2 Employee Morale and Engagement Killer Apps

Picture 2Wouldn’t it be great to have access to an off-the-shelf, easy-to-execute morale-boosting program, one that includes two “employee engagement killer apps”? Given how challenging—and important—it is these days to keep employee morale high, wouldn’t it be great to have this morale boosting program, and not pay a fortune for it?

Well you can.

It’s called: Show more appreciation and give more recognition.

I had an experience recently that reminded me of how often even really smart managers neglect to use these simple practices, and by doing so, miss out on the morale-boosting, engagement-inspiring results they bring.

Not showing appreciation or giving recognition also carries a significant price tag. In fact, lack of appreciation was cited by the Department of Labor as the No. 1 reason employees leave their job.

How Often Have You Gotten a “Thank You” or “Way to Go!”

Think of your own experience as an employee over the years. Think of how rarely if ever you had a boss express appreciation when you went the extra mile, worked extra hours, or did an exceptional job on a project.

Think of what a “motivation killer” that was. Even though you still worked hard and did a great job because of your work ethic and professional pride, your heart was just a little less into your work.

You probably cared just a little bit less.

Teaching Employees to Care Less

After a while, the cumulative effort of being taken for granted reaches the tipping point, and the loyal, hard-working employee becomes what Gallup calls ROAD Warriors — Retired On Active Duty — or they simply look for more appreciative pastures.

Here’s What Not to Do

Recently I finished up a project helping an organization improve its onboarding process for salespeople. One of the managers in this company — I’ll call him Justin — played an essential role in helping me understand the day-to-day realities and requirements of their new salespeople. Not only was he helpful, but he was also very generous with his time, telling me never to hesitate to call if I needed more input or feedback. Throughout our working together, I made sure Justin knew how much I appreciated both the quality of his insights and his willingness to give of his time, despite his onerous workload.

When I finished the project, I told Justin I would write a letter to the Senior VP of his department, letting him know how helpful Justin had been, and what specific qualities Justin demonstrated that were so useful.

Before sending the letter out, I emailed Justin a copy—in part as another way of letting him know how much I appreciated his help—and to let him know what specifically he did that was so helpful.

I then sent the letter on to the senior VP.

You Gotta Be Kidding!

A couple weeks later, I e-mailed Justin to see what the Senior VP said to him about the letter.


Not a word.

Wake up Dude!

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As I think about this senior VP, who is a brilliant individual, I can’t help but think, “You had this opportunity spoonfed to you to praise one of your hardest working, most dedicated, and most innovative managers and you blew it. Come on! Wake up!”

A Missed Opportunity

Here was a great opportunity for the VP to not only express appreciation and recognize a high-value employee, but also a great opportunity to communicate that he values the specific behaviors demonstrated by the manager.

This is one of the under-recognized benefits of showing appreciation and recognition: when you acknowledge—with specificity—the good work that you notice, you reinforce it.

Mindfulness Time

OK, so what to do with this simple little cautionary tale? Practice paying attention for opportunities to express appreciation and recognition.

To prime your brain for this, you might want to think about the various people you work with right now. Think of those people who stand out in terms of how well they do their job, how easy they are to work with, how “internal customer friendly” they are, or who act in other ways that make your life easier and better. Then, one by one, consider:

  1. What they do that you appreciate.
  2. How they help make your job easier or help you maximize your productivity.
  3. What they do exceptionally well.
  4. What about their personality, their way of being, you appreciate.

How to Put This Awareness to Use

-Be on the lookout for opportunities to express appreciation. It can be as simple as:

“Connie, I was just reading an article about appreciation and the article was suggesting that you think of people who are especially helpful and to let them know that … and I thought of you immediately. I SO appreciate how easy you are to work with. If something needs to get done, you do it. You never complain or make it sound like an imposition. I really appreciate that.”

“Krista, I was just reading an article about appreciation and the article was suggesting that you think of people who do something you really appreciate and to let them know that. So I thought of you. I starting thinking about how much I appreciate the fact that you really listen. There aren’t a lot of people who truly listen and want to understand what the other person is saying, and I so appreciate that you do. Thank you for that. It means a lot to me.”

-If an employee in your organization, a client’s or a vendor’s organization does something really helpful or simply has a history of being a pleasure to work with, let their boss know.

Catch yourself taking people for granted by not acknowledging what they do, and rectify it. Be on the lookout for opportunities to say “thank you” and “I appreciate that.”

Here’s the Best Part

Both research on gratitude and our own life experience shows us that when we give someone a compliment, when we express gratitude, when we do something kind, we feel better. So, becoming more generous with gratitude and recognition doesn’t just make other people feel better. It’s a great way to keep your own morale high.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 60 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.


9 Comments on “2 Employee Morale and Engagement Killer Apps

  1. Great article! It is so true….few managers (or people in the world) thank others. Drives me crazy!

    As a parent I am always reminding my kids to thank others and always notice when other kids don’t thank me…..maybe it’s because we in the HR world are in such a thankless role, I am always looking for some validation somewhere…..

    Thank you for this!

  2. This is a great article and is very timely. I actually experienced the same thing recently. I work closely with the local colleges to promote our internship program and do outreach with the students. One of the school’s representatives always does a great job for me and goes out of her way to promote our organization so I sent a nice letter to the Dean of Business and the President of the University letting them know what an asset to the University I thought she was. When I saw her a few weeks later at a function I asked if her supervisor had said anything about the letter. She told me they didn’t put much stock in it because she may have put me up to it. I felt so badly for her. I can’t imagine their response did much to motivate her, or make her feel as if she had been doing a great job.

    As more companies have instituted hiring freezes and stopped pay raises and bonuses now, more than ever it is critical to give employees recognition for a job well done. Employers that take the attitude “These employees should feel lucky they have jobs!” Will find themselves on a sinking ship as employees jump from it as the economy improves. Not only will this result in a loss of talent, but it will also put them behind the ball as the economy starts to pick up trying to replace employees and hire for new positions.

  3. The bad news is that it will probably be years before thoughtless bosses need to worry about having substantial numbers of under-appreciated employees jump ship for greener pastures, to mix metaphors.

    The good news is that with http://www.glassdoor.com, thoughtless bosses can’t hide in the shadows anymore.


  4. Oh I dont know about all this…..firstly only half of the people care about external praise and of that half, most would likely prefer to get strokes from co-workers and customers, excepting the financial kind, which (lets face it) truly denote extraordinary accomplishment in our culture. I guess culture is the key word: some firms thrive on recognition programs and the like but others avoid rote rituals and tokens and only reward the very rare performance.

  5. Excellent article on every point. I couldn’t have said it better myself. You have clearly and succinctly reiterated our own approach to strategic employee recognition — and the incredible power than can have in creating a culture of appreciation in which employees want to engage. I particularly liked your point about training employees not to care. It’s so easy to train them TO care with frequent, timely and SPECIFIC appreciation. It’s just that — specific, authentic and actionable praise — that can do the most for the employee’s morale and behavior as well as for the success of the company. http://globoforce.blogspot.com/2009/11/specific-actionable-and-authentic.html

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