I take walks, long walks, and find them to be a good way to clear the head and get clarity on things. Anyway, I was on a walk the other day and came to a street corner where a car approached to turn. I looked over at the driver and motioned for them to go ahead because there was another car approaching in the opposite lane and I thought it would be kind to let them go so they didn’t have to wait. The driver saw me and made their turn, I looked up at the driver expecting some acknowledgement, you know, a wave or something to say thanks, and she didn’t so much as make eye contact, nothing, she just sped away to her destination. Now there are certainly bigger fish to fry in our world but it struck me how depressing it is that some simple human kindnesses just seem to have fallen away.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised in a world of increasing narcissism, impatience, and anger but I was really taken aback when my small gracious act was met with nothing. Where has the simple act of saying thank you gone? Have our self-imposed entitlements moved us to expect others to do for us without any show of gratitude? I clearly saw, in my little example, what this can mean in general daily interaction but I began to think about what it means in the workplace.
Many years ago when I was managing a small team in a hotel environment, I made it a point to thank my team members at the end of a long day’s work. I remember once, when one of my team clocked out for the day after having gone well above and beyond and stayed late to get a job done, I missed them leaving and ran down to the parking lot to do nothing more than thank them for their efforts that day. Now this doesn’t make me a saint or anything but I always had teams around me that I, to this day, consider my band of brothers/sisters, and feel confident that any of those former team members would come to my aid if I was in serious need…and I feel that way right back to them as well. Isn’t’ this what we want in our teams at work or should it only be about getting things done and driving results?
I truly believe work should be a place people want to be, where they are trusted and appreciated. When workplaces are like this, people drive results, I’ve experienced it. I’ve also experienced the latter where the workplace resembles some Dickensian factory where people are machines in service of the master of meeting numbers and shareholder value. I can tell you that this type of workplace may, with a lot of difficult management, hit numbers but the soul of the place is non-existent and the employees are prisoners looking for any way to move to something else.
So, you may be thinking, are you telling me that simply thanking my employees would make me more profitable? No, I can’t guarantee that, but I can tell you it would help bring more life into your workplace, and maybe even move employees to higher and more committed performance – and all for free mind you. Of course there are still the laggards who will counter with, “why should I thank them, they get a paycheck” but I can only say that the people who work for you can make you or break you and no paycheck will make them commit like showing them how much they mean to you.
In my opening story, after getting no acknowledgement at all, I kept walking with that old saying about no good deed going unpunished running through my head. I thought to myself, why bother being kind when people just don’t care, and then I thought again, I thought about what a crappy world it would be if no one said thank you, if no one simply showed that they valued others. We can make a better workplace and a better world in general and I think it starts with appreciating those around us. Start today, run to the parking lot and thank someone for just being here, it will change them and you.