Fighting Apathy with Appreciation

Engaged employees are good for the bottom line.

By Alexandra Walsh

Employees are the lifeblood of any company. When they’re disgruntled or apathetic, they clog the arteries of your operations. But engaged employees make things flow smoothly in every part of your workplace.

This is why staff appreciation and recognition is a key engagement tool.

Customers feel the energy in every interaction with passionate employees and keep coming back. Engaged employees also bring productivity to day-to-day operations. A manager will rethink processes for more innovation. At any level, employees are more likely to stay with you longer and show up with their mind ready to work.

Across the board—engaged employees breathe life into your bottom line. They translate into higher revenue, higher retention, and lower absenteeism.

Yet many work environments inspire more apathy than they do engagement. A high-stress environment, lack of regular feedback, and generally feeling purposeless can lead to employee burnout. Most engagement programs miss the mark—because they aren’t targeting the things employees care most about.

So how do you combat this? You build more meaning and connection into your workplace. Give your employees a chance to make an impact. And use your staff appreciation programs to reinforce that meaning, connection, and impact.

Simple, Immediate, and Powerful

Employee recognition is limited in most organizations. Employees complain regularly about a lack of recognition. And life at work is busy. These factors combine to create workplaces failing to provide recognition.

Managers who prioritize employee recognition understand the power of recognition.

They know recognizing employees is not just a nice thing to do for people. Employee recognition is a communication tool reinforcing and rewarding the most important outcomes people create for your business.

When you recognize people effectively, you reinforce with your chosen means of recognition the actions and behaviors you most want to see people repeat. An effective employee recognition system is simple, immediate, and powerfully reinforcing.

Engaged employees breathe life into your bottom line. They translate into higher revenue, higher retention, and lower absenteeism.

You can reinforce powerfully the recognition you provide in these ways.

  • Write out the recognition: what the employee did, why it was important, and how the actions served your company. Give a copy of the letter to the employee and to a department head or owner. Place a copy in the employee’s file.
  • Write a personal note to the employee. Perhaps have your supervisor sign it, too. Photocopy the note and place the recognition in the employee’s file.
  • Accompany the verbal recognition with a gift. Merchandise with the company logo or even certificates of appreciation reinforce the employee recognition.
  • Everyone likes cash or the equivalent in gift cards, gift certificates, and checks. If you use a consumable form of employee recognition, accompany the cash with a note or letter. When the money has been spent, you want the employee to remember the recognition.
  • Present the recognition publicly, at an employee meeting for example. Even if the employee is uncomfortable with publicity, it is important for all employees to know good work receives recognition.
  • Be transparent. Company leadership should let employees know what’s really going on with the company. Granted, there are some things that can’t be discussed, but for the most part, keeping people informed goes a long way toward making them feel involved. It generates a “we’re in this together” environment, as well as team ownership of the operation. 
  • Let employees make decisions that matter and can impact the company. Verbal appreciation is important and bonuses or other perks are appreciated—but ultimately, showing someone you trust their opinion and expertise is far more valuable.
  • Tell your employee about positive comments you hear about them from others.
  • Ask an employee to represent you at a meeting outside the company. 
  • Offer employees a platform. Show you value what they have to offer by asking if they will share their story, tips, methods, successes with others. It validates they do have something of value to offer and boosts their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Giving Recognition

Employee recognition should happen every time a supervisor communicates with his or her workers. Consider incorporating these behaviors into your communications.

  • A simple “hello” at the start of the day and “goodbye” at the end of the day is an obvious but sometimes overlooked form of recognition. Spending just a few minutes chatting can open lines of communication and set a positive tone for the day.
  • Say “thank you.” Show your appreciation for hard work and contributions. And, don’t forget to say “please” as well. Social niceties belong at work. A more gracious, polite, civilized workplace is appreciated by everybody.
  • Ask your coworkers about what interests them most. Questions and acknowledgments about their family, hobbies, weekend, or a special event they attended are always welcome. Your genuine interest—as opposed to being nosey—causes people to feel valued and cared about.

Here are some additional ways you can fight workplace apathy.

  • Organize celebrations. At the end of a project, after the quarterly review, individual milestones, team milestones, or just because—are all good reasons.
  • Food is important. You can bring doughnuts or cookies to meetings. Reward achievement with some chocolates or bring in ice cream on a hot Monday morning or Friday afternoon. It doesn’t have to be all the time; keep it spontaneous.
  • Acknowledge birthdays, work anniversaries, new babies, and other significant life events. Gone are the days when work and the rest of life remain separate.
  • Give out hour-off certificates for exceptional achievements. Let employees accumulate them for up to one day off.
  • Have a team meeting outside the office at a local coffee shop or restaurant.
  • Create a recognition bulletin board to post “thanks” to employees from customers.
  • Give an employee a day off for a job well done.
  • Take an employee out to lunch.
  • Attach a thank-you note to your employee’s paycheck.

An apathetic workplace often features apathetic employees—and apathetic employers! It’s up to employers to take the initiative to breathe life into their business and their employees by formally and informally expressing appreciation—and recognizing—employees for jobs well done!

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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