Since childhood, we have all been raised by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Many would cite this ethical code as one of their aspirations by which to live, both personally and professionally. The problem with the Golden Rule? It implies the basic assumption that other people would like to be treated the way that you would like to be treated.
As a leader, consider instead operating by the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” The Platinum Rule accommodates the desires of others, and shifts the focus from “this is what I would want, so I will treat everyone the same way” to “let me first understand what my employees want, and I’ll figure out a way to give it to them.” Operating from the Platinum Rule doesn’t require leaders to change who they are, it doesn’t require submitting to the demands of others, but it does require an understanding of what drives people and recognizes the options for interacting with them.
In The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, author Gary Chapman helps managers effectively communicate appreciation and encouragement to their employees, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction, healthier relationships between managers and employees, and decreased cases of burnout.
- Words of Affirmation: An immediate (or relatively real-time) thank you note, email, call, or face to face conversation to thank them for their efforts or applaud a job well done. When discouraged, employees who value words of affirmation respond best to positive comments about past or current achievements or contributions.
- Quality Time: Regular, focused, uninterrupted time with a manager each week, to share progress or concerns, ask questions, or help plan career and personal development. Team-building exercises or one-on-one lunches are essential for an employee who values quality time.
- Acts of Service: Small acts that can be as simple as making coffee, offering to help on a project, using action words such as “I can” or “I will”.
- Tangible Gifts: Small gifts that show you are thinking of the employee, such as a latte from their favorite coffee shop, ordering in lunch, or some complimentary time off. Birthday and workplace anniversary gifts are meaningful – no matter how small the gesture.
- Physical Touch: A congratulatory handshake or similar gesture; be aware of the message that closed-off or disinterested body language conveys.
Perception versus Reality
A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management discovered that although 51 percent of supervisors say they recognize employees who do a good job, only 17 percent of the employees at the same organizations report that their supervisors do well at recognizing them. The truth is that it is essential to learn to appreciate employees in the language that speaks to them the most. We need to recognize what motivates the people we work with, so we can show them appreciation in a way that means something to them – not to us.
Regardless of the appreciation language, there are fundamental needs every employee needs in order to stay with an organization. An opportunity for challenge and growth as well as strong lines of communication and are two of these fundamental needs.
Be cognizant of offering growth opportunities to each individual. Every role comes with less-than-glamorous responsibilities, but it’s important to balance out mundane tasks with challenging assignments. When you only dole out repetitive responsibilities (or tasks beneath someone’s skill level), you’re conveying that you don’t really need or appreciate his or her individual talents.
Alternatively, when you assign an employee a challenging task and actually put your trust in him or her to see it through, you’re conveying, “I know you’re capable of this, and I trust you to do a great job.” Find new ways to engage employees, including developing new projects specifically for their talents or being more aware of what each person does best and assigning tasks accordingly.
The second universal truth of valuing employees is to create open lines of communication. Examine the world’s greatest leaders and you’ll find them all to be exceptional communicators. This does not mean they are great talkers; rather, they talk about their ideas but they do so in a way which speaks to your emotions and your aspirations. They realize if the message doesn’t take root with the audience then it likely won’t be understood, much less championed.
Instead of including employees only in “need-to-know” conversations and decisions, create opportunities for open discussion around initiatives and policies. In the absence of communication, employees fill the void with often-incorrect tidbits of information. Build trust by communicating as often and as openly as you can and allow people to have insight into the decision-making process.