Thank You: The Two Little Words That Will Transform Your Business22 MAR
The cold, hard facts about work
I'm going to start this blog on a bit of a bummer.
Assuming you work for 8 hours a day and sleep another 8 hours (well, you know, you should), you will spend half of your waking day in the workplace. According to RealSociology, that means - factoring in annual leave, etc. - the average person will spend over 90,000 hours of their lives at work.
That’s 35% of your waking hours over a 50 year working-life.
The culture of a workplace has a real impact on employees. Of course it does - look how much time they’re spending there! Unhappy employees are less productive, take more sick days and have a higher rate of turnover.
The personal implications are serious too. There were a reported 440,000 cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK in 2014/15. Stress is the leading cause of sick leave, accounting for 43% of working days lost to ill health that year. Clearly, an unhappy workplace is bad for the health of your business and your employees.
British workers aren’t happy. 47% of British workers are looking to change career, according to a 2016 report by Investors in People. Almost a third say that they are miserable in their jobs. So, what could businesses do to improve things for their employees?
Simple actions can make all the difference. When asked what one thing their employer could do to increase their happiness in their current role, one in 8 (13%) just wanted to be told ‘thank you’ more, nearly 1 in 10 (9%) would prefer more flexible working hours and 1 in 16 (6%) simply wanted more clarity on what their career progression options are.
Note that none of these reasons directly relate to pay or the day-to-day aspects of job role. As the report states:
Getting a payrise would not solve the problem of being badly managed or feeling undervalued. Pay is important to employees but it’s clear that it’s not the only answer.
The dangers of ingratitude: a (deliberately vague) personal anecdote
I’ll remain cagey on the specifics here as I’m not looking for a fight. So, many moons ago, I came across a great example on how not to treat your staff. An employer was feeling a bit frustrated with their staff. In an attempt to get the staff to show a bit more gratitude towards the management, said employer printed out a document detailing total payroll costs. “Look what we are spending on you!” was the message.
This print out, along with a less-than-inspiring memo, was telling the employees how grateful they should be for being paid (not a lot) to do their jobs. As you might guess, this didn’t go down so well with employees. The same employer complained of the staff’s ‘lack of loyalty’ and high rate of turnover.
Gratitude comes hand in hand with respect. Respect, as we all know, is a two-way street. You cannot demand respect, just as you cannot demand gratitude. Both must be earned.
Investors in People reported that 39% of workers planning to leave their current job complained of feeling undervalued. Think what a difference a bit of gratitude could make! And employers should be grateful for good employees. Remember these people are potentially giving you a third of their working lives. And without them, you’d be screwed.
It’s no coincidence that the best companies to work for are among the most successful. Companies listed on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list perform nearly two times better in stock returns, with 65% lower rates of staff turnover.
But creating a great company culture isn’t a matter of investing in a pool table or offering ‘dress down Fridays’. You can’t bring about real positive change half-heartedly. Change must come from a genuine and visible demonstration of - there’s that word again - gratitude.
How do we demonstrate gratitude? Through recognition.
According to a 2012 US study by Forbes:
Companies that scored in the top 20% for building a “recognition-rich culture” actually had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates.
There are several ways to communicate recognition:
The simplest way to let someone know you’re grateful is to say ‘thank you’. It may sound obvious, but these two little words can go unsaid all too often.
Encouraging managers to thank their staff, and peers to thank one another, will help nurture a ‘thank you’ culture. In companies with a strong 'thank you' culture, hard work and achievement don't go unnoticed.
Simple things like a nice email or a shout out in a company meeting can make a big difference.
How do you show you really respect someone? You prove you have faith in them by trusting them with something important. Employers can demonstrate trust by offering - for example - flexible workings hours, the option to work from home, or more autonomy to manage projects and workload.
Many companies set up formal recognition programs where staff can earn perks, such as discounted gym memberships. Others offer monetary rewards in the form of bonuses.
Rewards can take many forms - from a free holiday to a take-away pizza for the team working late. Whether they’re formal or casual, timely and appropriate rewards can go a long way to making employees feel valued.
Events & Experiences
Most of the projects our Events Team work on form part of our clients’ ‘Employee Engagement’ strategy. These events come in all shapes and sizes, from meeting rooms of 30, to stadiums of 4,000. We work on formal business meetings, outdoor festival-style events and glamorous awards shows, to name a few. What do all these events have in common? They’re all about bringing people together and making each one feel like a valued and important member of a community.
Now, I could very easily write a whole essay on engagement events alone, but I’m not sure how many of you would really want to read that. So, while I'll try to keep it brief (promise), indulge me while I into a little more detail about this form of recognition. Here are a few ways in which events can help to build a recognition-rich workplace.
Company Awards are a straight-to-the-point way to thank and recognise your employees. Awards can be a great way to motivate and encourage staff. They set clear benchmarks for excellence and publicly demonstrate recognition which is specific, measurable and - therefore - meaningful. While people sometimes like to dismiss company awards as a bit naff, I work at a lot of these gigs and I’ll let you in on a secret - people bloody love them. Let them act cool, let them deny it. I swear, put a trophy in anyone’s hand and they turn into Sally Field at the Oscars.
Events work to break the down barriers of corporate hierarchy. In a large business, the annual conference may the only time an on-the-ground employee lays eyes on the Exec Team. Stark divisions between workers and managers can exist in even small businesses. Events humanise ‘faceless management’ and encourage staff, from across the business, to view themselves as part of one team.
Use events to get closer to your people: share a drink, shake some hands, and express your gratitude. A ‘thank you’ from the management feels a lot more authentic when it comes straight from the horse’s mouth.
Have some fun!
Your people work hard, and unless their jobs are something ridiculous (like...I don’t know...trampoline testing), likelihood is it isn’t going to be a laugh a minute. With 90,000 working hours on the clock, can’t we afford dedicate a little time to fun?
Annual Christmas parties, activity days, regular socials or even casual after-work drinks: when you make a little effort to show your employees a good time every now and again you achieve two things. First, you help to create a sense of community within the workplace - very important, we well know. Second, you communicate a strong message that the company cares about its employees. Value is placed not just on performance, but on the happiness and harmony of the team.
But why should I be grateful?
Are you still unconvinced? Maybe you’re sitting in your Big Boss’ Chair, reading this and thinking “I didn’t slavishly work my way to the top of the corporate ladder to end up babysitting my touchy-feely staff!"
Now, I am apparently a ‘Millennial’ (I know, I’m sick of it too, but for lack of a better word...). Of late, I have seen much maligning of my generation of employees as ‘soft’ or ‘entitled’. The studies quoted above do indicate that there has been a generational, cultural shift towards placing greater value on health and well-being. However, this hardly sounds like too big an ask to me.
We Millennials are expected to work for longer than any generation - thanks to our long life expectancy (hurray!) and poor pension prospects (boo!). So yeah, it makes sense that if we’re going to be working well into our 70s, we want to make sure we’re not totally miserable, please.
Now, this may be inconvenient for some old-school employers (you in the Big Boss chair). But in the modern world, a wise business knows you ignore your employees’ happiness at your peril. A listless, frustrated, unhappy workforce aren’t only less productive - they do real harm your business.
And, there are great rewards to be reaped by forward-thinking employers. Demonstrating gratitude is one of the simplest, most cost-effective strategies of creating a desirable workplace.
Business leaders humble enough to express gratitude though both words (in meetings, emails, 1-2-1, at the annual conference...) and deeds (increased responsibility, progression, rewards, events...) will attract and retain the best talent.
While we may not have our own awards show (you need more than 6 staff to pull that off, really) we do like to think that we have created a positive ‘thank you culture’ here at brightfive. Whether it’s face-to-face feedback, a staff day out, an extra day off, or a bonus - we try to ensure that when our people work hard, perform well and take on challenges, their efforts are rewarded in kind.
This is because we believe that recognised employees - employees who feel respected, responsible and rewarded - are an asset. Gratitude is, after all, a two-way street. Employees who feel appreciated will show their gratitude in turn by working harder, caring more and by staying with you.