Yesterday, I visited the optometrist. I'd taken the last available appointment and was corralled into the billing office near closing time. While checking out, I spied something sparkling on the edge of the billing clerk's desk.
"Is that a trophy?" My vision was far from clear, but even through the mist I could tell she was surprised by my question.
She turned her chair to glance at it. "Oh, that. Yeah, it's an award," she said dismissively, her eyes returning to her computer screen.
"Is it your award?" I asked.
"Yes, they gave it to me last year," she said. She was clearly focused on more important matters, like getting me out the door.
"What did you do to get it?" I said.
"Umm… not sure. Good customer service, I guess," she shrugged as she pushed a receipt my way. "Sign this."
Perhaps you're thinking my billing clerk just isn't a member of the generation that needs recognition, so the trophy was less important to her. There are certainly generational differences in the work place; I've heard Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers grumbling about the 'participation trophy generation' as often as I've listened to Gen-Y and Gen-Z complain that their managers are behind the times.
A seasoned operations manager once asked me at dinner, "What do you do about these Millennials? I can't get them to stay." He assured me he was doing everything that had worked in the past. "How do you recognize the people that do a great job?" I asked. He looked indignant. "I give them a paycheck! It's a job!"
At UHY, we believe that no matter which generational moniker you've been assigned, recognition is a psychological imperative.
Don't believe me? Harken back to your Psych 101 class, and you'll likely remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. At the second lowest level, you'll find safety needs. The aforementioned operations manager was right in thinking that an employee's paycheck is a form of recognition. However, recognizing a job well done through a competitive salary only provides economic security and ignores higher psychological needs. It isn't enough to develop a high performing team.
The next level, Love or Belonging, can be satisfied through gratitude. After all, gratitude is recognizing how the efforts of others benefit you. However, it isn't enough to prod people into saying thank you semi-annually. Instead, gratitude should be part of organizational culture. In spite of what makes headlines, culture does not come from a nap pod or ping pong table or rock walls in the breakroom. Instead, gratitude as a component of culture is the culmination of small actions.
Consider how these small elements of UHY's first impression make strides toward a feeling of belonging by demonstrating gratitude:
An annual message on employee appreciation day is not enough; we live gratitude.
The next level of Maslow's Hierarchy, esteem, is where many organizations place recognition. They deliver employee of the month awards, tenure awards, and annual something-or-other excellence awards. The intent of any award is recognition, but the impact too often falls short.
To truly meet the psychological need of esteem, recognition must be well-communicated, targeted to a particular behavior, and provided as close as possible to the action being recognized. The billing clerk at my optometrist's office received an annual award. This was enough for her employer to check "yes" next to the recognition box on a great places to work survey; however, she didn't know why she'd received it, and it wasn't important to her.
UHY believes in positive reinforcement for any deserving behavior at any time.
At UHY, recognition is designed to resonate.
The final level, self-actualization, might be deemed outside the scope of a recognition plan. However, we commit to recognizing each employee's potential and providing a path for them to rise to it. In fact, it's a core component of our mission statement. We believe that through our people to realizing their potential, we enable our clients to prosper. For that reason, every employee's journey includes a competency model that guides them to reaching their greatest heights.
Along that journey, our review process includes recognition for achieving ambitious personal goals. This includes encouraging some of the richest learning experiences a person can come by, failure. Failing fast and recovering quickly is important at UHY. By becoming part of the self-actualization conversation, we can recognize milestones in learning, creativity, and personal and professional achievement.
Too often, recognition is considered something above and beyond the requirement of an employer. In reality, aptly fulfilling that psychological need allows people to flourish in a way a paycheck or thoughtless trophy can't. Organizations are not just cogs and levers, they're people. When we tell our employees, "You are UHY," we mean that and we show it.