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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Workplace Doctor: Don't undervalue appreciation as incentive

Small gestures that are usually underestimated can motivate teams in ways that may be more powerful than other reward methods

I head a team of star-performers at our retail firm and they go beyond the call of duty, which is represented in them continually beating targets and receiving positive feedback from customers. I want to show gratitude and appreciation for their hard work and I suggested to my manager that the company pay for a meal out for them, perhaps once every couple of months, assuming performance warrants it. However, I was told that it was not possibe as it might annoy the other teams – who do not perform as well as ours – and their leaders. This seems illogical to me. Surely, it would incentivise poorer performers to up their game. What do you think?

AL, Abu Dhabi

It is admirable that you want to recognise and reward the hard work and success of your team; not only does it show that you value their efforts, but it is also good business practice. Showing gratitude towards your team can positively affect them on many levels, as gratitude has been shown to improve our health, productivity, optimism, relationships, problem solving skills and career.

Your question raises an interesting point of how to best incentivise teams. In a Harvard Business Review article Teamwork Works Best When Top Performers Are Rewarded, the authors acknowledge that team-based recognition and pay just too often fall short of motivating actual teamwork.

To illustrate this, let’s look at what happened with the jeans maker, Levi Strauss in 1992. Initially, employees were paid based on the number of pairs of jeans they sewed in a particular period. In an effort to promote teamwork, workers were allocated into teams and were then paid according to how many pairs of jeans the entire team were able to produce.

As a result, it created an environment in which slack behaviour became the norm for many team members – some employees realised that they could reduce their efforts but still get paid a fair amount. The employees who worked hard were now being paid less than before, making them more likely to quit – and these were the employees Levi could not afford to lose.

It is unfortunate that your manager is not supportive of your suggestion, but perhaps the example above demonstrates that team incentives are not necessarily the way forward. With that in mind, there are many ways that you are still able to demonstrate your gratitude and appreciation towards your team.

First and foremost, it is important to be vocal about what you value about your team members, their actions and accomplishments. Be specific and authentic in your recognition and praise of their achievements. Provide details that emphasise the actions you appreciate, not only does it demonstrate that you noticed what they’ve done, it also provides clear direction for others.

If at all possible, see where you are able to offer your team members some flexibility to accommodate their personal lives – for instance, allowing from time to time for them to come to work a bit later or leave a little earlier. Knowing that you value and respect their personal lives just as much as their professional lives is bound to be well received by them.

Quite often, it is the small things in life that provide excitement and gratitude. As a team, you can treat them to a cake or coffee for a target achieved.

On a personal level, writing cards on special occasions such as birthdays can be motivating and valued. These small tokens become even more powerful when they connect with the employee’s interests.

Doctor’s Prescription:

Appreciating your employees is a commodity that can never be underestimated. It is one of the building blocks of a productive and positive workplace where employees are motivated and eager to succeed. The importance and value you place on this as their manager will ensure that you find ways to continuously implement and promote opportunities to recognise and reward your most valuable assets.

Yolande Basson is an executive coach and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education – Middle East