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Bersin Says “Thanks” Critical for Employee Engagement

by Derek Irvine

Thank you speech bubblesRecognize This! — There are many drivers of employee engagement, but feedback, recognition and “thanks” lead the charge.

In my last two posts on Compensation Cafe, I shared important research from IBM Smarter Workforce (more on that later this week) and from Bersin by Deloitte. Both are important, detailed pieces of research and so I will be calling more attention to them here.

First up, Josh Bersin authored the research piece “Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement,” which appeared in Issue 16 of the Deloitte Review. This is the new model based on deep research and analysis of organizations across industries:


In Becoming Irresistible, Bersin says about recognition:

“A second key engagement driver is the need for continuous and ongoing recognition. As soft as it seems, saying “thank you” is an extraordinary tool to building an engaged team. We studied this topic and found that “high-recognition companies” have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than companies with poor recognition cultures.36 These companies build a culture of recognition through social reward systems (tools that give people points or kudos to reward to others), weekly or monthly thank-you activities, and a general culture of appreciating everyone from top to bottom. The key to success here is to create a social environment where recognition can flow from peer to peer, freeing managers from being the judge and jury of employee recognition.”

Then Bersin expanded on the ideas presented in Becoming Irresistible in a very detailed article in Forbes“Employee Feedback Is the Killer App: A New Market Emerges.” Here he says:

If feedback is the killer app, then ‘thanks’ is the gorilla in the market. When you unleash the ability for people to easily say ‘thanks’ to their peers (and give them points or other rewards), an enormous new network of information often starts to flow. Leaders can suddenly see important people who they may never have noticed, and the culture of helping others can start to grow and improve.

“Our research also found that saying ‘thank you’ is an important part of building strong employee engagement. Many companies tell me that these tools unleash enormous amounts of positive energy and can help people understand even better who and why certain behaviors and people are valued highly.”

I believe this to be a dichotomy of management and a true blind spot — those things we consider easy or obvious, we tend to ignore or subsume. Yet simply saying “thank you” is one of the most powerful means we have to communicate to someone, “I see you. I see the work you do. What you contribute has great value, meaning and purpose, and you do it well.” Truly, there is nothing “simple” in that kind of statement. It is at the heart of what good managers do. Or, to once again quote Bersin from Becoming Irresistible:

It is important for companies to remember that management’s job is not to manage work but rather to develop, coach, and help people.”

And isn’t that the heart of what it means to WorkHuman, too?

What’s the “killer app” in your management toolkit?

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