Say thanks: Employees deserve recognition for a job well done


Here in Florida, it is a warm sunny day. My friends from above the Mason-Dixon Line talk about raking leaves and stashing up fireplace wood.

One thing we all converse about at this time of year is the upcoming holidays. I have always especially liked Thanksgiving. No gifts involved. Gathering around a table laden with great food, a mix of traditional and new recipes, family members and good friends together, expressing gratitude for life, love and certainly the laughter we share around that table.

Of course, gratitude belongs at the table every day. And at work, giving thanks for a job well done might be the most important part of a leader’s communication with employees. More than a paycheck or a promotion, employees want recognition from the boss when they’ve done well. Everyone wants – and needs – acknowledgement from the leader in order to keep motivated and productive.

Seems like common sense, this acknowledging good work. And for some personality types it does come naturally and just rolls off the tongue at all the right times. What gets complicated is that we have different levels of skill in acknowledging the contributions of associates. We have different levels of skill in even observing those contributions. Some leaders assume that good work is the expectation anyway, so who needs a special thank you. “If he’s looking for recognition, he had better go way above and beyond his job responsibilities.”

To complicate it further, our employees respond in their own ways to recognition. So a thank you expressed out loud at a team meeting may touch the heart of one employee perfectly, and another person may rather have a root canal than be singled out that way. One on your team may be delighted to accept a gift certificate for dinner in a posh restaurant, and another may think, “How impersonal. Can’t she even come into my office for five minutes and thank me?” There is no universal method for giving recognition to associates.

Early on, perhaps during the interview process, but certainly during the first week the employee is on board, it is time to ask the question. “When I want to recognize you for a contribution you’ve made around here, what is the best way for me to do that?” This probing is part of the conversation you have while you’re learning how to serve as an effective leader for the new person. “How can I best manage your work?” All of those questions are building blocks for creating a solid relationship with mutual respect and appreciation – the kind of relationship that drives you both to give your best to the goals of the organization.

Once, I was coaching an executive for a large corporation. In this company, bosses reviewed their direct reports and their direct reports reviewed them. Cool idea, I think. At any rate, this one I was coaching was getting flack from the 200 people he supervised. He was being called insensitive, aloof, uncaring. Many were saying “I just fill a slot for him. He doesn’t even remember my first name.” Things like that. The client himself (smart as a whip and very reserved in nature) sat in an office looking out through glass windows at the huge space where these 200 associates worked at their desks. He was frustrated with the bad reviews, but couldn’t imagine a closer relationship with so many people. He rarely even walked among their cubicles and it was true, he didn’t remember most of their names. He did have one assistant who loved social interaction and was very skilled at it. So together, they developed a plan where the assistant would keep him apprised of events in the lives of the 200 reports and he, the boss, would practice walking out among them and acknowledging their contributions. The assistant also told him of the three touchdowns made by the son of one of his reports, or that one had a grandmother turning 100 years old. Stuff like that. The client got more comfortable each week with all the associates and began to enjoy connecting with them with a sincere thank you, a personal touch. You could absolutely sense the difference that made in the environment.

So, giving thanks. Can’t do it enough. It is never too late. I am grateful as can be to you who read my column, including those of you who send me comments. You are appreciated, very much.

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