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Staying Smarter, Sharper and Happier with Recognition

Are you happy at work? The search for greater happiness at work is really taking off, which is a good thing. Studies have shown that those who are happy and healthy at work are up to 12% more productive and are more likely to stay at their current job.

Seeing that we spend so much of our time, up to one third of our lives at this place we call work, it makes sense to ensure that some of this time provides us with meaning and joy. OK maybe joy is too strong a positive – feeling content, confident and happy will do.

Why? Because if you’ve worked hard to get the right qualifications and the right job, isn’t that worth some kind of reward?

When I first heard the term “burn and churn” I was appalled. Appalled by the concept and the understanding this is a well-recognised feature in some Australian workplaces. It’s such a waste of human potential, it’s demoralising and dehumanising.

The solution to the malaise being experienced in too many workplaces (high levels of absenteeism, presenteeism, low morale and high staff turnover) is readily available and costs nothing other than a little bit of time and effort.

It starts with asking the right question.

Because if we ask the wrong question we get thrown off-course. Asking what makes you happy at work will result in answers like this;

“A good coffee machine.”
“Baked goods.”
“Having flexibility in my work hours.”

Good coffee, sure we enjoy it, but is this truly the only reason you show up day after day? 

Think back to the last time you felt really happy about something that happened at work?

What were you doing, who were you with and what was it about this time that made you happy?

With this question, your answers will be more reflective and relate to your feelings at that point at time and may include statements such as;

“I felt really proud that my contribution was seen to be useful.”
“It felt so good being part of a team that produced a great outcome for the company.”
“I loved being part of an organisation that was creating a significant social impact.”

It’s not a lack of engagement that’s the problem, it’s a lack of recognition and appreciation. Feeling valued, included, and appreciated boosts morale, confidence and trust. This makes us happier and nurtures a positive feedback loop towards greater engagement and contribution.

According to an annual study by an Australian research firm if you are one of the 2/3 of Australian employers witnessing an annual increase in staff turnover (and the average Australian company is seeing 15% of their staff leaving)chances are those walking out the door are doing so because they feel invisible, underappreciated, taken for granted or feel there is no future prospect for them if they stay.

Why aren’t we good with recognition?

Sometimes we notice others doing great work but say nothing. Everything’s OK right, so nothing needs to be said.

Wrong. Failing to call out the good is a smack on the face for the individual who is trying their hardest. When we feel ignored or unseen we experience social pain and who wants to hang around in a place that’s causing hurt?

I’ve said it many times. As humans we are hard-wired to connect. We flourish in the company of those we like and consider like us. Social connection binds us and boosts trust, which is especially important for any business seeking to thrive in the 21stcentury.

Worse still is when we fail to notice the good. We get so caught up in our own bubble of busy we don’t see what’s happening or take time to look around until we hear the click of the door closing and realise everyone else has gone.

It’s about being sincere in our appreciation. Being thanked for doing a great job makes us feel good (that nice little surge of dopamine and oxytocin is lovely) but if we’re told everyday “Great Job!” “You’re the best!” “Brilliant work” while the narcissists will be lapping it up, for others it can start to ring hollow.

It’s about acknowledging the humans we are with. Sadly, there are still business leaders who believe that their employees should be grateful for having a job and being paid for it, not realising the reason we do our work is about far more than a financial transaction.

In her YouTube talk Lynette Silva makes some great points about why a paycheck is not a thank you and debunks 5 myths about gratitude in the workplace.

Making recognition work

You had me at “Hello.”

Human connection starts with how we greet each other. If you’ve got an office where people are slinking in to their workspace, closing the door and only emerging to go to the toilet, you have a connection problem. Lead the charge with a genuine hello with eye contact, a warm smile and using the person’s name. You do know their name don’t you?

Open your eyes and ears.

We all know too much screen time is bad for our eyes, it’s also really bad for human connection. Even if your work requires you to be screen bound, create the space needed for human interaction across your day. Schedule in the time if need be. Speak directly with a colleague rather than sending an email or text. Pop your head round the door to say “hi, is everything going OK?” periodically. Sure, you don’t want to be the work nuisance or micromanager – but a genuine enquiry can reveal much about the person you’re working alongside and elevate your understanding of each other.

Be generous with your attention.

When a colleague needs your help, do you take the time to listen? The gift of your full and undivided attention for 5 minutes can help build strong interpersonal relationships and volunteering to help, when someone is stuck or you can see they are struggling.

Say it and be specific.

Thank you. Wow. It feels fantastic for the recipient. Your words can make their day with a simple spoken thank you or personalised hand-written note. This does require paper and a pen, hopefully you still have those somewhere in your desk.

Tell them exactly what you appreciate. Describe the event, the outcome and what the positive outcome was for you or your team or the organisation as a whole.

Share it.

While it’s lovely to receive a thank you from a grateful client, it’s the thankyous from our peers that mean so much. A gratitude wall to post up your appreciation of a colleague boosts team morale faster than you can say “mine’s a long macchiato topped up with extra hot milk on the side.”

Celebrate the wins and aspirations of others.

Beyond the wall of gratitude, celebrate all wins and fails. Not everything works out according to the plan. Feeling safe to speak up and call out what didn’t work still allows for the recognition of effort and facilitates the learning space for what could be done differently next time to get the desired outcome. Knowing that others have your back because they “get” who you are as a person, builds compassion and empathy.

Knowing what your colleagues, team members and peers hope to achieve for their future provides the opportunity to look out for and share what prospects might be on the horizon. When we lift each other up, everyone benefits.

This is about US working together.
It’s about staying human and thriving by design.

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