Employee Appreciation is Not an Event

Posted on July 30, 2013

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EventAnother Administrative Professionals’ Day has come and gone with astonishing success. She was treated to a delightful lunch at Olive Garden. Fresh salad, warm bread sticks, iced tea, pleasant small talk and her favorite Italian dish was on the menu—Chicken Parmigiana. Thought not one to normally eat dessert at lunch, the tiramisu was the darling of her Special Day. Once back at her workstation she opened the puffy tri-fold Hallmark greeting card endowed with a $50 gift card to Target. As the clock struck 4:30 she waved to the receptionist and walked into the parking lot feeling sooooooo appreciated. …OR DID SHE?

 Supervisors, managers and business owners can often be like the husband who lavishes his wife with presents and flowers on Valentine’s Day, yet ignores her needs throughout the rest of the year. Once those roses are delivered he secretly gloats over his expression of a deep love for her, convinced he has articulated the upmost devotion.

 There is a Biblical phrase that wonderfully exposes the fallacy of these special one-and-done expressions: To obey is better than sacrifice.  The meaning is clear. God doesn’t simply desire extraordinary feats of devotion; He desires a relationship marked by consistent behavior. Employees crave the same consistency from their managers.

 Employee appreciation—authentic appreciation—is not an event. It should be a way of life. Work life. Ideally, it is birthed out of a genuine care for employees. Yes, care. Concern. Interest.

Susan, the Manager

Jessica recounted a puzzling moment shortly after her mother died.  Following the 18 month battle with cancer, her mother had succumbed. It had been a difficult time, especially over the last three months when she, as the only child, would spend every weekend caring for her divorced mom. She was also quickly using her allotted Paid-Time-Off in order to be present for those critical doctors’ visits and treatments. Coworkers would regularly ask about her mom, but her manager never inquired.

managerIt wasn’t that Susan was cruel or said anything uncaring; the problem was Susan never asked or showed any concern or sympathy. Never a “How you holding up?”  Or, “How is your mom doing this week? Is she able to rest?” Jessica was going through one of the most difficult challenges of her life and was doing her best to hold it all together, including her responsibilities in the small software company, and her supervisor acted as if all of life was normal.  For Jessica, it was anything but normal. The process of losing her mom was consuming.

When Jessica saw Susan walk into the viewing room at the funeral home she was stunned.  She sighed a quick gust of air. “Now?” she silently wondered, “You want to show concern now?” Why would Susan make the two hour drive across the city and stand in line to give a hug to Jessica and express condolences? “I would have rather seen a smile and good morning twice a week in the office than for her to take the time to drive to the funeral home. It seems so hypocritical. She can’t even acknowledge my existence when we pass in the office several times a day, yet she goes to great lengths to show sympathy now.”

Let’s give Susan some credit. Susan was right to sacrifice her evening with her family in order to express her sympathy to Jessica. Susan needed to be there. However, Susan also needed to “be there” while Jessica was dealing the pain of losing a parent.

The Context of Meaningful Appreciation

Sacrificial, notable expressions of appreciation are great—but only, yes only, in the context of consistent, genuine appreciation. Only in this context is it meaningful.

Imagine letting three weeks pass in the July summer heat without watering the geraniums on the patio. The leaves have fallen off, shrunken dried-up flower pedals line the surface of the potting soil and the stems are parched and brittle. At this point, what use is there in pouring a gallon of Miracle-Gro on the plant? The geraniums needed daily watering. The occasional burst of enhanced plant food is great, but only if care has been consistently given to the plant.

So it is with employees. Let’s mark the special occasion, celebrate the anniversary and give the holiday gift. But let’s do it in the context of consistent appreciation.

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Your Experience.

Can you share a story of a manager who consistently expressed appreciation? How did they do it? Share your experience(s) below.

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