Recognise This! – Life’s too short to work hard and not know if what you do all day is meaningful or appreciated by others.

Bob Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and The No Asshole Rule (among others), is one of my go-to bloggers. His Work Matters blog posts never fail to inspire me as well as challenge me. Yesterday, his post in particular resonated as he wrote about the infectious nature of workplace culture. Bob quotes Xenios Thrasyvoulou, CEO of European-based start-up Peopleperhour.com, who said:

“Life is too short to waste it with people who don’t get it, whatever ‘it’ may be for you, so make sure you surround yourself with people who do.”

Bob then added his own comment:

“This is such good advice because human attitude and behaviours are so infectious. If you are surrounded with a bunch of smart, graceful, caring and action-oriented people, all that goodness will rub-off on you; and if you are surrounded with a bunch of people with the opposite attributes, that will infect you too. This is why who you choose to hang out with, hire, fire, spend time with, and avoid has so much influence on everything from acting like an asshole, to building a creative organisation, to scaling-up excellence, to living a happy life.”

I couldn’t help but add my own thoughts to the post as Xenios’ advice is excellent. Bob is also correct that human attitudes and behaviours are infectious. I’d argue that is even more true in the microcosm of the workplace. We spend more time, more intensely, with the people we work with every day than any other group of humans. It stands to reason, we “infect” or are infected by the attitudes or behaviours of our work colleagues more than any others.

Every day, employees are infected with negativity and stress at work, and that affects far more than their own efforts. In fact, research out of Baylor showed “work stress not only comes home with us, but can easily affect our partners, who then bring that stress to their own workplaces.”

We’ve found through our own research and the experience of our clients that creating a culture of recognition fosters an infectious environment that spreads appreciation and praise. I’m not talking about another “employee recognition programme” – I mean the true change of organisation culture in which employees naturally notice the good work and behaviours of their colleagues and take the time to pause and express their appreciation for it.

Structuring such recognition around the behaviours that matter to the organisation (usually codified as the core values) takes those values off the plaque on the wall and brings them to life in the daily work of employees. Now you’ve created a culture in which employees are praising (and being recognised for) good behaviours, not just good results.

Hiring into this culture is as tricky as hiring for any specific personality attribute. But those that can’t adapt to the culture tend to self-select out. The pressure to “be infected” is strong. Done correctly, organisations can also see where such appreciation isn’t happening as it likely should be. Now leadership can intervene and retrain or address why that is so.

Life’s too short to work hard and not know if what you do all day is meaningful or appreciated by others. We should all be so blessed as to work in an infectious culture of recognition. Is your organisation culture infectious – in a good way or a bad way?

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