Recognising those who are keeping the lights on…

 Profile image of Steve Lobley From Spring Leadership

Steve Lobley

I remember always being curious why business leaders and their businesses didn’t grow and develop as effectively as they could – and in line with their stated ambitions. It was a great puzzle – despite knowing exactly what to do, nine times out of ten they couldn’t make the changes needed or make the right decisions to truly achieve the step changes required. It led me to the mantra from the Chinese Proverb ‘it’s not the knowing that’s difficult, it’s the doing’ – because THAT is really what it’s all about after all…

And as a result I reshaped my career from business adviser and mentor to launch myself fully into the world of coaching. My 30+ years in business from a shift manager in a textile mill to MD of a £15M business in the corporate world allowed me a unique perspective on the challenges people were facing, and with loads of experience on how to address them. 

“Employee recognition refers to the act of acknowledging an individual or team’s behaviour, performance, effort, and accomplishment that help the organisational goals and values. Recognition encourages employees to repeat good performances.”

I don’t think I could say it better.

We’ve heard a lot since the pandemic started about the word recognition, it appears to be somewhat of a buzzword now, like ‘unprecedented’ or ‘pivot’. But I’m much more interested in how it’s manifesting itself on the ground so to speak – in ‘the doing’ part, not ‘the knowing’..

In society, recognition of NHS staff, care workers, and frontline workers of all sorts has seen us creating rainbows and doing things like the Thursday evening clap. It would appear that a crisis, and how we respond to it, might automatically require an uplift in recognition – to, as the quote says ‘encourage employees to repeat good performances’. I think we all instinctively realise this. It also creates a sense of shared appreciation of what other people might be doing to ‘help the organisational goals and values’ in the wider group. All good stuff and you ignore this at your peril.

But here’s a question – in two parts. What exactly is the right type of recognition to give, and who should be getting that recognition?

You see, if you get either of those things wrong or even slightly wide of the mark, you might create more problems than you solve. For example, we saw care workers left out of the recognition at the beginning of the crisis and the swift introduction of the Care badge as a result. The problem is serious if you miss a group and/or get it wrong, so it’s worth making sure you

  1. Are consistent
  2. Have fully thought it though

A lot has been written about people on furlough and how the uncertainty might be affecting them, about finding purpose and dealing with anxiety, and numerous other challenges. That situation is tough and it’s definitely worth recognising.

There’s also been a vast swathe of work put out about the people who are now having to work remotely and how that has created challenges individually and for teams. No doubt you have recognised and supported staff members through these ups and downs too.

But what about the people on the other front line?

There’s another group I haven’t really seen a lot of recognition for. While a lot of businesses had to shut up shop (by order), and others had to draw back because sales collapsed around them, both using the furlough scheme to help keep afloat and people at least paid – there have been a lot of businesses who’ve managed to continue working with what you might call a ‘skeleton’ staff.

A lot of that skeleton crew have been doing this work remotely, but there are also key people who have kept those businesses running not working from home, but actually in, and at, the business.

They’ve been adapting to new circumstances at home, and still coming to work, then managing the challenges of social distancing in the workplace. They’ve often taken on extra work and tasks that would normally have been done by others. They’ve been dealing with transport and commuting challenges and handling the personal issues of their partners worrying about them (and handling their own worry too). They’ve possibly seen their salary reduce as well, and let’s be frank, seen others be sent home to be furloughed on similar terms…

In some ways, this group of people should not only be recognised but perhaps celebrated.

They’re the ones who’ve kept the lights on. They’ve continued to serve customers and deliver what few orders have been received. They’ve seen face to face how much things might have collapsed for the business. They’ve been reduced in number, and in a lot of cases working with people that they don’t normally work with – their usual work friends and colleagues have not been there.  They can’t crack on as normal either – they must keep everything clean, not get close to anyone else and still get the work done. Coffee breaks and lunchtimes are probably quite lonely. But at least the roads to work are quiet eh!

A lot of the businesses I work with have talked about the struggle to keep these teams motivated, to keep them on board, to help them stay the course. One client talked about having to spend most of Monday morning going around and checking each of the team to see how they were feeling back in work – after a weekend at home and then having to come to work…again. Tough job.

So, what can you do to help?

I think if we, as leaders, spend a few moments recognising what this might be like, and how it might continue to be like, for these, our very own frontline workers, then maybe there should be some clapping for them too?

And, if we recognise this group deserves a bit of credit for keeping the business as match fit as it could be during this tough time, then what might be appropriate recognition?

Some ideas:

  1. Encourage and lead by example, publicly, thanking and recognising, weekly, what things were achieved last week by the ‘lights on’ crew. Recognise the challenges of the coming week and celebrate some successes.
  2. Find and pick examples of small acts of going the extra mile and make sure you speak individually to the ones responsible. If you’re the boss, don’t you dare do it through others – do it yourself. Show them you know, and you care and are grateful.
  3. Encourage those on furlough to recognise and appreciate what this team is doing by sending them regular updates on how things are continuing, and the lights kept on, ready for when they come back.
  4. Be as considerate as you can to requests from this team for working time flexibility and time outs – maybe even consider increasing holiday entitlement for later, or if you can afford it, maybe spot bonuses once things are back to more ‘normal’ circumstances. There are a lot of ways of saying thank you.
  5. Work out how you can get the remote people in the rest of the skeleton team connected in group-like ways with those in the office – hey, why not get them to have their lunch together via Zoom so they can chat and talk about what ‘fun’ this whole thing is….! You could set that up if you tried. How can you create a team of the ones who are managing to hold it all together?
  6. Send messages or tokens of appreciation home to spouses and partners thanking them for their patience and forbearance in dealing with their partner away while they might have to be homeschooling, and dealing with the lockdown on their own… Wouldn’t take much, would it?

I’m sure some of you may be doing a few, if not all, of these (or at least things like them) but if you’re not then I would strongly encourage you to put time aside to think about it. “Recognition encourages employees to repeat good performances”. 

In a lot of ways your ‘lights on’ team, how they work, how they stay motivated, and what they achieve during this time is going to define how well or otherwise you come out the other side of the crisis. It might be worth remembering and recognising that.

If you’d like some help thinking about ideas for recognising your staff then contact us to arrange a call.