Managing Employees Post-Pandemic: Praise in Public

Many employees want to know their efforts are acknowledged emotionally

Economists and talking heads on the news are predicting the “Great Resignation.” They’re saying now that the pandemic is close to being over, everyone will quit their job. You might be feeling it in your business, too. Economic rebounds always involve migrations of some sort, and the job market is no different. The flight from cities, employees approaching retirement age, and the preference for remote work are causing strife even at the most magical, bulletproof brands like Apple.

For those firms looking for qualified workers, there is going to be a struggle. You’ll need to compete with eCommerce warehouses like Amazon and companies that allow full-remote options. In addition, the most historically reliable places for finding talent are drying up as well — junior colleges, temp agencies, and returning military.

Do you know where the best place to find good people is? Inside your shop. If you’re not taking care of your existing people, they are about to leave you.

What the money is for

There is a famous scene from the television show “Mad Men” where the young protégé, Peggy, approaches her boss to discuss an award (the Cleo) the team earned and her boss took credit for. Her boss Don doesn’t care about the award and casually dismisses its significance, but it means something more to Peggy. She needs validation for the idea that led to the award. Yet, her boss attempts to explain how the world works, saying plainly, “It’s your job. I give you money, and you give me ideas.” When Peggy retorts, “You never say thank you!” her boss closes the conversation with, “That’s what the money is for!”

From a certain perspective, Don is correct. In the age-old battle between capital and labor, money usually wins. The organization owns your output in exchange for a paycheck.

Every so often, the balance of power between capital and labor can shift. We’re experiencing that right now.

Not about the money

Money is great. It provides an opportunity for us to get what we need in life. But it can’t survive on its own. If a competitive wage is all you are offering, you won’t hold on to your best people. Andrew Chamberlain and Patrick Wong of Glassdoor performed a workforce survey of 615,000 people in 2014 where they wanted to know how much, or how little, compensation mattered when choosing a job. While compensation matters to everybody, the No. 1 indicator of satisfaction is the culture of the organization, more specifically: career pathways and the quality of senior management. That study is still referenced today.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

Peter Drucker’s most famous quote speaks directly to the fundamental challenge managers have when trying to execute a plan for their business – Can we do this with the people and resources we currently have? Of course, resources are simply a matter of access to capital, which is relatively easy to find right now with interest rates at historic lows. People, however, are now the preciously rare commodity.

“You never say thank you”

Consider the context of the scene between Peggy and Don. She works for a Manhattan agency, in a fancy office with a great view, during the golden age of advertising in the early 1960s. The economy was booming, it wasn’t quite “the ’60s” yet, and she was a rising star with great prospects. So what did she have to complain about? All she wanted was a thank you.

If you’re familiar with the show, you know how her story panned out, but this was a crucial moment in her relationship with Don. Don has his problems, but that’s for another article. He could have handled this scenario much better.

Praise in public

If you have humans in the workplace, you’re going to have emotions too.

— Liane Davey

Employees need validation. They need purpose. They want to know how their job is tied to that purpose. Some employees may be more logical and see it as the simple tradeoff Don describes above — money for ideas. However, many more employees want to know their efforts are acknowledged emotionally, and a small portion of employees need to know how you, the boss, feel about them. They want you to like them.

An easy way to thread this needle is by making their accomplishments known — in public. “Employee of the month” is a cliché because it works. The trick is to be specific about the accomplishment. Say it out loud during an all-hands meeting. Post their achievements on the company intranet or frame them on the wall where others can see them. Tell a story as an example to others. Leadership is about getting the most out of your people. They can learn by example.

Yes, it’s their job. Yes, they get paid well to do it. But if they’re going to spend a third of their adult life working in an organization, it will need to be for more than just a paystub.

Punish in private

The flip side of the coin is when an employee’s performance suffers. The sword of emotion cuts both ways. Keep it quiet and behind closed doors. Avoid sarcasm at all times. If you can manage to separate who you are as a boss with who you are as a person, you can introduce your dry sense of humor, but make sure the line is apparent. Burnout is real, and a global health crisis has compounded the effects. Throw in the costs of healthcare and childcare and a polarizing political environment, and you have a recipe for disaster. Keep negative performance reviews quiet and discreet. If the situation gets bad enough that you need to part ways with the employee, you can share the basics of the dismissal with the rest of the team after the problem employee has left the organization.

Your people are your best asset. Right now, they have options. How you manage your interactions with them and the culture you cultivate will determine if you can keep them. People will stay where they feel they are respected and have a purpose. Provide that for them, and you will have a leg up on the competition with lots of room to grow.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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