Say Thanks! Employees Seek Appreciation And Respect

To say the least, the past few years haven't been the best for business. We've weathered a brutal recession, and most of us aren't out of the woods yet. What's more, it's not only finances that have taken a hit--morale is suffering, too. In the battle for survival, many organizations have developed perpetually stressful atmospheres in which employees are asked to do more with less--often with little thanks. In many cases, it's not that employers want to shaft their people; they simply can't afford not to cut hours and positions, and they definitely don't have the funds for raises and bonuses.

Fortunately, says Todd Patkin, you don't need a single dime to make your people happy at work or to show them just how much you care about them and appreciate their efforts.

"People will never admit it, but money is not the thing they desire most from their work. Instead, showing appreciation, respect, and, yes, even love are the three most important ways to make your people feel great about their work," says Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and--Finally--Let the Sunshine In. "And happy, engaged employees are the single best way to impact your company's bottom line."

Patkin isn't just a talking head--he speaks from experience. For nearly two decades, he was instrumental in leading his family's auto parts business, Autopart International, to new heights until it was finally bought by Advance Auto Parts in 2006 for more money than he ever dreamed possible. During that time, Patkin made it his number-one priority to always put his people and their happiness first.

"As a leader, I quickly found that if my team was content and their work environment was a positive one, they would be more engaged and motivated, and they would truly care about our organization's future," he says. "Plus, it was even more rewarding for me to see that my employees were happy--and often even ecstatic--than it was for me that we were making money."

Furthermore, Patkin says that if your employees are perpetually stressed out, they'll be less motivated and more disengaged. And when they're unhappy, they'll do only what they must to avoid chastisement…and you'll lose money in the long term. Also, when the economy turns around, they'll be more likely to look for a new job elsewhere.

Here are five of Patkin's show-the-love strategies that you can use to say "thanks for a job well done!" to any employee, any time…without spending a cent:

Send "love" notes. Writing and sending a thank you note is standard practice when you receive a gift. And what is great, thorough work other than a gift from your people to you? When you notice that an individual has done an excellent job or has achieved an important goal, send a specific handwritten (not typed!) note conveying your most sincere appreciation and admiration. This will take only one sheet of paper and five minutes out of your day…but it'll make a lasting impression on your employee.

Distribute inspiration. Our society tends to think of work as a place of drudgery, obligation, and boredom, as exemplified in the now-iconic movie "Office Space." People certainly don't think of receiving inspiration and rejuvenation between nine and five. According to Patkin, though, buoying your team's spirits should be one of your daily goals. If you help them to see the world as a sunnier place and to improve their attitudes and ways of thinking about their entire lives, their professional and personal productivity will increase too.

Tell success stories. Even if they brush off praise or downplay their achievements, everybody loves to be recognized and complimented. When someone in your organization has done something great, tell them that you noticed their outstanding work, and tell the rest of the team, too! Whether correctly or incorrectly, many employees feel that their leaders take them for granted and only point out their mistakes, so make it your daily mission to prove that perception wrong.

Identify stars. According to Patkin, identifying stars is taking the concept behind telling success stories to the next level. Yes, recognize achievements whenever you see them, but also make celebrating your stars a regular event. Sure, some team members will roll their eyes at "Employee of the Week/Month" programs, but you can rest assured that no one is going to turn down this honor. "Instead of singling out just one person, you might even consider recognizing multiple individuals every month," says Patkin. "For example, I always wrote about several store managers in our 'Managers of the Month' newsletter. Later, I included assistant managers, store supervisors, store salespeople, and our drivers in this letter of champions as well. My profiles for each star would often be a full page in length, lauding both their professional achievements and wonderful personal qualities. The newsletters themselves were often thirty pages in length when finished. But I know many within the team loved to read these personalized recognitions each month, and they motivated lots of the employees to work even harder to earn a spot on the pages themselves."

Make it a family affair. Whenever possible, engage your employees' families when praising them. Having a leader validate all the hours each team member spends at work will be remembered far longer than a bonus (really!). Plus, when spouses and kids know what mom or dad does at work and are "on board" with it, your employees' performance will be buoyed by support from the ones they love the most.

"Trust me, showing people love, appreciation, and respect trumps money just about every time when it comes to building long-term motivation and boosting employee morale and loyalty," says Patkin. "When you take the time to make your employees feel valued, they'll know that you care about them on a more personal level, and they'll be much happier at work. And in the end, when you've achieved a really positive atmosphere at work and the improved bottom line that will surely come from it, you'll feel amazing too!"

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