Show Employees How Much You Care

By Dale Collie

Workplace stress costs American businesses as much as 45 percent of after-tax profits, according to Foster Higgins Inc., a New Jersey insurance company. We see these expenses in things like absenteeism, health care costs, and accidents. These costs add up fast, and it’s smart to control workplace stress while we’re all looking for ways to improve productivity and boost the bottom line.

One of the causes of workplace stress most often mentioned by employees is the lack of appreciation. It seems strange that so many people feel unappreciated. You pay them well. They have all of those hotshot fringe benefits: health insurance, retirement plans, holiday pay, and paid vacation. You might even provide free coffee and soft drinks in the break room. So why do so many employees feel unappreciated? Poor communications, that’s why.

Even though we spend thousands of dollars a year on employees, many don’t see it as a form of appreciation. Even if you list all of their benefits and show how these perks actually double their compensation, some employees will ask that you cut the fringes and put it in their paychecks!

Compensation doesn’t make people feel appreciated, but they know you care when you listen to them, ask about their families, understand what they are going through at home, at school, or at work. They feel valued when leaders compliment them on a job well done, even if their accomplishment is simply always being on time.

The comments you hear at a retirement party are a good indication of what employees value. If the departing person is a dud, the remarks are going to reflect their incompetence in a joking but revealing way. However, if people admire the honored guest, you’ll find out that it doesn’t take much to make people feel appreciated.

Remarks like these tell you what is important:

“I remember when she visited my daughter in the hospital. That’s when I knew how important I was to the company.”

“I don’t know how he did it, but I saw him on the shop floor everyday. He always came by and greeted me and asked about my family.”

“You know, the thing I appreciate most are the company picnics she started. She always served the potato salad herself, and she cleaned up when it was over. She’s just one of us.”

There might be some mention of a leader’s commendable management ability at the going away celebration, but the business achievements are typically left in the boardroom. What motivates and inspires people is the personal communication. Here are five easy ways to let people know how much they are appreciated:

A personal touch on the high-tech communications

Leaders can use a personal touch in the high-tech tools needed to communicate with large numbers of people or with remote locations. Merging first names into documents with short, personal notes can personalize sterile announcements. Everyone appreciates your attention to their welfare and your interest in their families.

Personalized follow up

Personal follow up by telephone means a lot to those involved in conference calls, bridge lines, or emails. You can make notes about individual input during the electronic meeting and follow up by phone to show employees that you were listening, and that you care about their ideas or comments. Your calls to explore subjects in detail can motivate people for future input and develop some profitable ideas.

Handwritten notes

Simple, personalized remarks written on the face of routine memos can make all the difference to employees who otherwise do their jobs and clock out at quitting time. Your “atta boy” remarks might be the only compliments some people ever receive. Many of these meaningful remarks will become souvenirs and kept forever.

Include first names with your compliment and you’ll be surprised how this short communication boosts morale and productivity. Write comments on items going home with people and impact the morale of the entire family. If staff size permits, write a personal note right on their paychecks, such as “Thanks, Bob. We couldn’t have shipped that big order without your help this week.”

Sincere notes to your people pay big dividends. Some employees will even write you a thank you note for your comments.

Public recognition

Recognize superior achievement with awards ceremonies. Highlight daily involvement with framed certificates of appreciation, letters of commendation, public announcement of achievements, extra vacation days, and documents recognizing the families’ volunteer efforts. Use these formal and informal ceremonies for emphasis and whenever possible, include family members so they can see how much their special person is appreciated.

Frequent contact

Showing concern for ongoing work is just as important as formal recognition. Make employees feel special and get a lot of information by asking things like: “How’s it going with the X project?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you get this done on schedule?”

Put your “walk-around” time on the calendar so you don’t feel pressured by other responsibilities. If you don’t have enough hours in the day to exchange remarks with employees, maybe you need to look at the stressors in your own life and delegate certain tasks to permit personal involvement.

In return, for your efforts, you may enjoy higher returns on your investment in people and improve your bottom line. These easy tips take only a few moments to make employees feel recognized for their efforts and show that you care.

Dale Collie is an author, speaker, former US Army Ranger, CEO, and professor at West Point. His McGraw-Hill book, “Winning Under Fire: Turn Stress into Success the US Army Way,” takes strategies from the battlefield into the boardroom and beyond.

Keywords to Show Appreciation

Clip this list of key words for complimenting people on their work. Save it for easy reference and add phrases of your own to give your notes energy and variety.

  • Well done!
  • Keep up the good work.
  • This is excellent.
  • Nice timing.
  • Good advice.
  • Insightful.
  • Good perception.
  • One of the best ideas I’ve heard this year.
  • Great teamwork.
  • Brilliant!
  • You hit a home run.
  • Go for it.
  • Let’s talk about this great idea.
  • Thanks.
  • Thanks again.

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to the answer.” -Henry David Thoreau

[From the December 2005/January 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]