I’m going to go out on a limb and make a proclamation: Gratitude breeds trust! (We’ll see if I survive this post.)
Gratitude encompasses two things – recognition and genuine thanks. Lots of really good blogs out there talk about practicing gratitude for who you are, what you’ve become, and where you are in life no matter how many lemons life gave you. This is recognition of you. I’m talking about the kind of gratitude where you see and appreciate others.
Managers struggle with recognition beyond formalized awards and performance pay structures. We get that Jamal’s contribution to the team justifies a bigger bonus than Jimmy’s failure to meet basic goals. These are easy. The recognition most managers can get better at is seeing every employee for the contribution they bring to the organization outside the confines of the job description. Yes, we need employees to do their job, but we also need employees to be seen and appreciated so they can raise their voices without fear of being shot down or retaliated against. We need employees to tell us about problems, possible solutions, where we could do better, and where we should be going. Compliance has a lot to do with this.
Recognizing an employee means seeing them for who they are, what they contribute to the organization, and genuinely listening to them, good and bad. It is hard to give constructive feedback when you’re a manager. It’s even harder when you’re an employee fearful that if you speak up, you could get unwanted attention or worse, lose your job. But when we recognize employees as their whole selves and not use cogs in an industrial wheel, they are empowered to talk to us. This kind of recognition doesn’t mean we can’t hold employees to tough standards – we can and in many cases, should – but when we recognize the whole person, that person is more likely to trust us.
Gratitude also involves thanks. Genuine thanks for the individual’s contribution to a situation or a task. There are lots of blogs out there that go over what is genuine and what really is a contribution, so I don’t need to delve headlong into that discussion. What I will say is that genuine thanks is more than a paycheck. Employees get paid for their work, and their contributions can be recognized, and they feel comfortable in being themselves at work. Authentic expression of thanks will get employers more than a set of employees. Employers will get dedicated, hardworking partners in the organization’s success (for the most part).
I’m currently working on a couple of different projects that all come down to this principle of recognition and gratitude. What these employers are doing is building communication practices that draw upon these ideas to make a better workplace for everyone. (Before you ask, yes, these are employment law related (diversity+inclusion and manager trainings) and not just the “soft” stuff of HR.) It’s inspiring to see employers trying their darndest to do the right thing and build an employee community based on recognition, genuine thanks, and therefore, trust.