We’ve made it through one of the strangest and most challenging years in world history. In talking to many of my clients and colleagues, it’s a mix of fatigue, amazement and pride. Many people stepped up in powerful ways and helped themselves, their families and their organizations thrive.

So, what can we learn and how do we use it to hit the ground running in 2021? Many of our clients are looking for ways to thank their leadership and essential works and show special appreciation for their teams that hung in there and pulled them through.  At the same time, as we get back to a bit more normal routine soon, how can we use this opportunity to jump start a more comprehensive and meaningful approach to recognition, employee engagement and performance management going forward?  

One way is to consider doing something special this year for Employee Appreciation Day – March 5, 2021, Nurses Week in March and Hospital Week in May. We are seeing a lot of interest in developing creative options around these special times to say thanks and let everyone know how much they mean to the company, especially during difficult times.  

In reviewing old notes as I closed out my year, I was also surprised that while there were so many new challenges that impacted our workplace and how our employees interact in a more virtual way, many of the aspects of human nature haven’t changed at all. Going all the way back to Maslow, Hertzberg, and Kovach, the overriding need for most employees is Self Esteem and their employers can help by showing them Love and Respect in an honest, genuine, consistent and believable way.

With most of the Traditionalist Leaders gone, and company leadership moving from Baby Boomers to Gen X (on average about 10,000 Boomers retire every day), we are going to see the workforce approach 50% GenY and Gen Z in the next decade. While these younger workers envision their careers differently and want to see more social responsibility from their employers and associates, they still have an intrinsic need to feel valued, have a meaningful purpose in their work and want to be appreciated as a person first and an employee second (even if they don’t express it).

This secret is often lost on fast-paced management teams that are looking at short term results and may believe that if they just throw money at their workers, they’ll get the job done. Yes, enough money will buy results, but it’s the most expensive way to do it, does not last, has to be increased regularly and can lead to more resentment than team building.

Why? Brain Biology tells us that Cash and Cash Equivalents are processed by the Left Brain – the logical, fairness, calculating side. Recognition, Love and Emotional Touchpoints are processed by the Right Brain – the warm, fuzzy, reactive side. If you want to show true Love and Caring, it needs to be processed on the right.

While there is a place for both recognition and incentives in an integrated, comprehensive recognition, employee engagement and performance management strategy, the key is to use the right order. First, “Make it Real” to earn trust, then sprinkle in opportunities for employees to choose to do more, not for the money, but because they like you, like working for your organization and want to help their company. Finally, make it easy for leaders and peers to share their thoughts, comments and thanks with each other. It is the best way to build a culture that people want to work within.

Seems simple and logical but can be easily overlooked when everyone is under the gun to meet quotas and get products out the door. The good news is that you can always commit to changing your culture, regaining trust and doing new things that will help you attract, recruit, optimize and maintain an amazing work force. As the economy continues to rebound and unemployment rates keep dropping back to where they were in early 2020, these issues will get more important and will be a big competitive advantage for companies that take it seriously and have strong leadership support for their efforts.

If you’d like to learn more about fresh, creative and effective ideas on how to optimize your most important resource – people, shoot me an email or give me a call. I’d love to share what I’ve learned over the past 30 years helping top companies create meaningful working environments and improving their productivity and profitability through people.

John Schaefer – Regional Director at Incentive Services