Once upon a budget crunch in a large organization, hard-working professionals busted their butts for days, weeks, and months to reach bigger goals with fewer resources.
Raises were “out of the question.” Positions were eliminated or left vacant, as work loads and stress levels grew.
Leaders emphasized high performance expectations via vaguely threatening email messages, reminding employees that nothing less than “full commitment to achieving our goals” was acceptable.
The new “normal” included working through evenings, weekends, and even holidays. Workers were exhausted but kept going… and going… There was a recession, and many felt fortunate to have a job.
Throughout this challenging time, most employees did their jobs exceptionally well. They found ways to manage increased work loads, commiserating with co-workers about “misery loves company.”
One day, a major media outlet featured their organization, praising their leader in a front page story on “how to do more with less.” The positive press created quite a buzz in the community.
The next day, as if an afterthought, the leader sent an email to employees: “You may have seen the recent story on our work. Thanks for your important role in our success.”
Some never noticed this email among hundreds of demanding messages to work harder, faster, and better. Others wondered why the leader didn’t express gratitude face-to-face. A few expressed frustration out loud: “If I’m so ‘important,’ why wasn’t I interviewed? What about our dedication and effort?” The “thank you” email seemed impersonal and inadequate.
Unfortunately, long time employees were not surprised: The senior executive had never stopped by their cubicles while they were at work. He had never engaged them in face-to-face conversation. His office was across the street from buildings bustling with activity, but workers felt as if they were miles away, out of sight, out of mind, unrecognized, unappreciated. Their efforts had been critical to the organization’s success. They wanted to see and hear thanks from their leader, delivered in person.
Wise leaders know it’s important to show up and make genuine connections with employees. In good times, and in bad, face time counts. It takes a few seconds to see another human being (make eye contact), acknowledge her importance, and say “thanks.” Two minutes is enough time to ask a question and show interest in what she does. Simple interactions can make a big difference.
Appreciation for workers begins at the top, with leaders modeling professional, respectful communication. Crossing the street to express gratitude in person is far more effective than a “lame email,” as one employee described it.
This story is based on real events and organizations. An earlier version was published by the author in April, 2013. Identifying details have been altered to protect the guilty.