Natalie Baumgartner
Chief Workforce Scientist Achievers Follow

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to Natalie from Achievers about companies struggling thank their employees and clients.

Some Conversation Highlights:

I think that it’s a great question, and I actually think the pandemic has really offered an interesting perspective on that question and on the answer, because I think that we’ve, not with poor intention, but have just become complacent in the workplace. The assumed, “People know I’m grateful and appreciative.” “I’ll walk down the hall and say thanks for that tomorrow.” Or, “By way of sending a thumbs up, folks know that I’m appreciative, and I have thanks to share.”

What happened with the pandemic is that we all went right remote overnight, and so even though many of us were already working remotely, the whole world went remote. So, it made it much more clear and evident that we had to be intentional if we were going to connect, period, with our employees and with our colleagues, and that one of the data points that came out, it’s always the data on the impact of saying thank you, and the impact that that has on retention, on performance, on overall engagement has been around for over a decade. It’s really powerful data.

But what came out is that during this pandemic, employees were saying, “You know, I’m not getting thanked. I’m out of here.” So, people were really naming this lack of gratitude as one of the very top reasons that they were looking for other employment, taking calls from head hunters, contemplating where they would go once the pandemic “ended” or at least slowed down, which is what we saw with the great resignation. I think it’s been a slow role and was not as obvious until we sort of hit the wall in terms of the employee experience, and then saying thank you became clear as one of the huge issues happening out there in the workplace.

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 22 minutes

 

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Music: 00:00 This is Recruiting Daily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentleman, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today, we have Natalie on from Achievers, and our topic is companies that are struggling to say thank you. I can’t wait to get into this. I’ve known Natalie for a long time. I love the work that she does at Achievers. So, we’re going to unpack this. Natalie, would you do us a favor, the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and Achievers?

Natalie: 01:00 Yeah, you bet. I’m happy to. Great to be back with you.

William Tincup: 01:03 Sure.

Natalie: 01:04 I am the chief workforce scientist at Achievers. Achievers was founded in early 2000s, so 2002, I Love Rewards, and really grew from a reward system to an all in one employee engagement platform called the Achievers Employee Experience Platform. We have customers, big Fortune 500 customers, Discover Samsung, Cracker Barrel, PWC. One of the things I love most about what I do at Achievers is I’m really the resident culture and engagement nerd. I work with our Workforce Institute, which is our research and insights arm of Achievers. We’re data scientists, researchers, employee experience experts, and we are dedicated to understanding more about the workplace experience, and then using data and research and science to inform everything we do, from our thought leadership to our technology to really fulfill our mission, which is to change the way the world works. So, it’s really cool stuff, a great group of people, and I’m excited to get a chance to talk about some of our insights with you.

William Tincup: 02:09 When Natalie says that she’s a nerd, she’s actually a PhD, and she’s really a nerd. Some people say they’re a nerd, but actually you went to school to be a nerd, so I love that. I love what the Workforce Institute, the Achievers Workforce Institute, I love the work y’all do, because you’re just trying to help customers understand, and prospects, just the general public understand what’s going on. I know the institute does a bunch of surveys. Let’s talk about this concept of struggling to say.

Natalie: 02:44 Yeah.

William Tincup: 02:47 In your opinion, how did we get to this place? How did we get to where we’re struggling to say thank you?

Natalie: 02:57 I think that it’s a great question, and I actually think the pandemic has really offered an interesting perspective on that question and on the answer, because I think that we’ve, not with poor intention, but have just become complacent in the workplace. The assumed, “People know I’m grateful and appreciative.” “I’ll walk down the hall and say thanks for that tomorrow.” Or, “By way of sending a thumbs up, folks know that I’m appreciative, and I have thanks to share.” What happened with the pandemic is that we all went right remote overnight, and so even though many of us were already working remotely, the whole world went remote. So, it made it much more clear and evident that we had to be intentional if we were going to connect, period, with our employees and with our colleagues, and that one of the data points that came out, it’s always the data on the impact of saying thank you, and the impact that that has on retention, on performance, on overall engagement has been around for over a decade. It’s really powerful data.

But what came out is that during this pandemic, employees were saying, “You know, I’m not getting thanked. I’m out of here.” So, people were really naming this lack of gratitude as one of the very top reasons that they were looking for other employment, taking calls from head hunters, contemplating where they would go once the pandemic “ended” or at least slowed down, which is what we saw with the great resignation. I think it’s been a slow role and was not as obvious until we sort of hit the wall in terms of the employee experience, and then saying thank you became clear as one of the huge issues happening out there in the workplace.

William Tincup: 05:02 How do we teach… because I agree with intentionality, how do we teach… because if we understand actions have consequences, how do we teach folks that maybe it’s just not natural for them? Maybe that’s just not something that they grew up with or whatever, that’s not they’re wired. How do we teach folks intentionality?

Natalie: 05:29 I think there are two main things that I think about when trying to really empower and engage people in the process of thanking and recognizing and appreciating each other. One is really naming what you just named, which is that it doesn’t come as naturally for many of us. In fact, we need to do far more of it than we even realize. So, if you look at developmental psychologists who talk about children, and for every piece of feedback you give a child, you should be providing 10 pieces of positive reinforcement. That ratio is pretty astounding. None of us really operate in that way in terms of delivering, but we all respond in that way in terms of receiving. All of us, consistently over and over, we see people respond incredibly powerfully to recognition. One is just sharing the data, just telling folks, especially leaders, that recognition has a very strong statistical predictive impact on, again, retention, performance, engagement, et cetera, et cetera.

Then second is that we know that we have to train. We saw in our most recent research report was our State of Recognition Report in which we published just last month in April, and what we found is a really interesting split, where 90% of HR leaders say that they offer training to their employees around how to recognize and be appreciative and thank their team members, and only 41% of employees say they’ve received training.

William Tincup: 07:14 Wow.

Natalie: 07:14 So, I think there’s also this disconnect, right? Where HR leaders are like, “We’re telling you how to do it,” employees are saying, “We’re not getting it. We’re not getting it in the way that it’s working for us.”

William Tincup: 07:25 I love that. For the audience, when she’s talking about a study, and you can go and look on the website and go download the ’22 State of Recognition Report. They’re talking lots of responses. Sometimes when you, when you see studies on the, on the internet, and especially from vendors, it’s maybe 100 people is what they call business valid, which I hate that phrase. Y’all did a much, much bigger survey size. This is like 6, 7,000 people, so this is a large sample size. You can trust the results. When you look at the data, you can actually trust when they pull out the results, you can trust it more than you can some of the other things that you see on the web. Where’s mental health and burnout play into some of this? I’ll give you some context.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I saw a lot of empathy, and still do today, but not as much. At the beginning, we were all shell shocked, and you started going for calls, “How are you doing? How’s everything? How’s your family? How’s your this, that and the other? Are you sick?” Whatever. Then obviously through two years, two plus years of that, you’ve got fatigue, Zoom fatigue, and just mental health issues that are coming out, and high rates of burnout. How does that impact, or how do you see, or is there a connection between that and either people not saying thank you because they’re just in their own worlds, and/or the employees not feeling the thank you because they’re in their own worlds? Do you see any intersection points between the burnout mental health and what we would see as some of the things that have happened because of the pandemic?

Natalie: 09:37 Absolutely. We actually published a research report at the very end of 2021 on wellbeing in the new world of work, and the data, as you’ve just alluded to, William, is really striking and worrisome. We had 48%, so almost half of employees reported feeling significantly stressed, and that four out of five of those employees who were feeling stressed were thinking about looking for a job elsewhere, and yet then they’re moving and the stress is following them.

William Tincup: 10:15 Right.

Natalie: 10:17 We know that there’s a strong relationship between lack of wellbeing and turnover, so employees who say that their employer doesn’t help support their wellbeing are twice as likely to say that they are regularly thinking about looking for a job elsewhere. We also saw that same gap, I just referenced a similar gap, I should say, between HR and employees. So, HR saying, “We think we’re doing a pretty good job of taking care of the wellbeing of our employees,” and employees saying, “My organization is really not.” So, what that says to me is if I leave our time together today with one message particular to leaders, it’s we must be asking our employees what they need and how we help solve these problems for them, as opposed to assuming and putting programs in place or putting initiatives in place and assuming that’s the right solution for our employees.

Then the last thing I’ll mention on that piece is that employees who are meaningfully recognized, so those who said they received meaningful recognition, which is different from just saying, “Hey, thanks,” are twice as likely to report a high level of physical and mental wellbeing, and twice as likely as others to say that they feel capable of managing their stress at work.

William Tincup: 11:39 Oh, wow.

Natalie: 11:40 So, recognition is like this superpower, right? It’s really quite phenomenal.

William Tincup: 11:46 So, for folks that maybe they think they’re doing a good job at saying thank you, there’s probably some underpinnings of how they could do that better. Take us into that. If they think they have a thank you culture and they think that’s enough or good enough, and clearly it’s not by the data from the employees perspective, what are some of the steps that you’d give for them to go deeper and make sure that they’re on the right path?

Natalie: 12:16 I love that you’re asking that, because I think it’s really quite simple, but it is specific, right? I don’t think I want anyone listening not to feel like doing this recognition right is kind of overwhelming, or it’s going to be such a heavy lift with our employees. It’s honestly really not. But there are specific things that tip the scale towards having recognition be highly impactful. We had 64% of employees in this recent research study saying they prefer more meaningful recognition as opposed to more frequent. They’re saying, “Don’t just give me a thumbs up once a day. Give me once a week or once a month a more meaningful recognition.” There were three factors that were identified to comprise a meaningful recognition.

One, it’s about something specific that I did. So, “Thank you so much for putting that research together in that report and sending it over to me.” So, not just like, “Hey, you’re such a great colleague. Really appreciate you,” but something specific I did too. It’s about me as an individual or about something I value. I would say that, “Hey, William, I love how you bring levity and humor to really important discussions in a way that allows us to move the ball forward.” Right? It’s about you, and that makes that much more meaningful. Then three, it’s about the way that that person made a difference to the receiver. So, “When you did that, you took a load off my plate,” or, “When you took that call with me, you really eased my concerns about helping that customer.” Those are the three factors: specific I did, something about me as a unique individual, and how I made a difference. Those are the three factors.

William Tincup: 14:11 You can’t over index with meaningful recognition. You can’t over index on highly personalized is one of the things I’m getting.

Natalie: 14:18 Yeah, you can’t. I think the real test is just considering ourselves when has gratitude or recognition or appreciation felt really powerful to you?

William Tincup: 14:34 Right.

Natalie: 14:35 Right? I mean, I have a note on my desk, Bill Rock, who’s a senior leader at Vail. He and I have worked together for decades, and he sent me a handwritten note, which he does with some regularity to folks. But he sent me a handwritten note years ago, really quick. It was like two sentences long. But it met all those three criteria, and it sits on my desk because it meant so much to me to receive that from him. I think if we all think back on what really is powerful for us, that’s the right measuring stick.

William Tincup: 15:12 I love that. One of the things I wanted to ask you while I have you on the phone is just camaraderie and what you’ve seen in camaraderie through this last two plus years, easy to do in an office? I remember going to the I Love Rewards office 100 years ago in Toronto. I mean, it was a fantastic experience. I could see it was woven into the fiber of Achievers of having a fantastic experience. How do you build camaraderie, and again, praise and gratitude and intentionality, how does one do that remotely or in a hybrid culture? What are you seeing right now are some of the best models for folks to look at in this new world of work, if you will?

Natalie: 16:05 Yeah. This is the question of the hour, I think. HR leaders, I speak to different leaders on a regular basis, either by speaking at conferences or just working with our customers and clients, this is what they’re struggling with. How do I create a sense of connection? We actually published, Achievers Workforce Institute, we published a model of belonging last year that really outlined five pillars that create an experience of belonging for employees, so very specific and actionable, and pillar number five is connection. The question is how do we create an ongoing, consistent, meaningful experience of connection when we are not in the same building, or at least not in the same building all the time, and for many folks, never in the same building anymore as colleagues.

One, we really have to reinvent the model. I think during the pandemic, we were more putting a Band-aid to try to do what we used to do, but online, and now we have to think of new tools. One, we have to be really intentional. Can’t be ad hoc in the way that used to occur. Can’t say, “Hey, this is a great time. Let’s all gather in the break room and have a moment together.” We have to be intentional. There’s a lot of anecdotal data that’s starting to suggest that a hybrid experience has power. So, one or two days a week, having employees coming together at the same time so they get that injection of connection and relationship.

The other piece is continuing with what we were just talking about around recognition, that recognition actually plays a big role in being the glue or the connective tissue inside organizations. It actually outweighs the perception of a fair salary as a driver of employee advocacy, job commitment and productivity. In fact, 52% of employees said that feeling recognized for their work would actually reduce the negative impact of a salary freeze. I mean that, some of these data points really blew me away, because we are coming out of this pandemic realizing we need connection more than ever, and that we really were starved for it. So, we have to come up with creative ways to connect people that’s sustainable.

William Tincup: 18:36 Two things I wanted to cover before we end, one is leadership. What’s the role of leadership and the thank you culture? The second part is, these are bolded, you can actually take one of them in any order you want, is how do we train people on a thank you culture?

Natalie: 18:57 Yeah, I love that. I think for leaders, one, the place I would start is one that we talked about a few moments ago, which is suspending disbelief about the huge power that recognition has to drive exceptional outcomes. I often say you don’t have to be smitten or even bought into the idea that, “Hey, I want to create a kumbaya experience and culture.” You can even go just down to the basic fundamentals, which is that recognition increases performance, and it increases the business bottom line. One, it’s really buying in to the fact that recognition is not a nice to have. Thank you is not just icing on the cake, but it actually has a really powerful impact on employee and business performance. When leaders model recognition from the top, the power then multiplies throughout the organization.

We know that managers who recognize are far more likely to have employees who recognize each other and the people beneath them. So, there’s a really significant trickle down effect. Also, for managers, 75% of employees who are recognized at work recommend their managers to others. Now, is it just recognition? Surely not, but recognition is a powerful… in fact, in our manager empowerment model, it’s one of the four powerful factors that lead employees to say, “My manager’s exceptional at what they do.” So, I think that’s really important for managers to be aware of and be focused on. Then in terms of training, back to when you and I used to talk during round pack days, which was our culture and measurement and management platform, we talked a lot about keeping culture simple, and the same is true for recognition.

You’ve got to keep this simple. We’re all too overwhelmed in our lives to add something complex on top of everything else. But if you keep it really simple and help managers understand that recognizing every employee, at least one time per month, will have an outsized impact on the work experience and the performance and the stay power of that employee is super helpful. Then going back to those three factors that we talked about, make it specific, personal, and speak to the way that that individual made a difference, that’s it. So, keep it high level, and remember that it’s frequency, so at least once a month that matters. There’s not monetary. In fact, most employees said they put social recognition above monetary recognition. So, it doesn’t require money. It just requires a quick minute to send a recognition that makes someone feel like they truly matter.

William Tincup: 22:05 Drops mic, walks off stage. Natalie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I love talking with you at any point I can. Just thank you so much.

Natalie: 22:15 It was my great pleasure to be here and I’ll come back anytime. You know I will. Thanks so much.

William Tincup: 22:20 Awesome. Thanks for everyone listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Until next time.

Music: 22:25 You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live podcast by Recruiting Daily. Check out the latest industry podcast, webinars, articles, and news at recruitp

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Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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