How hard is it to recognize employees for their hard work?

One of the stories my husband tells about his medical training is about a resident who at the end of each day always said, “thank you for your work today.” Years later, he still remembers that interaction of recognition and appreciation for his efforts fondly, even though he was just a medical student. I’ve always tried to acknowledge staff, but after the 2016 article, I made more of an effort to intentionally see my team’s good work. I am never disappointed.

One of the reasons why is am acutely aware that people are completing the work that I asked them to do. I set goals based on our mission, and every day, they wake up and use their skills and talents in the service of achieving those goals. Since they’re doing it each day, why wouldn’t I recognize their progress every day? It’s wonderful and I am grateful for it. In particular, I am always amazed not just by what they do, but how they do it – by the hard work and ingenuity that each of them applies to complete a task.

One of the beneficial and unexpected outcomes of this effort seems to be that staff now to give me a heads’ up about all the troubleshooting or great work another person on the team did (for them or someone else). One person in particular just has this fantastic habit of pinging me a skype message telling me how someone on the team helped her, while another staff person is really great about letting me know when folks on the team had to do something extraordinary to meet a goal I set for them. It’s helpful for two reasons: 1) because we’re on two campuses,  I can’t witness their good work, and 2) my team is pretty modest in an ‘I got it done’ sort of way, and don’t want to feel like they need to brag or complain about what it took to do it just to get my attention. But the high esteem that my team has for each other means that everybody tries to recognize each other’s good work.

As a supervisor, their appreciation for each other is so beneficial because it means I am continually getting information about how people are doing.  Then I can check in with a person, recognize that they had a crazy day, and ask if a work a home day or something else would help them regain equilibrium. (who among us doesn’t need to proactively take some time and space to rebalance ourselves and catch up on emails or get laundry done if they spent several extra hours the week before completing a task within a deadline?) Yes, they know they can ask for it, but the odd thing about ‘exempt employee status‘ is the knowledge that you are obligated to work “until the work is done”, and the work is never done. This constant intentional rebalancing (recognizing progress on an effort, intentionally taking time and space after a big push,  etc.) is a centerpiece of staving off burnout.

I think part of my role is to look out for my team and say, “I see what you did there,” and “thank you,” and “how can I help,” and  “do you need to/what do you need to rebalance?”  I think it’s in alignment with Jim Collins’ Good to Great (“a manager’s focus isn’t on motivating staff, but taking steps to shore them up from being demotivated”). What was expected was that people would notice that I noticed. What was wonderfully unexpected, was that people would make sure that I noticed the right things, and fostered an environment where people are noticing each other’s efforts and looking out for each other.

By the way, here’s Gallup’s 2016 research that employees find the most important recognition comes from their manager.