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Specific acknowledgement, specific recognition create a happy, productive staff

What’s the one element that makes people pleased to come to work every day?

Appreciation from the boss.

Appreciation is so important that the Department of Labor cites lack of it as the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs, says attorney and business coach Nora Riva Bergman of Real Life Practice in Tarpon Springs, FL.

And appreciation goes a long way, because it gets staff engaged in their jobs.

“Engaged employees show up early and are enthusiastic,” Bergman explains. They are a benefit to the employer because “they exude positive energy and recruit other people.”

By contrast, the disengaged staff are just there. They are the ones who do the gossiping. They’re often rude to patients. They speak ill of the practice outside the office. “And they drag everybody down with them,” Bergman says.

For the manager who wants to instill a sense of appreciation and engagement, her advice is to look at what’s said to staff day to day and also at the rewards they are getting for good work.

Three positives for every negative

The foundation of appreciation is positive comments and recognition, Bergman says.

The principal of it all is called the Losada Line, which, put simply, is a measure that shows it takes three positive comments to neutralize the effects of one negative comment.

No matter what type of work and no matter what the work setting, the happiest and most productive workplaces are the ones where the ratio of positive to negative comments to employees is at least three to one.

There’s no need to keep a chart of how many comments get made, she says. But the manager should keep informal track of it mentally. Just staying aware of what’s being said can make a huge impact on the manager’s behavior toward staff.

Set a goal of giving maybe one or two acknowledgements every day, and look at those acknowledgements as deposits into staff’s emotional bank accounts.

With daily deposits, there’s an ongoing positive impact on the overall office attitude.

Get specific on the complimenting

While acknowledgements are essential, they don’t count if they aren’t done right.

“You did a great job” isn’t enough, Bergman says. To be effective, the comment has to be specific and mention what the staffer did that was great: “I really appreciate the work you put into this memo. I know it took you a lot of time to gather the information. You outlined it well.”

Every manager does that on the negative side. When a staffer gets criticized, the details are forthcoming to the point of being painful. If a staffer makes a mistake on the calendar and the doctor goes to a meeting at the wrong time, there’s going to be no doubt about what that person did and what consequences the doctor met and what the staffer should have done.

Do the same when somebody gets it right. Lay it out in detail.

Details are necessary “because our brains remember the specific over the general,” she explains. Give a general compliment while walking out the door, and it’s not going to be well remembered. But a specific citation says “this is exactly what you are doing right,” and it gets remembered.

Dump the problems at the door

Going hand in hand with the recognition is the manager’s attitude, Bergman says. It has to be positive all day every day.

That means leaving negative thoughts and personal problems at the door. No manager has the right to bring a rotten mood into the office and put it on all the staff.

By contrast, saying “good morning” with a smile and meaning it adds to the positive elements of the day. And over time, those small elements have a tremendous positive impact on staff’s attitude and performance.

Find out the reward preferences

Acknowledgement from the boss also calls for recognition from the boss. But once again, it has to be done right. It has to be specific to the staffer.

Different people like different types of recognition. For some a bonus says it best; for others it’s time off. Others like a gift certificate to a restaurant or being publicly recognized at a meeting or a dinner.

It’s up to the manager to find out what each staffer prefers, Bergman says, and the best way to find out is to ask.

Take a short survey, asking “How would you like to be recognized for a job well done?”

List several different kinds of recognition and ask everybody to choose the top three. Along with cash, time off, and gift certificates, list things such as theater tickets, a home cleaning service for a day, a car detail or a plaque.

Mention too the opportunity for personal growth. “A lot of people like the opportunity to go to seminars,” Bergman says. And just as many appreciate things that aren’t work-related such as a cooking class or a spa day.

And finally, ask “Do you like public acknowledgement of your achievement?” For somebody who doesn’t, public recognition is no reward.

Hold on to the answers and when somebody is to be recognized, customize the reward to what that person has cited.

And always keep the door open

The last essential part of acknowledgement is accessibility to staff.

This doesn’t mean the manager has to be available every minute of the day, however. Bergman’s advice is to set several open-door times throughout the week, maybe from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or, if possible, set an open-door time every day.

Establishing a set time lets staff know their manager acknowledges their work and their problems and is interested in hearing what they have to say.

At the same time, it eliminates a lot of the unnecessary interruptions and keeps people from just walking in with insignificant issues.

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