Guest Columns

The controversy over 'Thanks': Part I

Paul White
Paul White

Recently, I had the opportunity to provide training on how to communicate authentic appreciation to over 300 managers and supervisors of a group of long-term care facilities.  In one of the sessions, we were dialoguing about the differences between authentic appreciation and “going through the motions” employee recognition.

One of the supervisors asked, with a quizzical look on her face, “So, I'm supposed to tell my staff ‘thanks' for doing their job? That doesn't make sense to me. I'm more than willing to call attention to and thank them for doing ‘above and beyond', but I don't see why we should have to thank them for doing what they are supposed to.”

Later, another leader asked, “What about those employees who want to be praised all the time, for everything they do? How are we supposed to handle those who were raised receiving a ‘participation award' just for showing up but not accomplishing anything?”

Interestingly, as the training sessions continued, a palpable tension grew between those who resent being told they should communicate appreciation for employees “doing their job” and those who believe that supervisors need to grow in their willingness (and ability) to communicate genuine appreciation to team members for doing their jobs well.

Balance

Both sides have valid points. And, like in most areas of life, a balanced approach seems wise.

However, similar to the political arena in the U.S., both sides of this discussion were becoming entrenched and attributing negative characteristics to the “other side." While there was no name calling in this session, leaders have used the following terms to describe those who hold the opposite position  (“softies”, “wimps” and “feel goods” versus “insensitive”, “uncaring” and “Grinches”).

In order to be able to pull out of the emotional quagmire that was developing, and to help proponents of each side be able to be open to hearing a different perspective, I shared the following example from daily home life.

“Let's say you are in a living arrangement – marriage, family, or with a roommate – where you agree to divide the responsibilities of daily life. And you agree to take responsibility for making dinner in the evenings and cleaning up the dishes. That's your ‘job' in the home. You agree to it.  It is not forced on you.  And you dutifully carry out your responsibilities.

“How many of you think it would be nice (and appropriate) to hear ‘thanks' occasionally for making the meal and doing the dishes? Not every day, but every once in a while.” 

Nearly everyone nodded in agreement at this.

“But, what if, over a period of time, you never heard ‘thanks' from the others?  Even though you agreed to accept the responsibility (and the other persons are doing their tasks as well), how do you think you may begin to feel?”

Words such as “resentful,” and “taken for granted,” came from the group.

“But,” I continued, “on the other hand, it doesn't really seem reasonable to expect to be thanked every day for every meal, agreed?  It would be nice but probably isn't going to happen.”  

“You've got that right!” said one woman sarcastically.

“What Should Be” vs. “What Is”

Often, when issues and discussions are based in the values we as individuals hold, the discussion descends into an argument either between two conflicting values of “what should be” (“They should be thankful they have a job!” vs. “But you don't have to treat them like slaves!”), or between “what should be” and “what is."

This discussion can sometimes be framed as idealists (those with high ideals that they believe should not be compromised) and realists (those who look at the practical reality of day-to-day life and attempt to live out their values in the context of “what is”.)  While this can become an oversimplification, the idealistic perspective and the reality-based perspective are both helpful, and needed. That is, if the argument is framed as an “either-or” problem, rather than a “both-and” challenge, no one will win the argument.

My advice - don't get into the “either-or” mindset, where you argue with others about how much appreciation team members should want (or need). As we will explore in a follow-up post next month, the reality is that yes, we must show genuine appreciation to our employees for many reasons (retaining quality workers being one), but with reasonable limits.

Paul White, Ph.D., is co-author of “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” and the “Motivating by Appreciation Inventory. For more information, go to www.appreciationatwork.com.

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