My boss drives me nuts. As soon as I pull off a great win with a client, he says a quick “good job” and then promptly points out the 3 other things I need to get on top of. I knock myself out for months and forget what my partner looks like, but the satisfaction of a job well done doesn’t even last five minutes. Is feeling appreciated at work really too much to ask?
It’s not too much to ask, but it isn’t easy to come by. And with good reason, as it’s only in recent years that feeling the love has become an expectation in the workplace. Just ask your Dad if feeling valued at work was part of his criteria for defining a “good job.” He’ll likely laugh and tell you that feeding his kids, paying the mortgage and getting to the Jersey shore once a year was what gave him the warm fuzzies.
When you look at the history of the workplace, we really have come a long way, baby. After the Depression, people were simply grateful to have a job…any job. Then the shards of the glass ceiling rained down on the women who busted through it, deeming their roles as wives, mothers and caregivers “fine,” provided they didn’t intrude on company time.
Throughout the 80s, fear and intimidation were popular management tools. In the 90s, this began to give way, as sensitivity seminars and motivational gurus emerged to create a kinder, gentler corporate climate. Then, we hit the new millennium with work-life balance programs, team-building retreats and deep contemplation about whether or not we felt our work was “fulfilling.”
A variety of business experts, workforce studies and psychology reports in recent years have taught us that people who feel appreciated do better work in less time. CEOs that run around screaming create scarily high employee turnover, because most business leaders now understand that valued employees are loyal, productive employees.
Being respected and acknowledged for the work you do is a realistic and reasonable expectation to have in today’s workplace, but not every employee or manager has received the memo on this. According to the Randstad 2008 World of Work survey:
» 67% of employees think management should recognize the value they bring to the organization, but only 29% could describe their employers this way.
» 61% of employees think they should work in a respectful workplace, but only 28% could assert that they do.
So, how do we shift this so that employees and employers can get on the same appreciative page?
Step One: Define your expectation. What would have to occur for you to say with certainty “I am valued and respected for the work I do?” You have to be able to define what you’re looking for and visualize it in order to see it happen in your life.
Then figure out how management defines it. Some managers base respect on performance and will only express their appreciation when you hook a big fish. Others base it solely on a paycheck, like the CEO who once told me that his employees knew they were valued as long as he allowed them in the building and continued to pay them.
Step Two: Create the demand. Take a look back at those statistics and wonder with me why 33% – 39% of employees polled *don’t* look for respect or acknowledgement in the workplace.
If people think that being appreciated at work is still something of a lucky break, employers won’t feel compelled to make this an organizational imperative.
Step Three: Lead by example. Sometimes managers don’t know how to communicate appreciation, so model it. In staff meetings, acknowledge at least one person on your team for some contribution they made that week. Say, “I’d really like to thank Alex for getting us back online so quickly when the server crashed.”
And what better way to teach your boss how good it feels to be acknowledged than to acknowledge him yourself? Try “You were dead-on with how to approach that vendor, Mike. Thanks for the tip.”
Step Four: Remember that negative behavior is rooted in fear. I have a colleague who thinks if she tells you what a great job you did, it will go to your head, you’ll slack off, and production will bite the dust. Then she’ll have to explain to her bosses how she let her team fall apart. She truly believes that if she doesn’t whisper sweet something’s in your ear that you’ll continue to work harder to impress her and thus be promoted through the ranks. What she doesn’t appreciate is that people work 10 times harder for managers who say thank you.
Your boss may believe that if he keeps you on your toes, you won’t lose your edge. But by creating an environment where employees are always seeking and rarely finding the acknowledgement of their superiors, it has the opposite effect and actually wears the employee out.
Step Five: Recognize that different people communicate respect and value in different ways. In Gary Chapman’s bestselling book “The Five Love Languages,” he teaches us that people express love in one of five specific love languages. If your love language, for example, is one of “physical touch,” you’ll likely appreciate a huge hug on a tough day. But if your partner’s love language is one of “acts of service,” he might empty the dishwasher so you’ll have one less thing to do. Because you express love differently than your partner receives it, different love languages often leave both people who love each other feeling quite unloved.
And so it is in work relationships. Maybe your boss doesn’t throw a party every time you land a big client, but maybe she doesn’t give you a hard time when you need to leave the office early either. Think
about how you give and receive respect, and see if you can identify ways in which your boss may be trying.
At our core, we all want to feel valued and respected. It is the very human part of us that seeks validation as we quantify our worth. But all of this begins with understanding your own value and creating (or seeking out) a work environment which honors that.
You’ve probably seen the same challenges in your personal relationships. My husband, for example, really respects the work I do in the world. And he will compliment 7 out of 8 aspects of any given task I take on. Upon reading this column, for example, he’ll say “I love the way you phrased that” and “what a great point in “Step Four” you made.” After all this respect is showered upon me, however, the eighth thing he’ll say is “Now how are you going to tackle the next one?”
The first time he did this, I rolled my eyes. The second time he did this, I slammed a door. The third time he did this, I asked him why he did this. “You’re a smart man,” I observed. “Do you not understand the benefits of simply praising me and then shutting up?” And while he acknowledged that the Yes, Dear approach was a safe one, he told me that he never wanted to see me lose my edge. “I want you to enjoy your success,” he said, “but I love seeing you strategize on how to achieve the next one.”
He does this reflexively because he fears that complacency will lead to dulling what is sharp in me. While I appreciate the thought, I still told him to knock it off. And he did. Well, for the first seven times anyway.