I'm running a session for a client group and at the end, quite unprompted (and a bit randomly) one of them pipes up with something like this...
I never get thanked for anything. I work my ass off and I never hear a thing. What's the point?!
I've bumped into this chap quite a few times over the last couple of years and I really rate him. He thinks about stuff and I especially like the fact that he just comes out with things free from the usual layer of corporate varnish.
His complaint is not rare even though his directness, sadly, is. I think that the feelings that people are left with as a consequence of not being thanked, of not having their efforts recognised, come out in many subtle and confusing ways. Here are three that I see:
Not showing up
You've seen it yourself. The body turns up but the heart was left at home. And our first response as leaders? Blame the person for lack of commitment, for not trying hard enough. When somebody looks sad and dejected we are drawn towards them - we want to help them. But when their dissatisfaction is expressed as resistance or lack of effort then out come the daggers and we are quick to lose patience. And then looking for fault in them gets easier and easier whilst trying to understand them gets harder. Lack of recognition can make people moody and withdrawn - and no wonder - how many of us are comfortable enough with our boss and colleagues to admit our need for recognition? It's much easier to get grumpy in the hope that someone will bother to reach out.
Every team has the resident cynic. The one who makes a virtue of spotting the problem and then reminding everyone of "the last time that we tried that...".
I think that cynics are cautious people who have 'left the tent'. And they may well have left because they were ignored and then proved right when their unused suggestion was vindicated - multiple times.
It's hard to thank someone who is being negative. But paying attention to unpalatable views can often encourage people to share them in more palatable ways, the next time. And thanking someone for that contrary view can turn a cynic into a valuable lookout person.
People quit their jobs for lots of different reasons and, if you read around the topic, many researchers will cite lack of appreciation towards the top of the problem list. There's also that old aphorism: people don't quit their job, they quit their boss. How much harder would it be to leave your boss if she/he made sure you knew that you were valued.
A proper thank you
Talk of why we should thank people, business reasons for why we should show them that we're grateful for their effort, is missing the point. The actual point is that it feels NICE to be thanked, to be appreciated. It just feels good. And if we can give someone a reason to feel good about coming to work and putting in effort then why not put a lot more effort into giving them that sort of boost? Maybe... it's just a nice thing to do.
So, if you think that you may have a little catching up ahead of you, here are a couple of thoughts to mull over, for how to make your recognition, stick.
- Be specific - what did they actually do that prompted your wish to thank them?
- Say how it made you FEEL when they did that thing (pleased, relieved, chuffed, grateful, happy) rather than pass judgment "that was good"(yuk).
- Don't think too hard about it - just do it.