Why gratitude pays more than salary increases

Originally Posted On
The Ladders

As belts tighten and budgets decrease, managers can feel challenged to motivate performance on their teams. It feels like we can’t always “take care of” our people the way we’d like to, and that leaves
leaders and organizations feeling vulnerable in a competitive job market.

The good news is, making your employees feel appreciated and recognizing their value to the organization doesn’t always come with a price tag. Multiple studies, in publications as diverse as Psychology Today and Inc. magazine, attest that what top performers really want is an appreciation for a job well done, the opportunity to do more, and the acknowledgment of managers and peers. One study cited that 83% of those employees who were polled valued recognition more than money!

This evidence is fascinating, and these are all areas in which managers can take immediate action. So how do you, as a leader, make sure that your people are getting what they need? Here are a few tips:

1.  Foster an ongoing dialogue with your employees about their performance

As Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, writes in her groundbreaking book, “The relationship is the conversation.” Talking to the people on your team about their achievements and opportunities for growth is arguably the most important part of your job. That means that you need to make sure to have regularly scheduled check-ins with your individual team members. This is not a status meeting, in which they provide you with updates on projects in progress, but rather a meeting devoted to discussing their performance, their goals, and their opportunities for growth. Document these conversations in a shared file, so that you both have a very clear understanding of the trajectory of the dialogue, what’s working, and what needs to change.

2. Maximize opportunities for recognition in ways that feel authentic and meaningful

Recognition isn’t one size fits all. Find something that makes sense for your team and how you all work together. Some managers choose to do emails to the team (and senior leaders) to give high performers a shout- out, and others may find that in-person recognition in a morning stand-up or team meetings is a more meaningful approach. One team that I worked with had a taxidermy raccoon that was awarded at each weekly team regroup to the person who had really delivered that week. The employees had fun sharing the raccoon and adding elements to his attire (yes, he was wearing clothes!) when it was their turn to be celebrated.

3.  Find ways to applaud top performers on other teams, as well

You’d be amazed at the impact of a quick email – if you have a positive experience in working with someone on another team, tell them and tell their manager! These things go a long way toward making people feel valued, and studies have shown that, when you give praise and recognition, you get a little hit of dopamine for yourself. So it’s truly a win-win action. Challenge yourself to find one person to give a shout-out to every single week if you can – in a collaborative environment, chances are this will be easy to do.

4.  Make the workplace fun

We are all acutely aware of how our actions impact the bottom line (and if we aren’t, shouldn’t we be?). But taking work seriously and finding moments for levity aren’t mutually exclusive. I like to throw impromptu happy hours for my team (sometimes it’s wine and cheese, other times we’ll do cupcakes or something else – alcohol need not be involved). It’s a nice way to take a
break for 30 minutes and just be with each other.

5. Keep the work meaningful

For generations newer to the workforce, doing meaningful work is a major part of the equation. Make sure you know what your people are passionate about and find ways to connect them to those types of projects as often as possible. Being mindful here will have a positive impact on their commitment and productivity. In an ideal universe, there would be ample funds to provide recognition to key players for a job well done. But when that’s not possible, get creative about letting people know how much they matter.

Laura Small is the VP / People Director at ad agency RPA.