A manager from a large employer contacted me this week to discuss employee morale. He said that employees are frustrated with management in general; they feel unappreciated, constantly asked to do more with less staff and no overtime. He added his own observation that staff receives very little in the way of acknowledgement from most managers; there must be something we can do to improve the work climate.
The easy answer is more money. For people not making a livable wage, this important issue will not go away. Yes, people need to make a livable wage before we can talk about the art or the science of employee motivation. Having been a small business owner a number of times, I understand that for many small shops, if you pay a livable wage to staff, there may be little financial incentive left for the owner to keep the business. The majority of the small main-street shops in towns I visit across America, provide a decent living for the owner, but not for staff. It is a conundrum for sure. At all levels of pay however, certain benefits are critical and you already have free access.
For employees who earn a decent wage, more money is seldom what they are really asking for. In the case mentioned above, the manger shared the employee complaint about feeling unappreciated and being asked to do more. There was no complaint about pay. In fact, even if there was a complaint about pay, as there often is, the pay complaint is really about something deeper. If you hate working with people who yell at you, being paid more will not help the situation. In fact, it may make you feel trapped as unable to leave the toxic environment if you become attached to the pay, which is worse than leaving the environment for your wellbeing.
What would it cost for a manager to share a sincere, thorough acknowledgement on a regular basis? Right, nothing! We are not talking about a quick “good job” statement as you rush past the employee. I’ve done that, it doesn’t work. We are talking about a “Hey Nancy, thank you for handling that customer so well. You really did a nice job. Your extra effort probably saved us that account. Thank you.” Acknowledgements were not part of any budget cut! Think about it. The fact is, most of us carry around at least a little bit of buried resentment from all the times we have not received the acknowledgment that we should have received. How does it make you feel about giving more? You volunteered to help with your kid’s sports teams and the other parents didn’t appreciate anything you did. You helped at the church fundraiser, did all the leg work behind the scenes at dozens of events, spent twenty years raising unappreciative children, or care for aging parents who, out of their own embarrassment, can’t bring themselves to be kind to you. None of these situations is that different from doing a little extra at work and not being appreciated. At work, the bar is set by the lowest producer who does not get fired. Everything any employee does at work that is above the low bar should be treated like volunteer work – they are technically doing more than they need to do to avoid being fired. Now if you think about it, I bet this is the vast majority of all the work most people do. If you had volunteers doing that much work, how much would you be thanking them? First, raise the bar. Second, treat the remaining “above bar” work as volunteer work.
My suggestion is that the issues surrounding pay and benefits are complex. So before you tackle the hard issues, implement one policy today that is free, easy and works the same for employees at minimum wage as it does for the highest paid executive. Acknowledge someone today. Put it on your calendar as a reminder every morning until it is a habit. Use their name, tell them what you appreciate about them, how they help, and that they are valuable.
My dear reader, I appreciate you following my column. When I get feedback via website traffic following an article, or comments on my Facebook page, it tells me I have been of service to you and that my writing time is doing some good. That keeps me going, so thank you!