The past few years haven't been the best for restaurants. We've weathered a brutal recession, and most of us aren't out of the woods yet. And it's not only finances that have taken a hit; morale is suffering, too. In the battle for survival, many organizations have developed perpetually stressful atmospheres in which employees are asked to do more with less — often with little thanks. In many cases, it's not that employers want to shaft their people; they simply can't afford not to cut hours and positions, and they definitely don't have the funds for raises and bonuses.
Fortunately, says Todd Patkin, you don't need a single dime to make your people happy at work or to show them just how much you care about them and appreciate their efforts.
“People will never admit it, but money is not the thing they desire most from their work. Instead, showing appreciation, respect, and, yes, even love are the three most important ways to make your people feel great about their work,” points out Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and — Finally — Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011). “And happy, engaged employees are the single best way to impact your company's bottom line.”
Patki, whose family auto parts business was bought out by Advance Auto Parts in 2006, understands this strategy from experience. “It's more important now than ever before to show your employees love and appreciation, because we're in the midst of an economic downturn, so you probably won't have the money to give big raises and bonuses.”
If your employees are perpetually stressed out, they'll be less motivated and more disengaged. And when they're unhappy, they'll do only what they must to avoid chastisement…and you'll lose money in the long term. Also, when the economy turns around, they'll be more likely to look for a new job elsewhere.
Here are Patkin's show-the-love strategies that you can use to say “thanks for a job well done!” to any employee, any time…without spending a cent:
- Send “love” notes.
Writing and sending a thank-you note is standard practice when you receive a gift. And what is excellent performance other than a gift from your people to you? When you notice that an individual has done an excellent job or has achieved an important goal, send a specific handwritten (not typed) note conveying your most sincere appreciation and admiration. This will take only one sheet of paper and five minutes out of your day…but it'll make a lasting impression on your employee.
“When you're a leader, you're busy and often overwhelmed,” Patkin acknowledges. “It's understandable that you might overlook saying the words ‘thank you,’ much less writing them. Remember, though, that positive reinforcement and sincere gratitude will increase the respect your team has for you and will improve their opinion of your entire organization. Also, it will encourage them to likewise say ‘thank you’ more often to their own subordinates. Think of writing what I call ‘love notes’ as a way to invest in your company's atmosphere and future.”
- Distribute inspiration.
Our society tends to think of work as a place of drudgery, obligation and boredom. People certainly don't think of receiving inspiration and rejuvenation during their working hours. According to Patkin, though, buoying your team's spirits should be one of your daily goals. If you help them see the world as a sunnier place and improve their attitudes and ways of thinking about their entire lives, their professional and personal productivity will increase, too.
“If you run across a quotation or story that inspires you, don't keep it to yourself — pass it along to an employee, and perhaps, if appropriate, also mention that the quote or anecdote reminded you of him and his great attitude,” suggests Patkin. “Alternatively, you might consider sending out a quote or lesson of the day. Yes, the idea might sound hokey at first, but I firmly believe that most people vastly underestimate the power of feeding their minds with inspirational and educational material.”
- Tell success stories.
Even if they brush off praise or downplay their achievements, everybody loves to be recognized and complimented. When someone in your restaurant has done something great, tell him or her that you noticed it. Tell the rest of the team, too. Many employees believe leaders take them for granted and only point out mistakes, so make it your mission to prove them wrong.
“When I was at Autopart International and I saw that one of my people did something noteworthy, I made sure that everyone else knew about it by sending the story about her accomplishment around in an e-mail to the entire chain,” Patkin recalls. “I could literally see the glow on the highlighted employee's face for weeks, and I also noticed that many of the other team members now worked even harder to earn a write-up themselves. Remember always to praise in public as loudly as possible; conversely, criticize only in private.”
- Identify stars.
Patkin says identifying stars is taking the concept behind telling success stories to the next level. Recognize achievements whenever you see them, but also make celebrating your stars a regular event. Some team members will roll their eyes at “employee of the week/month” programs, but you can rest assured that no one is going to turn down this honor.
“Instead of singling out just one person, you might even consider recognizing multiple individuals every month,” Patkin suggests. “For example, I always wrote about several store managers in our ‘managers of the month’ newsletter. Later, I included assistant managers, store supervisors, store salespeople and our drivers in this letter of champions as well. My profiles for each star would often be a full page in length, lauding both their professional achievements and wonderful personal qualities. I know many within the team loved to read these personalized recognitions each month, and they motivated lots of the employees to work even harder to earn a spot on the pages themselves.”
- Make it a family affair.
Whenever possible, engage your employees' families when praising them. Having a leader validate all the hours each team member spends at work will be remembered far longer than a bonus (really). Plus, when spouses and kids know what mom or dad does at work and are on board with it, your employee's performance will be buoyed by their support.
“For example, if an employee did something really tremendous, I would call his home, generally trying to get the answering machine and not a person,” Patkin shares. “Then I'd leave a voicemail like this one:
“Hi, (name of spouse and kids), this is Todd Patkin from Autopart International where your husband and dad works. I just want to tell you that your husband and dad is the most incredible, wonderful, amazing person in the whole world. He just broke his store's all-time sales record. Guys, that is incredible! So, please, kids, do me a favor. When your dad comes home tonight, everyone run up and give him a huge hug and tell him how proud you are of him and how great he is. And, (name of spouse), I hope you too will give him a big hug and a wonderful kiss to make sure he knows how much you love him and how much he is appreciated for all he's doing for our company. Thanks, guys.”
Showing people love, appreciation and respect often trump money when it comes to building long-term motivation and boosting employee morale and loyalty.