Are you dead on the job?

Are you dead on the job?

What gets you motivated at work - appreciation, money, responsibility, an interesting job, good colleagues?  Does your level of motivation affect others?  Here's a challenge for you.  Find someone doing something good today and tell them what a good job they're doing.  Because praise is the thing that motivates us the most, even though it takes so little time and costs nothing.

There was a story doing the rounds pre-Covid about the worker who was dead at his desk for five days before anyone discovered him.  The story goes …

”Bosses of a publishing firm are trying to work out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for five days before anyone asked if he was feeling okay.

George Turklebaum, 51, who had been employed as a proof-reader at a New York firm for 30 years, had a heart attack in the open-plan office he shared with 23 other workers. He quietly passed away on Monday, but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked why he was still working during the weekend.

His boss Elliot Wachiaski said: ‘George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all that time and didn't say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself.’

A post mortem examination revealed that he had been dead for five days after suffering a coronary. Ironically, George was proofreading manuscripts of medical textbooks when he died.”

True or not, there is an important message in this yarn.  Have you been appreciated at work lately?  Whilst pondering this question, keep in mind that appreciation is a two way street – we also need to appreciate the work of others.

We all want to be associated with a winner, be it a winning person, a winning team, a worthwhile cause or a successful organisation.  We all have sports people, teams, actors or artists that we consider “ours”.  When they do well, we bask in their reflected glory.  It’s the same at work - we want to be associated with a worthwhile, winning organisation.  Our greatest reward is receiving acknowledgment that we have contributed to making something meaningful happen.  More than anything else, people want to be valued for a job well done by those they hold in high regard.

A famous study by Lawrence Lindahl in the 1940’s came up with some surprising results.  When supervisors and their employees were asked to list “What motivates the employees?” . . .

  • Employees listed “appreciation of a job well done” as number one and “feeling in on things” as number two.
  • Supervisors on the other hand, expected the employees would rank these two items as eighth and tenth respectively (supervisors thought employees would put “wages” as number one and “promotion” number two).

These results were replicated in similar studies in the 1980’s and again in the 1990’s.  In another recent study, employees were asked to rank job-based incentives – “personal thank-you’s” came first and “a note of appreciation from my manager” came second.  “Money” came in at 16th!

Praise, the thing that motivates us the most, takes so little time and costs nothing.  Famous management writer Rosabeth Moss Kantor once said “Compensation is a right.  Recognition is a gift.” 

Have you appreciated the work of others lately?  This is particularly relevant post-Covid with many people working from home or spending reduced time in the office – in terms of appreciation, perhaps out of sight is out of mind?

Has the value of your own work been appreciated?  Here’s a quick test - over the last week, have you:

  • Told someone they have done a good job?
  • Looked specifically to find someone doing something well?
  • Made someone else look good rather than taking the credit yourself?
  • Thanked others for your own success?
  • Passed on positive comments you have heard about others?

These are simple examples of the things we need to do regularly to acknowledge the good work of others.

You might say, “If it’s that easy, why don’t more people do it?”  There are many reasons, but they all fall into two categories – personal and organisational.

On a personal level, many of us are not comfortable giving praise.  We may be awkward about it, or perhaps believe that people are paid to do a job, so why do we have to praise them? 

From an organisational perspective, it may be the culture that is holding us back, or perhaps technology preventing us from valuing the work of others.  For example, technology has changed the way many of us operate.  Email and text may have replaced personal interaction, so we no longer see what others do well – once again, out of sight is out of mind, so how can we praise good work if we don’t see it?

Here are six ways we can put praise for a job well done back into our working lives.

  1. Look for things people do well and acknowledge them for their good work.
  2. Be a model of acknowledgment – show others it’s OK to give praise.
  3. Have a conversation with a colleague about how to give praise for work well done.
  4. When people have performed above the norm, write them a small thank you note (not email or text) – you’ll be amazed at the impact!
  5. Encourage others to thank one another and pass on stories of good work to your manager.
  6. Work to create a culture of appreciation – make acknowledgment part of your daily routine – look for someone doing something good every day and thank them for it.

Finally, to get the ball rolling, pass this article onto a colleague as an introduction on how you both can encourage others to give more praise.

The essential point is that praise must be frequent and given locally (by colleagues and managers).  It should not be seen as a corporate initiative or program, but merely “the way we do things around here”.

What’s not been said so far, is that praise must be genuine.  People in general are very good at spotting insincerity.  The message?  When you do praise someone, make sure it’s for the good work they have done and not just for the sake of it.

A final word of warning.  Many organisations turn acknowledgment into an event.  They distort it with extrinsic motivators (such as money) and taint it with internal competition.  Pure and simple, giving praise for a job well done is just that – pure and simple.

So, find someone doing something good today and simply tell them what a good job they’ve done.  Above all, tap people on the shoulder occasionally to make sure they are still alive.  


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