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Unexpected award provides reminder about importance of recognition
I generally try to avoid the spotlight, but my efforts in that regard were tested by a recent series of positive events at work. However, this good experience reinforced my feelings about the importance of recognizing people's achievements. - photo by Greg Kratz
I'm not a person who likes to be the center of attention.

That may seem strange, since I write a weekly newspaper column that runs with my photo in print and online. But if you think about it, this is a fairly anonymous way to share my life and ideas with literally dozens (I hope!) of strangers. It's not like all of you are sitting here, staring at me, while I make my weekly attempt at composing prose.

That would be scary.

Anyway, my desire to avoid the limelight was tested by a recent series of positive events at work, and that experience has reinforced my feelings about the importance of recognizing people's achievements.

This story really starts a little more than two years ago, when a routine screening at my employer's on-site health clinic showed that I needed to make some lifestyle changes. If you look at my chubby cheeks in the photo accompanying this column, I'm sure you'll see why.

I committed to doing what my doctor recommended, including cutting most sugar out of my diet; eating more fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods; and exercising at least five days a week.

Now, two years later, I feel better. I've also lost 60 pounds, which is still hard for me to believe.

The benefits of this change to me are real and obvious: better health, and hopefully a longer life with my family and friends.

But another benefit I didn't expect came when I won a quarterly award my company gives to a person who has made healthy lifestyle changes.

As part of the award ceremony, I had an opportunity to tell my story to a group of co-workers. This made me quite uncomfortable. I don't mind speaking in public, but I'd rather not be talking about myself.

However, everyone who attended the event was supportive and kind, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. There's nothing like having a group of people congratulate you and applaud your efforts to make you feel wonderful and motivate you to do even better things.

As I thought about this experience, it reminded me of the results of a recent survey from OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company that specializes in the temporary placement of office and administrative support professionals.

The survey asked more than 600 senior managers and more than 900 workers employed in office environments in the U.S. and Canada how effective they think their company is at recognizing employees for good performance.

Among the managers, 89 percent said their company was very effective or somewhat effective at employee recognition. But only 70 percent of workers agreed with those assessments.

That 70 percent is still quite high, so kudos to the companies involved in the survey for generally doing a good job in this area. But the difference between the management and worker numbers shows that companies could do better.

"Acknowledging staff just once or twice a year for their hard work isn't enough regularly saying 'thank you' or offering small tokens of appreciation can speak volumes," said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, in a press release about the survey. "Giving kudos for a job well done seems obvious, but when managers are time-strapped, this can be one of the first things that slips .

"Companies that excel at recognition combine formal programs with everyday gestures of gratitude."

The award I received wasn't recognition for anything directly work-related, but it was part of a formal program, and it's just one of several monthly and quarterly awards that my employer gives.

In addition, I believe that as a manager, I need to focus on appropriate recognition every day. The OfficeTeam press release offered several tips to help people like me in such efforts, including:

  • Say thanks. Verbal recognition of employees' work is a great place to start. I try to thank my team members frequently, both verbally and through email. I like to receive words of praise, and I hope they do, too.
  • Put it in writing. OfficeTeam suggests offering a handwritten thank-you note or copying senior executives on a congratulatory email. I have found the latter method especially effective, partially because a handwritten note from me would likely be illegible.
  • Publicize achievements. This may make some people uncomfortable, so it must be handled appropriately. However, featuring excellent workers in a company newsletter or recognizing them at a staff meeting can be quite effective, as OfficeTeam suggests.
  • Support continuing education. OfficeTeam says a company can "provide tuition assistance for courses that will help workers in their jobs and subsidize the cost of exams required to attain professional certifications." My employer does these things, and the programs are extremely popular with workers.
  • Give a little. Providing small gifts, like movie passes or tickets to a sporting event, can be a great thank-you for an outstanding employee, OfficeTeam suggests. During my career, I've found that even small gestures can have a huge positive impact on employee morale.
These are good ideas. I'd like to hear yours, too. If you're a manager, how do you show appreciation to your staff? How have your efforts been received? If you're a front-line worker, what kinds of recognition at the office are most meaningful to you? And what efforts from a manager in the past have fallen flat?

Please send me your responses, and I'll share some of them in a future column.

And now, I really ought to get out of this chair and do some exercise. I guess I'm still feeling the motivating effects of that award!
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