I celebrated a birthday near the beginning of this month. As usual, I got several birthday cards…some funny…some goofy….some with a more serious message.
I usually don’t put much stock in a card delivered on the day it is “supposed to show up.” Birthday cards, Valentine’s Day Card, Boss’s day card, and so on. Why? Well…because somehow it has become expected…the social norm…to send a card on specific days. It is the obligatory recognition of someone….a bit cynical? Maybe.
But try this on.
How many cards start off with something like….”I know I don’t tell you often enough how much you mean to me, but on this special day….”
The event (birthday or whatever) reminds us to send a card to express a feeling (real or fake) that we rarely express any other time of the year. But guess what…forget to send a card on the right day and you will hurt someone’s feelings. People expect you to express a kind word and send a card on that “special” day.
Unfortunately, these bad habits carry over to the workplace. Leaders scramble to figure out how to engage an increasingly frustrated, under appreciated workforce. Consultants are hired, books are read, and yes, many blogs devote multiple posts to increasing workers “engagement.” We increase the “employee appreciation budget” to shower employees with company branded trinkets that will hardly be used. We devise complicated recognition programs that recognize a few select “performers” and then fizzle out in six weeks. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and retirements with cake, ice cream and platitudes. Then we panic that someone got missed…why? Because we quickly know that if you miss someone or miss an event, someone’s feelings are going to get hurt. Employees come to expect cake, ice cream, and a branded trinket….perhaps they even feel entitled to it.
Why don’t we get the results we are looking for?
Despite our best intentions, we miss the point. You will never get real engagement with a few select programs and an occasional piece of cake or a trinket. Those programs do too little, too seldom for too few.
I’m not suggesting we stop sending cards or serving cake and ice cream. What I am suggesting is we pay attention to our employees all through the year. When they do something you like…go tell them. Call them. When you get an email from an employee early in the morning or late in the evening, acknowledge that you know they are going above and beyond. I’m not going to list a bunch of programs or ideas. I really don’t want you to do what I do. I want you to be YOU. In your own way, regularly and genuinely appreciate your employees. Don’t wait for a special occasion.
Get to know your employees. Do you know what they are really proud of that they have accomplished for your company? Do you know what they really enjoy doing at work or at home? Do you know what they have accomplished at a previous employer? Its okay to get a little personal. What do they like to do outside of work? Do they have a significant other? Do they have kids? Over time you really should be aware of some of these items. These are the things that make your employees uniquely them.
Those special occasion celebrations, cards and trinkets will have a lot more meaning behind them when given in context of a ongoing, regular, heartfelt atmosphere of appreciation, recognition and personalization. A feeling that their boss knows them, cares about them, and appreciates their unique contribution to the organization and the world they live in will go further to increase employee engagement than any highly creative program you can put together.