The art of Thanksgiving

by Al Vreeland

We’ve become a nation of firefighters. Not the heroic sort riding red trucks and saving lives, but the frenetic sort running from hot spot to hot spot, handling daily crises in order of priority. And we usually don’t take time to appreciate the people who help us. So as we belly up to the Thanksgiving table this month, it’s a good time to take stock of what we, as employers, should be thankful for from our employees and to remind our employees what they have to be thankful for about their jobs.

We know ― time is scarce; rarely are our jobs in perfect balance. In bad times, we work harder to manage crises; in good times, we work harder to meet the additional demands of success. Who has the time to sit back and reflect on the past? But without taking time to remind ourselves and our employees of what they and we are working for, we lose a big opportunity to benefit from and improve on past efforts.

It’s not just money

To feel successful in their jobs, your employees have to understand that their work has consequences for the overall mission of your company. The first step is to make sure they understand what that mission is (other than simply making money for the owners). Then you have to explain where their personal efforts fit into the company’s big picture.

Everyone can’t be Jack Welsh, but each employee contributes to the mission (or at least he should). Whatever their role, employees need to feel that they’re a part of your mission so they can feel they’re a part of your company’s success. It usually requires only a little communication.

Tell them what you’re about

Directives from the executive suite shouldn’t be seen as rules to trip up unwary employees. Equal employment opportunity and antiharassment policies don’t have to be expressed exclusively in the negative: “If you commit sexual harassment, you’ll be fired.” They should be presented as your commitment to providing each employee with a safe and productive work environment.

Now is a good time to republish those policies and remind your employees of your commitment to protecting them. If your company is built on certain core values, remind your employees of them as well.

Accentuate the positive

You’re paying (most likely very dearly) for employee benefits; remind your employees what you’re giving them beyond their paychecks. If you foot the bill for health care and retirement, give your employees an annual breakdown of the cash value of the benefits they receive ― they probably don’t know how much you’re paying. Remind them of the other benefits (like flextime, tuition reimbursement, and life insurance) that they either take for granted or may have forgotten altogether. Employees are usually surprised and grateful when they learn what you’re paying for their benefits.

While you’re at it, rethink your benefit mix. Is it well tailored to your workforce’s needs? Or is it simply what you’ve always had? A changing workforce may have different preferences for different benefits. Maximize your return on your benefit dollar by matching your mix to what your employees want.

Little things matter

Your thanks need not be accompanied by a big check. Everyone (us included) wants to be appreciated. A simple but personal acknowledgment of hard work or a good result can go a long way. That sort of gratitude builds loyalty more than money ever can. Loyalty encourages hard work and reduces turnover. Likewise, small but unexpected thank-yous (like spot bonuses, gift certificates, or a catered lunch) go far. The more creative and spontaneous your gesture, the more effective it will be in building employee morale.

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