Practicing Validation and Recognition at Work

If you’re like many public health nutritionists, the pandemic upended nearly every aspect of your job as you responded to your community’s immediate and changing public health needs. As a new normal emerges, so too does a new sense of gratitude for your team and the exceptional work they’ve done over the past year. There’s no time like the present to make recognition and validation a regular practice in the office. Here’s how.

Validate Your Team

Recognizing the entire group for their collective work is an outstanding way to ensure everyone feels valued and appreciated. Kellie Wong of the Business 2 Community blog explains that “It takes an army to get certain things done and major accomplishments are rarely always achieved by the hands of one person alone. Make it a habit to recognize group efforts – it will boost team morale and encourage teamwork.” You can start simply by beginning each team meeting with a moment of praise, or you can schedule morale-building meetings to celebrate your team’s success.

Practice Individual Recognition

A study by the O.C. Tanner Institute shows that 88% of employees who receive recognition feel inspired to do great work. Inspire greatness in each team member by recognizing the unique skill sets, qualities and abilities they contribute to your department’s achievements.

When determining how to recognize each member of your team, be cognizant of whether the person feels comfortable with public recognition, or whether they would benefit more from private praise. According to University Human Resources at NC State, “celebrating a very private employee in a public format may cause the employee to feel anxious or discouraged.” Create a more meaningful and impactful experience by getting to know your team members and talk to them about which type of recognition they prefer.

Share Symbolic Awards

According to Shibeal O’Flaherty, Michael T. Sanders, and Ashley Whillans of the Harvard Business Review, symbolic awards such as “congratulatory cards, public recognition, and certificates — can significantly increase intrinsic motivationperformance, and retention rates.” This type of recognition is easy to implement and rewarding to practice. What’s most important is that it be sincere and personalized. A hand-written thank you note is by far one of the most meaningful ways to convey your gratitude.

Consider Your Timing

Wong advocates for making “it a habit to thank someone every day.” While not always feasible, prioritizing and regularly practicing gratitude helps you become mindful and adept at recognizing the many and varied contributions that occur daily at work. In turn, this can shore up a positive work culture that spurs greater productivity and creativity.

O’Flaherty, Sanders and Whillans suggest it’s also important to offer recognition at key temporal landmarks in order to generate renewed optimism and a fresh start. “For example, a thank you note sent at the start of a new quarter or positive feedback delivered at the conclusion of a major project can serve as a booster shot of motivation when employees need it most.”

Vary the Messenger

As a direct supervisor, it cannot be up to you, and you alone, to provide all the validation. Peer-to-peer recognition can be effective at bolstering teamwork and raising awareness among team members for the many qualities they value in one another. Additionally, taking the time to celebrate each other’s achievements is a bonding ritual that can elevate the entire team.

According to O’Flaherty, Sanders and Whillans, you should “consider where there might be current gaps in feedback — perhaps employees do not interact much with the beneficiaries of their work, or with senior leaders in their organizations.” In these cases, they stress that, “when interaction is limited due to remote work, studies suggest that positive feedback from key stakeholders is likely to be particularly essential to keep socially-driven employees motivated.”

Come from the Heart

The challenges we’ve all faced during the pandemic have forced us to look inward and re-examine how we wish to interact with others. If you allow yourself to lead from the heart, you can show your team members you not only value their work, but you value who they are as individuals and you’re vested in their well-being and happiness. According to Wong, “Recognition goes beyond just celebrating work accomplishments. Recognize the progresses made in someone’s work life and personal life. Take the time to build relationships with others and learn more about their interests, family, friends, and personal accomplishments. Don’t limit your appreciation – you can appreciate anyone for anything.”

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