This quote by William Arthur Ward is charming and inspirational, but may be as ill-fitting as a “Best Wishes on Your Wedding” bag among all the Santas and Snowmen under the tree, especially in the work setting.
“[T]here can be serious consequences to misusing, or overusing, displays of appreciation in the office,” says Vidyard CEO and co-founder Michael Litt in Gratitude schmatitude: How too much praise devalues appreciation.
I have had my share of curmudgeonliness here on the blog this year (looking at you, gender reveals). Since I try to position myself as someone who leans toward optimism, I don’t want to close the year out on a “but think about the downside” type of note.
Litt’s article, which appeared in SmartBrief on Dec. 19, did leave me thinking, though. Does gratitude lose its effect if said too often, too insincerely, too mechanically?
With those questions in mind, six ways we can try to be more intentional and creative with our expressions of gratitude in the coming year:
Some people find recognition extremely rewarding; others not so much.
Case in point: My son won an award at school in the spring of his senior year (April 2017). The awards were intended to be for the “non-traditional” sort of achievement and give students who might not tend to get more conventional awards a moment of gratitude. It was a lovely ceremony, and he was given a certificate, a medal and several other mementos.
His items are still sitting in the back seat of my car … a year and a half later! (And yes, I realize this says way too much about how often I clean out the back of my car!).
Maybe the recognition meant more to him than he let on, but given his choice of what to do with the mementos, I’m inclined to think it was not, in the scheme of things, a huge deal to him.
Consider whether the person you want to thank finds public recognition fulfilling and/or motivating.
For me, one of the best ways someone can express their appreciation for my role on a team is by trusting me with the details of “the big picture.” I simply function more effectively when I understand how my contribution fits into the overall plan.
There are some facts and details pertinent to an organization’s life that need to remain confidential for logical reasons. However, there are many more elements of an organization’s plan that are better off being exposed to broad daylight.
Transparency also has the potential to help leaders do a better job and help organizations fulfill their missions. “When employees are in the loop about an organization’s challenges, they’ll likely better understand and support the tough decisions that leaders must make,” says Rebecca Hawk in 5 Benefits of More Transparency in Your Workplace.
Is there a way you can translate your gratitude for an employee’s trustworthiness and commitment to the organizational mission into a more transparent approach?
Sing Someone’s Praises — Without Them Knowing
This may seem counterintuitive. In the context of the opening quote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” it may seem warped.
Look at it, though, as wrapping the present and then giving it … not to the recipient but to someone who can use it to the recipient’s benefit in some way.
I was involved in the freelance social media and communications world for the last four years, and trust me when I say that although its universe is broad, it’s still exceptionally common for people to know each other, or of each others’ reputations, even if they haven’t ever spoken.
If someone comes up in conversation, it never hurts to say, “[Facebook Frances] did a great job on my campaign; she made a difference for our brand. Don’t say it if it’s untrue, obviously, or if it is awkward, but if you’re talking about Facebook Frances and have an opportunity to say a kind word, go ahead and say it. That’s the kind of paying it forward that may make a difference when Facebook Frances is looking for work in the future.
Take the time to say the word of praise if it’s natural and true, even if it is not said directly to the subject of the compliment. It’s a way of giving karma a little boost.
Flexibility is huge. Flexibility as a reward is something many people appreciate. I would argue it also goes hand in hand with trust.
“[I]t’s becoming more common for employees to perform ‘life’ tasks during work hours and take work home during ‘off’ hours,” says the Staffing Industry Analysts group in Workplace Trends for 2019 Include Flexibility, Digital Sophistication, explaining why flexibility is gaining prominence among desired work conditions.
Although I agree that the trend SIA is discussing is happening, and employers will gain employee goodwill by accommodating it, my thoughts on flexibility are a bit different.
Now that I am a remote worker, and have a great deal of flexibility, this problem has been largely resolved for me. However, when I was in a traditional office, and still juggling the multiple balls involved when a family has active kids and both parents work, I would have had much less stress (and much higher morale) if there had been options to modify my schedule and work around everyone’s needs.
Seek ways to help people who are performing well configure their life in a way that helps them make the best use of their energy levels and helps them take care of their other obligations. They’ll be less stressed (and more productive).
A Receptive Ear
With an increasing amount of our workforce finding themselves as freelance workers, opportunities for disconnects between people engaged in mutual work grow. (Statista reports that 35% of the US workforce in 2016 were freelancers, an increase of two million over 2014.)
Throughout my four years of freelancing, I was a member of quite a few Slack groups.
Not to overdramatize, but there are times when you are a freelancer that your Slack channels are the main way you interact with other humans during the day.
I have had some pretty deep (yet brief) conversations on Slack. As my responsibilities grew in one of the organizations, and my status changed from freelancer to employee, one resolution I carried forward was a commitment to — within the bounds of professionalism and efficiency — make sure to always express my gratitude and to recognize the way personal stresses present challenges unique to freelancers.
You may not be able to see a freelancer on the other side of a Slack (or whatever system you use) exchange, but they still need to know their efforts at doing a good job matter and their stresses are acknowledged.
One of Michael Litt’s points in writing about the dangers of watering down gratitude by expressing it too often and/or too insincerely was, “Money doesn’t always buy thanks.”
Litt didn’t mean that money should never be used to express gratitude. However, he says research does not substantiate the effectiveness of “short-term or one-off financial bumps” for improving performance.
Litt’s organization gives “off-cadence options” (shares in the business) in truly “exceptional” situations to demonstrate “a direct connection between an employee’s contribution and the continued success of the company.”
Don’t rule money out to demonstrate gratitude, but be deliberate in your approach and choose something that directly correlates with the difference an employee made.
I like financial rewards as much as the next person, but I agree with Litt that there are other ways to help employees feel appreciated.
For me, the most important ways to show appreciation are trusting me with glimpses into the “big picture,” honesty about where things stand (organizationally and with my performance) and appealing to my sense of teamwork.
How could an employer best show gratitude to you?
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.