Maybe Your Job Can Love You Back

From that understanding has sprung a recognition economy, which takes many forms: “employee of the month” plaques (and associated free parking spots), holiday chocolates, indoor food trucks. Those perks have become harder to distribute during the pandemic, with some people working from home, and many also trying to build more emotional distance between themselves and their jobs. But high turnover rates and low unemployment have reminded managers that their efforts to motivate workers are sorely needed, just when they’re toughest to execute.

So businesses are devising inventive methods of giving long-distance recognition. (Especially this week: Friday is National Employee Appreciation Day.) They are offering customized candles, shopping sprees, companywide shout-outs and quarterly days off. McKinsey recently hosted a “thank-a-thon.” O.C. Tanner, a software company, invites workers’ family members to Zoom meetings celebrating their achievements. Sunglass Hut’s employees sent 137,000 messages last year on its internal appreciation platform, Sunspired. The gifting company &Open asks its employees to send each other taco emojis over Slack, offering a lunch voucher to the five people with the most tacos at the end of the month.

The bottom-line benefits of workplace affirmation have perhaps never been so widely confirmed and creatively interpreted. But affirmation typically benefits workers who are more vocal about their accomplishments or those who are able to drop family or other personal obligations to pick up last-minute professional tasks. And the stakes of recognition aren’t just about improving people’s moods but about who gets advancement opportunities and the higher pay that comes with them.

“Being affirmed and recognized can build confidence,” said Mr. Brennan, who has advised clients to reward their highest-performing workers by inviting them to be “C.E.O. for a Day,” which means giving full-company presentations and even dressing like the chief executive. “I’ve seen it turn someone from being staff into a leader.”

Executives who emphasize recognition have often learned from periods in their careers when they felt underappreciated. Take Evan Wilson, chief experience officer at Meritrust Credit Union in Wichita, Kan., who spent his earliest office years wondering why no one seemed to notice the extra hours he put in at a regional bank.

He now swears by Dr. White and Dr. Chapman’s “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” adapted from the love languages. Mr. Wilson asks all of his direct reports to take the assessment. And he responds by leaving his office door open for the employee whose language is quality time, for example. He also asks managers at the firm to rate themselves on how good they are at giving recognition, on a scale of one to ten, and suggests that those struggling rely on the languages for a boost.

“The problem with appreciation is it’s like a bucket that leaks,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s the role of the leader to recognize ‘I’m the one who needs to bring that encouragement.’”

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