Last year, a University of Georgia study study showed that saying “thank you” was the key to happy marriages. Turns out, the same might be said for happy workplaces. Employers looking for the best retention tool might want to consider the same strategy for employees.
No doubt, appreciation – feeling one’s job is valued — is an essential component of job happiness. It’s almost universally recognized as a critical component of retention. Data from our own Horizons Workforce Consulting shows a strong link between supervisors who recognize accomplishment and components of loyalty such as job satisfaction, pride in one’s work, and productivity. HWC’s Lucy English says “feeling valued” was reported by most (84%) employees who called their employer a Dream Company.
On the flipside, 65% of those in a Career Builder study cited not feeling valued as the primary cause of job dissatisfaction — just a hair less than those unhappy with salary. And earlier this year, a Gallup study said that employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to quit in the next year.
Yet that same Gallup study showed that only a third of employees say their contributions are adequately recognized. It seems so easy. So if appreciation is our best retention tool, why aren’t we using it?
Missing Out on the Best Retention Tool
Much of it might be chalked up to misinterpretation of what value and recognition really mean. Bright Horizons CHRO Dan Henry says bosses often make the mistake of thinking recognition translates purely to raises and promotions. It doesn’t. Those are important, he wrote on Huffington Post. But such rewards are all but expected — and they only come around once a year.
But some of it may be that in many companies, appreciation is simply not enough of a stated priority. Even in long-standing personal relationships like those in the Georgia study, gratitude takes deliberate effort. To be channeled at work, appreciation has to be up front in culture, values statements, and training. It also has to be consistently modeled from the top down. “When you show that you value someone on your team and their direct reports are watching, it can really help,” author and Dartmouth Business School Professor Sydney Finkelstein told Harvard Business Review recently.
The Value of “Thank You” as a Retention Tool
And there’s good reason to encourage managers to do so — they have a huge impact. The Gallup study said nearly a third of people put manager recognition at the top of their wish list. Further cementing the point are the exceptional retention rates at the previously mentioned dream companies.
“Feeling recognized by supervisor is highly correlated with agreeing, ‘my organization really cares about my well-being,’” says Lucy. “And that’s one of the top three characteristics of being a Dream Company.” The fringe benefit is you end up with not just loyal employees who say they work at Dream Companies – but dream employees who want to stay there.
More Than Dollars and Cents
One interesting recent study gave value a wholly literal interpretation to employee value, saying it was the ability of an employee to see how his or her job factors into the company’s financial success. The study said a large portion of employees couldn’t connect the dots, causing a writer to ask, “How can you be fully engaged at work when you don’t completely understand why your job matters? It’s a recipe for disengagement.”
Dollars and cents may be one way to quantify contributions. But it can be a tall order for a lot of jobs that don’t have an obvious line between work and profits. It’s also perhaps a little too literal interpretation of an employee’s worth. On the other hand, there seems to be lots of opportunity to communicate value via the simplest and least expensive method: the humble thank you.
In ROI, those are two words that seem to be worth their weight in retention.