Janet Hayes – Giving Thanks to Employees Pays Dividends

It was a tiny box, wrapped in shiny paper. It was sitting at my workstation in the law firm where I worked during law school.

The rest of the firm had been abuzz with holiday festivities, but I had been drowning in law school finals and an endless list of work projects.

I was an outsider to the firm’s holiday excitement. The gift, however, revealed that, in the midst of the holiday chaos and stress, someone — a senior partner, in fact — had remembered me.

Inside the box was a simple glass Christmas ornament. It was neither expensive nor extravagant, but its impact was immeasurable. I worked for someone who valued me, and, without a word, my employer told me I was appreciated. The token gift transformed my attitude toward the stack of research on my desk. Somehow, feeling appreciated simply makes people more productive.

“Appreciation” is generally viewed as one of those soft HR concepts that we tend to mock in the hard business world. However, in the years since I received my ornament, I have repeatedly watched as words and tokens of appreciation have transformed workplace cultures. I also have noticed how the “soft” concept can translate into hard dollars.

Employees who feel valued remain loyal. Forbes magazine reported that 66 percent of employees would “likely leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated.”

Retention, however, is not the only cost benefit. Employees who feel valued do not demand as much pay.

An MIT professor conducted a workplace behavior study in which he asked three groups of employees to perform the same task multiple times. The first group was complimented when they turned in their work. The second was told nothing and their work was placed in a stack.

The third group watched the proctor shred their work immediately upon completion of the tasks. When asked what compensation each group required in order to keep doing the tasks, the group whose work was saved but ignored needed almost as much money as the group whose work was shredded. In contrast, the group who was complimented was willing to keep working for almost half as much as the pay demanded by the other groups. Put simply, employees who were affirmed were happy to keep working for less.

Similarly, employees who feel valued are less likely to file lawsuits. Even when there is a violation of law, most employees will not look for legal recourse unless they otherwise feel hurt, undervalued or unappreciated. The “soft” concept of appreciation is an overlooked key to litigation avoidance, and litigation avoidance means hard cost savings.

Next week I will unpack boxes of ornaments and decorate my tree. Somewhere, wrapped in tissue, I will find the simple glass ornament that is almost 25 years old and, yet again, I will feel appreciated as I fondly remember my law school job. In a culture fueled by litigation and conflict, perhaps simple gestures of appreciation are the best-kept secret to lawsuit avoidance and business success.

See the article in the November 25, 2018 Knoxville News Sentinel Business Section by clicking here.

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