By Christine Bilbrey
Practice Management Advisor
Large companies and law firms are usually well equipped with established systems to reward high performing employees and to assist an employee experiencing a personal crisis. But what is a small firm to do if the budget does not support beachside retreats or comprehensive employee assistance programs? How can you make your employees feel valued when you have limited time and resources?
To move your employees from their current states to a place of engagement and positivity requires some effort on your part. Don’t assume that your employees know that you appreciate them. Employees need to be acknowledged and rewarded for a job well done. The most basic and immediate thing you can do right now (and I mean as soon as you finish reading this article) is to decide what behavior you want to see more of from your employees, walk out of your office and up to the employee who has most recently displayed that desired behavior, and tell them that you noticed them doing “x” and that you just wanted to take a moment to thank them for what they did. It can be anything. “I really appreciate your help with that project yesterday.” “Hey, thanks for unjamming the copier for everyone.” Keep a few $5 and $10 Starbucks gift cards in your desk for those occasions when an employee has gone above and beyond. To reinforce the good behavior, give positive feedback as soon as possible.
Why would you want to do this and what’s in it for you? Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work states, “We found that managers of companies, if they just increased their praise and recognition of one employee, once a day, for 21 business days in a row, what we find is that six months later those teams, as opposed to a control group, had a 31% higher level of productivity.” It should be noted that his research focused on recognition of an individual’s work. Being part of a team is great, but when a boss says, “Good job everyone,” it carries a lot less weight than acknowledging the specific actions of an individual employee.
There are many low and no-cost ways to increase employee engagement at your firm. If possible, implement a flexible work schedule for your staff. Respect your employees’ personal lives, which means no work calls or emails after hours. Encourage healthy lifestyles by providing nutritious snacks in the break room and consider having outdoor walking meetings to give people a break from the office while still being productive and enjoying some fresh air and sunlight. Everyone loves food. Throw a pizza party or have a barbecue in your parking lot on a Friday afternoon. Making your office a positive place to be benefits everyone. 1001 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson Ph.D. is a good resource to start you thinking about how to increase happiness at your own firm.
If there is generally low morale in your office, you may need to consider that you are setting the tone that has now spread to your staff. In the forward to the book, The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon, Ken Blanchard shares an exercise he does at his seminars. He asks attendees to get up and “greet other people as if they are unimportant.” He then asks them to “continue to greet people, but this time, to do it as if the people they are greeting are long-lost friends they’re glad to see.” He describes how the volume and energy dramatically shift in the room during this activity and then he tells the attendees, “Every morning you have a choice. Are you going to be a positive thinker or a negative thinker?” This also applies to how you treat your employees. “You can catch people doing things right, or you can catch them doing things wrong. Guess which of those two activities energizes people more?”
Creating a happiness initiative at your office benefits you and everyone around you. It can alleviate stress and have a positive effect on mental health and resilience. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to employee happiness and engagement. Find what feels authentic to you because praise and recognition must be sincere to be effective. Even small changes and gestures from the boss can have dramatic results.
Christine Bilbrey is a practice management advisor at The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute. She holds a bachelor’s degree in legal administration and a master’s degree in business administration. She previously served as the principal firm administrator at area law firms in her hometown of Pensacola. Prior to joining the Bar, she was a certified HR classroom and virtual trainer for the world’s largest credit union. She can be reached at [email protected].