I recently received a text from a friend and former co-worker that said: “Do wonderful things today!” Not only was the text totally random, it made my day. The person who sent this is someone who I have always had a great deal of respect for, not only as an individual and friend, but also as a professional. I have to tell you though, this text put them on an even higher plane for me; and it took maybe 5 seconds for them to type.
As I thought on that, I remembered a conversation I had with an employee about her manager. I honestly can’t remember what prompted the talk, other than that the entire conversation centering around the employee’s manager and how much the employee liked working for them, and how the employee would do anything for them, etc. etc… I knew from experience working with this manager that she had no trouble having difficult conversations when needed, and that her expectations were very high. I also knew that this department had a reputation of delivering on results. So I asked: “What is it that sets [the manager] apart as a great boss?” The employee sat there a minute, then said “I don’t know, I guess it is just the little things.” When I asked what the little things were, the example she gave was that often times the employee would return to her desk and would find a sticky note with a smiley face drawn on it. The employee just knew that it was the manager who had left it, and she said it just brightened her day. It showed that the manager cared and appreciated her work. Again, a 5 second gesture that made a big difference. I am sure that there were other things that the manager did, but this was what stood out to me – a drawing on a Post-it note.
A whole industry has sprung up to help employers show appreciation to their employees. One estimate I saw was that companies spend between 1 and 2% of their payroll on incentive rewards, and I’m not sure if that includes team building exercises. Yet according to Gallup 51% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged.
I am not saying that texts and sticky note smiley faces are going to cure this, because they ain’t. In fact, in both of the above cases, the behavior was manifest from true caring and leadership from the manager themselves. That said, if you are truly concerned about employee engagement, before you spend thousands of dollars and an entire day on a ”team building” exercise, think about something a little more granular – something that would take, I don’t know, 5 seconds, and then make a habit of repeating.