I was dazed by a recent Forbes article that said leaders can improve employee engagement by frequently saying “thank you” to their staff. It’s no wonder we have such an issue with employee engagement, where 72% of American workers alone
are disengaged. We need to pay closer attention to what resonates with our personnel.
The article reminded me of a Vice President who I used to work alongside. We both led parts of an organization that provided Information Technology services to a broader company and to its customers. He routinely said thank you to his employees at every opportunity. We attended lots of meetings together, where we would speak with employees about the status and accomplishments of projects. Without fail, he would never leave a meeting without saying “thank you” to each employee. I got a sinking feeling every time he said it.
“Thank you” is something you say to someone who does something for you. As a leader, it’s fine to say it to an employee who erases a virus from your laptop. But when an employee does something for a customer or another group of employees, they didn’t do it for you, and it’s egotistical for you to act as though they did. Also, habitually thanking everyone can’t be done with heartfelt emotion, so you come across as disingenuous.
You may contend that since you’re the boss, your employees are in essence doing what they do for you. However, if you read almost any research on how modern-day employees think, you understand they have little reverence for the boss. What they get excited about is helping to achieve a broader purpose, not pleasing the boss. When I appreciate an employee, instead of thanking them as though they did it for me, I point out how they’ve helped customers or the broader organization, and I express my appreciation on behalf of them. This increases the employee’s engagement and helps keep their focus on achieving the big purpose rather than on just trying to make me happy.
Employees also get excited about receiving praise and compliments when they’ve done something really well. Mastering their skills and feeling highly competent is important to them. However, compliments and praise only count if they’re genuine and if they’re articulated by someone who is clearly worthy of judging their competence. They mean the most coming from someone who understands the difficulty of their accomplishments, which is often a peer or customer. Again, a routine “thank you” by the boss just doesn’t cut it.
All business leaders want employees to feel engaged, to have a strong desire for the business to be successful. Because engagement is an emotion, it’s important to understand what is emotionally meaningful to employees. They get passionate
when they are profoundly involved in achieving something that personally matters to them. Your acknowledgement of their work can help ignite the passion, but only when it goes beyond the routine and connects them to what really matters.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.Share