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Put Gratitude To Work

By Crystalee Beck, Founder/President, Professional Communication Consulting, Co-Founder, The Mama Ladder International.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.

Business leaders have a lot to be grateful for in Silicon Slopes. With Entrepreneur recently ranking Salt Lake City as the nation’s hottest tech startup city, and Forbes’ echoing declaration of the Beehive State’s capital as “next tech mecca,” tech talent is buzzing here.

Once they’ve attracted talent, however, how do Silicon Slopes leaders retain their people? Consider two simple (and free) words: “thank you.”

In my study on managerial gratitude published in an international journal, I learned unexpected truths about how employees prefer to be thanked in the workplace. This insight matters because getting gratitude right — or wrong — directly impacts an organization’s bottom line.

Gratitude in the workplace is the most accurate predictor of job satisfaction. When employees receive gratitude, their motivation and sense of value within the organization increase, in turn increasing employees’ willingness cooperate with other employees. Feeling appreciated even cuts down worker sick days.

To help your employees feel more appreciated in 2018, here are my research outcomes, including how employees prefer to be thanked, seven appreciation “dark sides” managers need to avoid, and tips from three Utah business leaders who get gratitude right.

What employees wish their leaders knew about gratitude

In my survey of nearly 900 full-time workers and three focus groups with Utah-based employees, they rated the importance of receiving gratitude for job performance as 4.45 on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest. Being thanked matters to employees — a lot!

I also had employees rank six gratitude mediums according to their preference, which yielded surprising results. These included: verbal (one-on-one); verbal (in a group setting); handwritten note; tangible items like gift cards or swag; electronic note such as social media or email; or monetary bonuses.

You know what beat out money?

Employees ranked verbal one-on-one gratitude from their manager as their most preferred form of appreciation. So yes, that sincere “thank you” means a lot to employees.

As far as frequency, when survey respondents were asked, “Do you wish your current manager expressed gratitude more often?” half of survey respondents (50.6%) answered they were currently satisfied. This indicates for every two managers out there, one is perceived to be great thanking their employees. (And who better to determine the success of a gift than the receiver?) There is room for improvement: 43.4% of subordinates would like gratitude more often. (Six percent said they didn’t care.)

Seven appreciation “dark sides” for managers to avoid

It seems counterintuitive that something as nice as appreciation can be done wrong, but my research shed light on seven “dark sides” of managerial appreciation. These types of gratitude communications do more harm than good:

Over-communication. Some managers express gratitude to such excess it causes irritation with their team. One focus group participant summed up over-communication of gratitude: “If you’re thanked all the time, then it’s a failure on the manager’s part; either they are lying or clueless.”

Withholding. Conversely, some focus group participants felt their managers withheld gratitude inappropriately, demotivating employees to the point they left the organization.

**Undeserved.****Several employees cited examples of times when they or others have received unwarranted thanks. One pointed out, “You have to be careful that praise doesn’t tear teams apart. When you call someone out, you need to have a real reason.”

Unfair selection. This topic provoked strong feelings among survey participants. The concept of unfair selection applied to tangible gifts as well as monetary bonuses. One woman said, “When people get concessions that you don’t get it makes you feel your job isn’t important.’”

Unequal opportunity. A few participants were vocal about managers structuring incentives unfairly. One employee said he was on a team where the manager either consciously or subconsciously formed two groups: those who got praise, and those who didn’t.

Lack of relationship. In order to truly thank someone sincerely, there must be a genuine relationship. For example, rewarding an employee with a Starbucks gift card seems nice — unless you don’t know them well enough to know they don’t drink coffee.

Insincerity. In each focus group, experiences with insincere appreciation clearly upset some participants. One employee felt gratitude was merely a façade. Another employee said, “If (gratitude) is expressed … I feel it’s a bullet point on an agenda.”

Getting gratitude right: Tips from three Utah business leaders

Here are insights from three Utah business leaders with deep experience in building cultures of appreciation.

“The best way to show appreciation to others is to acknowledge and express how you feel about their work. Find ways to encourage effort, reward results, and celebrate milestones,” said Gary Beckstrand, V.P. of the O.C. Tanner Institute, where his team helps organizations attract, engage, and retain top talent by becoming great places to work.

“Frequent words of encouragement signal that people are on track, and improves their confidence,” Beckstrand continues. “Taking time to periodically celebrate a person’s contribution over time communicates that you not only value a person’s work, but that you value them.”

Appreciating individual contributions also makes it less likely employees will seek greener pastures at other companies.

“The data from my research shows the number one reason women leave is directly related to feeling unappreciated,” said Sara Jones, CEO of Burbley and Co-founder of Women Tech Council in a personal interview.

Jones has spent almost 20 years leading data-driven team cultures. She helps leaders find and stay connected to top talent, and has recently done research on women in the workplace.

“Give workers — especially women — the opportunity to grow,” says Jones. “Be mindful of where they want to end up and help them get there. That’s appreciation in action.”

Serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and philanthropist Alan E. Hall has led thousands of employees throughout his career in Utah-based companies like MarketStar, Mercato Partners, and Island Park Investments.

Hall recommends taking care of your employees’ needs first — so they can take care of your customers.

“Genuine praise is a powerful motivator,” says Hall. “When we are recognized for a job well done and in view of our peers, our job satisfaction and engagement levels increase. Both the individual and organization benefit.”

The return on “thank you” is huge

Managers, beware of the seven “dark sides” and do your best to be sincere. Ask your people about their appreciation preferences, keeping in mind every employee is different. Where some employees crave the prestige of public awards, others may prefer quieter forms of appreciation. (Tip: You can find out your team’s preferences with a quick conversational question or having them fill out a simple survey.)

When leaders take time to fill their talents’ thank tanks, they send a ripple of benefits through their organization, and even the Silicon Slopes community at large. If you don’t believe two little words can have such a huge return — go ahead and try them. #thankyou