Businesses (and people in general) love getting things for free. Cut costs? Awesome. Save money? Super. So what if I were to tell you that there is a FREE way to make employees happier, more productive, and more likely to stay at your company?
Spoiler alert – it’s really not rocket science. Also, as a disclaimer, it may not work for everyone.
However, I discovered recently that there is something essential for my workplace happiness. It’s not money or benefits (though those things don’t hurt). It’s positive reinforcement. It’s a quick “atta’ girl!”. It’s someone recognizing that I’m doing a good job, at least on this particular thing, and saying that they recognize that good work out loud.
This may seem like too simple of an answer for some people. And sure, some employers may even think they are already doing this. For example, a previous employer had a committee where the staff’s job was to provide positive recognition for something that employees were doing. It didn’t give me that reinforcement that I needed however.
Here’s what was wrong with it: it was only coworkers doing it, not hearing from my actual boss that they saw what I was doing and appreciated it. It was done on a schedule, with everyone eventually receiving some sort of recognition, so it felt disingenuous if I could be doing barely anything and still get the same reward. It was in batches, and of course the same people who always get public praise got recognized in the first few batches and the rest of us got looped in eventually.
I commend the effort, but it certainly wasn’t motivating me to do more. It didn’t make me feel special or seen.
I didn’t feel that way until I moved to my new career and I got the first rush in quite a while that I was seeking. It was a genuine compliment from my boss. It was hearing, “Wow, you are kicking butt at picking up on x” and “You are a quick learner, you’ll be fine”. It was hearing that I was trusted and valued. It cost my boss nothing to say those things, but it meant the world for my confidence and self-esteem in working in a new industry.
I think most of us need help sometimes with knowing if we can trust ourselves and our own perceptions of ourselves. I know I can be, in the wise words of Ru Paul, my own “inner saboteur”, serving as my own worst critic. However, a free and relatively easy way to block that saboteur was just to get told I was doing a good job.
That doesn’t mean you can’t also provide constructive feedback and critique to your employees. We are still human and not everything is positive all of the time. However, those positive comments are going to resonate with a lot of your employees and remain in the front of their minds a lot longer if they are there to help combat any negative.
Learning how to be that person that can empower others takes work, and I will be the first to admit that I need to be better myself at giving out to my coworkers what I know means so much to me. It also matters what kind of compliment you are giving – telling me I have a lovely smile or a great sense of humor is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t help me feel better about the work that I’m doing, which is what you and your employees are here for.
So, think about what helps motivate you to do better. If you are like me and all you seek is positive reinforcement, do your best to put out into the world what you are looking for in return. Putting some free effort in to lift someone else up can make all the difference in the world to them.