When you walk into your office, or when you reach out to remote workers via email or phone, what do you sense? Do you feel that people just through the motions, or are they enthusiastic and happy about working for you? While there are a lot of different things that impact the tone of the work environment in your company, there are two simple words that are guaranteed to boost employee morale.
Here in the U.S. we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s the one day of the year when we make a point of expressing thanks for many aspects of life such as family, friends, business and more. Because of the focus on gratitude, it’s one of my favorite holidays. But for thankfulness to have a significant impact on our lives and business, focusing on it once a year doesn’t cut it. Gratitude needs to be a consistent part of our business, particularly if we want to boost employee morale on a regular, long-term basis.
Thank you are two of the most powerful words in the English language. When you say "thank you" through both words and actions, you boost employee morale because it indicates that you care about the people who work for you.
In fact, the words "thank you" matter so much, that expressing thanks can make a big difference between whether or not team members stay with you long term, or move on to greener pastures.
As stated in this article published on Inc.com,
In fact, as reported by the Harvard Business Review in 2012 the American Psychological Association surveyed 1,700 employees and found out that more than half were intending to search for new jobs because they felt underappreciated.
This article published on Forbes provides the following benefits of gratitude in the workplace:
- Thanking employees increases productivity.
- Gratitude improves well-being.
- Expressing Gratitude builds mental strength.
- Gratitude is contagious.
- Gratitude increases job satisfaction.
The first point is an important one to consider. We've all had bosses that have tried to motivate us by threats or in other negative ways. But not only will you boost employee moral if you express thanks, your employees will actually get more done.
One important point this article makes is that gratitude needs to be authentic. If you show gratitude because it's what you're supposed to do, but it's not from the heart, people will know. Insincere expressions of gratitude feel manipulative and may even result in people feeling demoralized, rather than encouraged.
Treat People as Individuals
Another great point that this article made is that not everyone wants public thanks. Particularly for those that are on the shy side, a private email or handwritten note left on their desk may be the best way to make them feel appreciated.
It takes effort to know the best way to express thanks to each of your team members. But that effort is one of the reasons why it's so appreciated.
If you've ever worked for someone that expected you to deliver results and yet tied your hands in a way that kept you from doing necessary work, you'll know how important it is to empower your team.
The article, Say Thanks To Your Customer Service Employees By Helping Them Do Their Jobs Right lists empowerment as one of the ways to thank your employees. This quote sums up the core idea:
You want your customer service employees to exhibit a “yes” attitude, that “the answer is yes, Mr./Ms. Customer–now what is the question you’d like to ask me?” But this attitude is only possible if your customer service employees are actually able to say “yes” and mean it—and to do so without inconveniencing the customer by having to wait on the decision of a manager.
While this focuses on customer service, it applies to many different roles. When you empower your team members, what you're saying to them is, "I believe in you. I have confidence that you'll make the right decision."
Freedom to Make Decisions
One of my work experiences where I felt the most valued and appreciated was one where I had a lot of freedom to make decisions, without fear of getting in trouble. In that particular role, I worked in the U.S. and my boss lived in Asia. Due to the huge time difference and his intense travel schedule, he was sometimes inaccessible by phone or email. I often had to do what I felt was right without consulting him.
The reason this worked so well was that early on he told me, "Rebecca, regardless of whether or not I agree with the decision you make, I will always back you." Now it's true that sometimes he privately told me that he would have handled something differently, I never got in trouble for taking action. I knew that even if I made the wrong decision, I wouldn't be embarrassed, and my job wouldn't be in jeopardy. Because of that, I took on far more responsibility than my coworkers in a similar role. This approach helps to boost employee morale because it reduces the fear and intimidation factor that often accompanies going out on a limb.
The article provided some other great tips as well. Here are a few of my favorites.
Training and Opportunities for Advancement
Another great way to boost employee morale is to provide training and opportunities for advancement. When you provide training as well as opportunities to advance, it's clear that you have your team members' best interest at heart. It's a way of saying, "thank you for working hard. Thank you for bringing value to our team. I see your hard work and appreciate it." It also communicates that you are loyal to them and don't plan on giving them the boot anytime soon. When employees sense your loyalty to them, they are more likely to be loyal to you in return, rather than always being on the lookout for a new opportunity.
Depending on the role an employee plays, there may be times you can't be as flexible as you'd like. For instance, people in your finance department may not be able to take time off at the end of the year. If you run a grocery store, giving people time off the week before a major holiday such as Thanksgiving or Christmas may not be an option. But you may be able to accommodate a parent by working their schedule around their children's needs.
As an example, one of my previous direct reports daughter got cancer. I was able to work with her so that she was able to work from home or the hospital, and to take off as much time as needed during what was an extremely difficult time. Was it hard for our department to pick up the slack? Honestly, it was. We all paid for it in many ways. But it also bound us together as we put ourselves in our teammate's shoes. We knew we'd all want the same type of support if we were in that situation ourselves. It was a great way to thank a faithful team member and boost employee morale, not just for the one team member, but for the entire department.
The article How 'Giving Thanks' Can Be a Powerful Way to Boost Employee Loyalty provides the following three tips for giving more impactful thanks:
- Make it specific.
- Make it meaningful, not necessarily monetary.
- Be consistent, set aside "thankful time" every week.
Pay Attention to Signs
While it's important to set aside time to be thankful every week, avoid being mechanical. Express gratitude always, but even more when you sense it's really needed. One of my more embarrassing moments in my last job was when my boss walked into my office and found me in tears. I can't even remember what opened the floodgates. I sure wasn't looking for empathy as I would have hoped no one would have seen my meltdown.
But the next day when I walked into my office there was a handwritten card on my desk that told me in very detailed and specific words how much I was valued. My tears made it obvious that I was at a breaking point, but there are also some less obvious signs such that someone may feel unappreciated or overwhelmed. For example, you may notice that a previously enthusiastic employee is putting in less time, or seems annoyed. Tune into those signs and go even more out of your way to express appreciation when it's needed most.
The bottom line is that we all want to be valued. Don't let the busyness of being an entrepreneur crowd out time for gratitude. Express sincere thanks often, and you'll see a huge improvement in employee morale.