When managers try the common sandwich technique, stuffing negative feedback between two layers of positive feedback, employees just get confused. In our experience, the people who needed the developmental feedback most tended to only hear the positive things their manager said, and the people who performed well left remembering more of the negative comments. So be sure to clearly ental feedback.
3. Address growth opportunities. Employees want to know what the future holds for their careers. When managers take time to explicitly discuss growth potential or provide opportunities and “stretch” assignments, employees interpret it as evidence that they’re valued. Conversely, when managers neglect to address people’s development, employees take it as a sign that they are not. One employee told us, “My manager is constantly recognizing my work, and I know that she sees that I go over and above. The issue is that she doesn’t fight to get me new and greater opportunities.”
4. Offer flexibility. Whether managers gave people the option to work remotely or even simply suggested someone come in late the day after working extra hours, employees were quick to interpret it as an important signal of trust and appreciation. One employee told us that he felt the flexible work schedule his manager offered him was “a huge recognition.”
Managers also need to tread carefully when recognizing everyone on a team
5. Make it a habit. Simply taking a few minutes to tell your employee specifically what you value about their contributions can have a tremendous impact. Try to build it into your regular routines, perhaps by spending the first 15 minutes of your week writing a personal thank-you note or starting your team meetings with shout-outs briefly acknowledging accomplishments of individual team members. The range of options are almost limitless. Some managers we spoke to gave food and gift cards as tangible expressions of their appreciation; others made it a point to visit with each of their reports daily. The idea isn’t to create an automatic system for thanking employees, however; it’s more about giving yourself permission to express your appreciation in a way that feels natural to you.
Mistakes to Avoid
Employees were equally clear about the ways in which managers communicated a lack of appreciation for them. Here are some common things managers get wrong:
1. Expressions of gratitude that are inauthentic or sweeping generalizations. Appreciation needs to be specific and genuine. While employees were enthusiastic about the variety of ways in which gratitude can be expressed, they were not moved by empty or offhanded gestures. There’s a big difference between yelling a thank-you on your way out the door versus sitting down with someone to describe the things you value about their work and its positive effect on the team or organization.
Meaningful expressions of appreciation were often described as timely, relevant, and sincere, and expressions that come off as hollow may actually be worse than no thanks at all. Sometimes a group’s performance is not a reflection of equal contributions from all its members, and you run the risk of alienating high performers if everyone receives the same recognition.
2. Neglecting standard company procedures. Many busy managers feel that procedures like annual reviews, quarterly check-ins, and nominating employees for awards are a waste of time. But to employees, they’re important milestones that provide clues about their progress and performance. When a manager skips them, employees often infer that they, not the procedure, are what the manager doesn’t value. If you’re going to deviate from the organization’s rulebook, at the very least you need to be explicit with your employees about why, or they might conclude that your inaction is a statement about them.