Updated: May 19, 2020
Want to improve workplace productivity? Make the working environment brighter, or darker, or messier, or cleaner, or bring in food for breaks, or make longer breaks, or shorten breaks or restrict food - honestly, it doesn't matter, at least according to a study in a fascinating book I just finished.
Marcus Buckingham, in his book 9 Lies about Work, explains that researchers in mid-20th century manufacturing turned up the lights to see if this would improve workplace production. It did. Then they returned the lights to the regular levels. That too improved workplace productivity.
Weird? Yet, the same was true when they tested more organized environments, food, and breaks. They would change the condition - productivity went up. They'd change it back, and productivity would go up.
What was going on here? Well, it's simple. You see, after every change the researchers would sit down in one-on-one conversations with each employee and ask for their feedback. It didn't really matter what feedback the employees would give. What happened is that employees were shown attention after each change and that attention led to improved performance. After it was all over and the researchers stopped asking questions (showing attention) and results went back to where they originally were.
I love this study because it shows how powerful it can be when we actually pay attention to those we work with. Now, I know that you already do this, but unfortunately this does not seem to be the case for the most organizations. In fact a Gallop poll shows that only 65% of all American workers have received recognition or appreciation at work in the last 12 months. That's less than half!
So, you want better working employees? You want improved production? You want a stronger and more positive culture? Start paying attention and showing appreciation.
I think that Mary Kay Ash, the famous cosmetics lady, had it right when she said, "There are two things that people want more than money and sex. That is praise and recognition." Perhaps even more accurate was the statement that came from a participant in on of my trainings who said, "No Jason, she's got that wrong. When you praise and appreciate you get more money and sex!" Either way, it's good to praise and appreciate.
But how? Certainly we can set up some sort of recognition program, but I don't think that is the secret. These tend to be too generic, they are not well thought out, and for the most part employees do not respond well to them. I contend that we customize our appreciation based upon their Language of Appreciation. What is that, you might ask? You may have heard of the somewhat-famous book The Five Love Languages. Well, the same authors have written a book and applied these languages to the work place.
In short, everyone receives appreciation in different ways. For example, the very best way you can show me appreciation is to tell me that I'm doing a good job. Let me know verbally about my great performance and I can live on that for a week. Yet, you can use your words till you're blue in the face with my wife Sarah, but it won't do much. If you want to show her appreciation, you've got to serve her. I've learned after 19 years of marriage that this means doing chores around the house. So instead of buying flowers or telling her how much I appreciate her, I just grab the broom and dustpan and go to work. I was quite confused over this, until discovering that there were different languages - mine is Words of Affirmation while Sarah's is Acts of Service.
What does this mean for the workplace? It means that simply telling your employees that they are doing a good job only benefits some of the employees. Others need some quality time with you, some want you to jump right in and do the work with or even for them, and yet others just need you to buy them a cup of coffee. I wish that I could explain more about this subject, but why reinvent the wheel when it's already been done in the book The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
If you are curious about your own language, or the language of those working around you, I've created a short simple quiz that can help. You can download it here.