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Appreciation and an Engaged Workforce

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By Dione Lee 2015-11-25 14:12:42

Why do employees leave companies; why do they stay? Over the years, as a facilitator to help companies build engaged and self-sustaining workforces to drive down incidents and increase performance, I have asked thousands of employees what motivates them to do a good job.

The predominate answer that ranked number one from these interviews was a sincere “pat on the back” from their manager. Positive verbal recognition and reinforcement for a job well done ranked higher overall in importance than gifts, certificates, awards, or increased financial compensation. Yes, a simple “Atta-Boy” or “Girl” trended as being the highest contributing factor for long term employee engagement while maintaining a high degree of motivation for optimal performance, but execution is complex due to many factors, three of which include: the level of commitment management has to their people, leadership style or lack of, and recognizing and responding to individual differences.

If top management is committed to an environment that puts people first, then everything downstream tends to fall into place as a result of this predominate culture, permeating every decision that is made, including how resources are allocated. For example, when people are valued as the most important resource in a company, then training budgets and personnel development programs are usually robust and not compromised during lean times.

Conversely, if management doesn’t consider employees their most valuable resource, then the workforce sees this in the lack of resources committed towards employee initiatives. As a result, the employees will most likely feel undervalued and not appreciated, typically resulting in the employee looking for the next best offer, since there is no intrinsic motivation to stay. This is especially true with the next generation workforce, who value being appreciated probably more than any other generation to date.

Management commitment goes hand in hand with leadership style. If you are the type of manager that takes personal responsibility for when things don’t go as planned, and asks yourself how you can do better as a leader, then my guess is that you have a strong and loyal team with clear direction. You take ownership and responsibility for the issue and most likely develop similar traits within your team, sharing pats on the back with recommendations for improvement.

Contrarily, if your approach is to place blame or point the finger as to who is responsible when things go wrong other than yourself and don’t take ownership, then most likely your people are probably more focused on defending themselves from you and other people within their department to ensure the blame doesn’t fall on them, ducking and covering and shoring up other defensive strategies, which are counterculture to a healthy working environment.

Everyone is different. What motivates you doesn’t necessarily motivate me and so on. The act of discovering what each other’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) is and acting upon the feedback you receive will show you care and are committed to your workforce. The key is that you are interested in what matters most to them. Your commitment to understanding your people shows appreciation and in turn will change the tide toward mending bridges, closing gaps, and ultimately engaging your workforce to ensure a positive outcome.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.