Leadership & Culture

This one thing boosts engagement *and* wellbeing for your team members

The exhaustion from our work-lives and home-lives colliding with each other is reaching a tipping point. At the same time, businesses are starting to go into a survival-planning mode. It's a recipe for burnout, and leaders need to step up their engagement and connection practices.

Depending on a leader's underlying motive profile, this might not be intuitive or easy for them:

They found that managers fall into three motivational groups. Those in the first, affiliative managers, need to be liked more than they need to get things done. Their decisions are aimed at increasing their own popularity rather than promoting the goals of the organization. Managers motivated by the need to achieve—the second group—aren’t worried about what people think of them. They focus on setting goals and reaching them, but they put their own achievement and recognition first. Those in the third group—institutional managers—are interested above all in power. Recognizing that you get things done inside organizations only if you can influence the people around you, they focus on building power through influence rather than through their own individual achievement. People in this third group are the most effective, and their direct reports have a greater sense of responsibility, see organizational goals more clearly, and exhibit more team spirit.  

- David C. McClelland and David H. Burnham, HBR

All of us have a mix of these motivations in how we tend to lead. And those of us who prefer to drive progress by pacesetting – focussing on goals from our vantage point and wanting others to follow our pace and approach – are likely to struggle with helping their teams weather this storm. Others who more naturally lean towards influence (power motive) or connection (affiliative motive) will find it easier to focus on others and demonstrate genuine care for the wellbeing of their teams.

What can leaders do right now to boost wellbeing and engagement?

Gratitude and recognition are highly effective influencers. They are also imperative at a time when people need to feel seen, heard, and appreciated.

1️⃣ Gratitude nurtures productive, healthy organizational cultures

More supporting evidence comes from a recent Deloitte & Bersin study. Turns out that organizations that create more ways for their employees to thank and give recognition to each other in meaningful ways are 12 times more likely to generate strong business results than their peers.

2️⃣ Recognition boosts morale and engagement for the recipient

Research shows that recognition and affirmation of contribution makes a significant difference in the day-to-day engagement we feel:

Respondents cited “recognition” three times as often as any other reason for what causes them to produce great work in an open-ended, unaided survey question. This statement holds true across all generations of U.S. workers and is the main finding from the Drivers of Great Work study commissioned by the O.C. Tanner Institute and the basis of the new Employee Performance White Paper.  

3️⃣ Saying ‘thank you’ increases wellbeing for the person providing recognition

Robert Emmons is one of the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude and professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. He has spent years studying the power of saying thank you across age groups and thousands of participants. His data shows that people who take the time to express gratitude feel physically better and happier.

If you read this and thought 'well that sounds a little overboard', consider this:

Despite all this, we underestimate the power of saying thank you and how it would make the recipient feel:

  • We think it is unnecessary: 'they already know this'
  • It will be awkward: 'it'll feel all emotional'
  • Or we simply miss the opportunity to say 'thank you' given everything on our plate.

Contrary to these perceptions, taking the time to express our gratitude — in person or using public/digital mediums — can make a real difference in boosting the engagement, wellbeing, and productivity of our team members. So add that post-it now.

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