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Employee Morale

Simple Techniques for Boosting Morale That Many Leaders Miss. Are You One of Them?

'I am not going to compliment you for something we pay you to do,' this contributor once heard from his manager. Yikes.
Simple Techniques for Boosting Morale That Many Leaders Miss. Are You One of Them?
Image credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek | Getty Images
Guest Writer
President, New Light Learning and Development Inc.
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Years ago, I reported to a manager who for reasons that will become clear must remain anonymous. So, I'll just call him "George."

I was meeting with George in his office, and when I asked him how I was doing in my job,  he replied, “You are doing just fine.” I asked how I would know that. And he said, “We have our performance review once a year.” I told him that I needed positive feedback now and then, in between annual reviews. And George then said something I will never forget:

“I am not going to compliment you for something we pay you to do.”  

Related: 7 Ways to Boost Employee Morale

So, here is my question: Why are managers so stingy with praise and positive feedback? Compliments are free, and it's not like a “thank you” budget exists (that I know of). 

Sadly, people at work, as one blogger observed, do not feel appreciated. A professional trainer and speaker myself, I actually hear about this issue every week. The reason is that managers and leaders are not providing positive feedback. And, the irony is that if they did provide such feedback, that action in and of itself would increase morale, drive productivity and improve retention.

Research from Gallop confirms that. “Only one in three workers in the U.S. strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days," the report said. "Further, employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they'll quit in the next year.” 

Leaders, meanwhile, have a litany of excuses for not recognizing people. When I ask leaders directly why they don’t give positive feedback, I typically hear:

  •  “ I am too busy.”
  • “ If I give them positive feedback, they will expect a raise.”
  • “ I don’t want [them] to rest on their laurels.” 
  • “ I don’t need it -- so I assume they don’t need it.”
  • “ It doesn’t matter-- it's fluff.”
  • “ I am not judged on employee feedback -- I am judged on my results.”

Hopefully, you're not in that group. If instead you are wondering what you as a leader can do to increase morale, productivity and engagement, here are some ideas:

Related: Ignoring Employee Morale Will Cost You. Here's the Solution.

Provide positive feedback.

When a team member works hard or does something over and above the call of duty (puts in extra effort), make sure to give him or her positive feedback. Yes I know that is simple but if it is so simple, why are many leaders not doing it?

Feedback can come in many forms -- a verbal compliment, a nice email, a positive voicemail, a text or even a handwritten thank you note. As Dale Carnegie once said: “People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards."

When I was a vice president in corporate America, I used to write thank you cards to people who went above and beyond. What I found interesting was that they proudly displayed the notes in their offices. It was a 3-by-6-inch piece of cardstock, but to them it was much more; it represented recognition of their hard work.

Ask how people are doing.

As a leader, you can help people feel appreciated in another way: by walking around the office and “checking in” with employees to see how they are doing and how they are feeling. Years ago, leadership expert Tom Peters called this “MBWA”-- managing by wandering around.

Have conversations with team members regularly. Ask them what they think. Henry David Thoreau once said: “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” Paying attention to people and spending time with them is another form of appreciation. It shows that you care about them and what they are thinking.

Far too many people tell me the only time they talk to their manager is when they have done something wrong and never when they have done something right.    

Give out small rewards.

One of our clients gives $5 gift cards to managers to distribute to employees to reward them for their extra effort. The gift cards are an unexpected surprise, and the managers have the discretion of when to give them out. The response has been fantastic, and I think it's not so much the small gift card but the acknowledgment of their effort: a gift card pat on the back.

Small rewards like this can be significant in terms of their impact on morale. As Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, once said: "There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise." 

Provide positive public feedback.

When a team member has earned praise, think about ways to thank that person publicly. You can acknowledge his or her efforts at a team or company meeting. You can send an email out to everyone describing what this employee accomplished and give a public "thank you." The point is to be public about it. 

As speaker Leo Buscaglia once said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Give opportunity as a reward.

Talk to team members and find out for each of them what their personal and professional goals are for the short term, midterm and long term. When opportunities come up that are aligned with those goals, give them an opportunity.

Make reward a positive feedback mechanism. Say that a team member is interested in digital marketing. You meet with him (or her) and say, “I appreciate how hard you have been working. I found out about a digital marketing conference, and we would like to send you as a reward; would you like to go?”

That way, you have a double win, because you're combining a reward and employee development. As Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox, said: “Employees are a company’s greatest asset -- they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.” 

Related: 7 Ways to Lift up the Employees' Morale Ahead of Holiday Season

If you start recognizing your team members' accomplishments and give positive feedback, you can dramatically improve morale, productivity and retention. And, let's face it, giving praise is one of the least expensive yet most effective leadership actions you can take. Even if there's no "thank you" budget.

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