habit of recognizing the good work of their salespeople.

Creating a Culture of Recognition Takes Effort

“In many ways, it’s easier to hand out a bonus than to create a culture in which saying thank you is a regular occurrence,” Heintz wrote. She quotes Debra Condren, a business psychologist and founder of Manhattan Business Coaching in New York City, in saying, “Especially during tough economic periods, it’s important to give people face time and basic human appreciation on a regular basis.”

Where to focus your effort:

  • Avoid routines. Take a more random and personal approach to recognizing a job well done.
  • Encourage managers to report employee accomplishment up the chain. A salesperson might be pleasantly surprised to get a thank you note from the owner of the company.
  • Show your appreciation in front of the entire staff and especially at meetings.
  • Rick Maurer, a consultant in Arlington, VA, told Heintz that thanking employees regularly can help them accept criticism better, as long as the feedback is specific. “If you make it clear you are trying to make employees better at what they do, positive and negative feedback become a regular part of the conversation.”
  • But it is important to discriminate. “If you say thank you all the time, even when people do mediocre work, you won’t build an environment where people handle criticism better,” says Maurer.
  • Balance supervision with encouragement, not one or the other. Ensure that managers recognize when employees do something wrong but also when they do something well.
  • Encourage sales people to pat each other on the back. It shouldn’t only be supervisors doling out the compliments.

Kind words never work against you. Once you show your employees some genuine appreciation, they’ll realize they’re working for more than just a paycheck. They’ll feel like a part of the team and learn that achieving a goal together is more fun than achieving it by yourself.

Topics: Workplace Culture, Mobile Industry

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