Staying Aware of Employee Needs in a Recession

March is supposedly Employee Appreciation Month, with emphasis placed on March 7 as Employee Appreciation Day. More of my thoughts on the travesty of limiting employee appreciation to a single day in an upcoming post, but in honor of Employee Appreciation Month, I’ll be blogging throughout March about the employee devastation that’s been happening across companies and industries around the world. I also plan to hit on what you can do about it through consistent communication and recognition to regain competitive advantage and employee engagement, even during this worsening recession.

With the pressures mounting on managers from all directions, it becomes harder to notice the good but so much easier to punish the bad. Conversely, because of increased pressure, employees need to know their efforts are appreciated all the more, especially if you want them to keep delivering at a high level of performance. Stephen Friedman recently wrote on this topic of catching your staff doing something good in the Financial Post:

“When asked to provide feedback about their manager, employees often say they can do a hundred things well and hear very little from their boss. But when they mess up, they certainly hear about it. On the other hand, managers don't focus their effort or attention on what employees do well, largely because they believe success requires no action on their part, but mistakes do. This is itself a mistake. Recognition is a fundamental part of employee satisfaction, and it is associated with high performance. Any praise or recognition acts to reinforce success, increasing the likelihood it will be repeated. It can also bring about a much needed balance in the energy expended in the workplace. The concept is quite simple - be as outwardly happy when things go well as you are angry, annoyed and disappointed when things go poorly.”

This approach of consistency in demonstration of emotion, praise and criticism contributes significantly to the culture of your company. In his most recent book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines the impact of our cultural experiences and differences on influencing our tolerance for the behavior of others and how much we value and respect authority and hierarchy. What kind of culture are your creating within your organization or team and how is it impacting these same areas – which are all critical to company success?

In the same vein, when recognizing employees for their efforts, you must consider the larger culture in which you are rewarding. Individual praise is welcome in the US, but less so in cultures more focused on the team and community, such as in Japan. To paraphrase Gladwell, an employee’s actions are not based on his or her personality and initiative alone, but also on the “tendencies and assumptions and reflexes handed down” in the community in which the employee grew up. These cultural legacies matter and powerfully persist “long after their usefulness has passed.”

How aware are you of the needs of your team members? Of your peers? Are you feeding those needs in a culturally appropriate way? Or are you contributing to the lowering of individual performance by ignoring or thwarting their needs or, worse yet, trying to address needs in a thoroughly inappropriate way? Has this happened to you? Join the conversation in comments and share your story of recognition gone wrong on our Facebook Fan page.

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