The Question: “What are the best ways to increase morale? We do a lot to encourage corporate culture, but right now we are having an issue with negativity. We offer Christmas bonuses, hams and turkeys for holidays, lunches for everyone on their birthday, company outings, etc., but none seems to be enough to keep the company’s culture positive. What can we do?”
The Answer: What you describe could be labelled as “perks,” which you provide to your staff and which obviously are not having the hoped-for impact on staff morale. I won’t tell you to stop doing what you’re doing, but if you had asked my advice earlier, I would have counselled against implementing most of these measures. Perks are introduced with the best of intentions, but the unfortunate reality is that they are an ineffective means of building and maintaining morale. They may be welcome when they first appear, but perks quickly become stale.
There is nothing special about them. Just like paycheques, everyone is entitled to receive them: a turkey at Christmas, a ham at Easter and the opportunity to eat cake will the rest of the team on his or her birthday. There is nothing in these gestures that relates to the what the team achieves or how individuals contribute.
It’s easy to understand why people believe that perks such as turkeys, hams and outings, are the key to creating workplaces where people want to be. There is a proliferation of magazine and newspaper articles, such as Fortune magazine’s annual list of the 100 best companies to work for, that typically describe such perks which these companies provide. The implication is that’s why they are great places to work.
Perks alone do not boost staff morale
That’s not necessarily so. In The Great Workplace, co-authors Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin wrote that, “While the Fortune list tends to showcase the perks and benefits that employees in those companies enjoy, those perks are not the reason the companies made the list in the first place. They made the list because of their leaders’ ability to create strong relationships.”
Providing meaningful staff recognition is a way to create those relationships, which boost morale, and increase employee engagement and improve staff retention at the same time. Recognize staff members for what they achieve and how they contribute. Rather than scheduling an event just because you always do, celebrate the team’s achievements as they occur: the successful completion of a project, meeting the quarter’s sales target, or having come through a period when everyone had to pitch in and do extra work. Don’t allow the calendar to dictate when events occur (e.g. We always have an outing in mid-June), by becoming spontaneous about celebrations. Try this: “Don’t bring your lunch on Friday, because we will be providing lunch to celebrate the successful completion of our office reorganization. Everyone worked hard and contributed to this project being completed on time.”
Both team and individual recognition required
As important as team recognition may be, it’s also important to recognize individuals for what they do. Employees want to be seen as individuals, and to know they are valued as such and appreciated for their unique contributions to the team’s success. Everyone contributes in different ways, with different levels of effectiveness. This should be reflected in how and why they are recognized. There’s no best way to recognize staff members. Each person wants to be recognized in different ways. Providing recognition that is Appropriate is one of the ingredients of GREAT staff recognition that will be valued by recipients.
Some perks you described may not even be appropriate for all staff. What is the value of a 25-pound turkey for an employee with no family with whom to share Christmas dinner? A ham for Easter won’t thrill Jewish or Muslim staff members who don’t celebrate this holiday and never eat pork. Then there are those vegetarians who eat neither.
Get to know staff members as individuals: What are their interests and hobbies? What is their favourite treat? How do they drink their coffee or tea? Where do they prefer to be recognized—in private or publicly?
Having committed to recognizing staff, begin with small gestures. A few words spoken to an employee in private. A brief message written on a sticky note. A thank-you card. To be valued by recipients, recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. In Make Their Day, Cindy Ventrice wrote, “In an international survey in 2007, I found that 57 per cent of the most meaningful recognition doesn’t even cost a dollar . . . employees are looking for meaning, not things.”
Shifting to more staff recognition may be difficult at first. There will be challenges and setbacks. But keep pushing forward and eventually recognizing staff members for how they contribute and what they achieve will become a habit, which will make a difference—boosting morale, improving retention and increasing engagement.
Do you have a question? It could be about staff recognition. Or maybe you have an inquiry about some aspect of the hiring process. Submit your question at email@example.com and I will answer it in a future issue of Briefly Noted.