Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day of Thanks?

In my work life,  have about 25 people reporting up through the departments that I run.  They range from highly experienced seasoned professionals to entry level.  They work in multiple States, and collectively do an absolutely amazing job of supporting this nonprofit in its important work.  They see a lot.  

The work we do is behind the scenes.  We do the work that allows other people to do the work more obviously related to the organization's mission.  We are often invisible to the larger organization.  We are also not on the receiving end of humanitarian awards or heartfelt displays of thanks from families.  When there is thanking to do, we have to do it for ourselves.

So, last week I held a day of personal thanks from me to the 25 people who work very long hours, doing very hard work, under less than ideal conditions, and who do it for less pay than they would get if they walked across the street and did it for another company.  I thanked them collectively and individually for managing the anger and frustration of their internal customers, who are often not at their professional best when they approach us for help or support.  I thanked them for broadly and correctly understanding that our mission encompasses their work, too.  I thanked them for inspiring me to keep coming to work every day, even when it's really hard.

Specifically, I thanked them with food, with soothing music, and with ten minute appointments with a massage therapist we installed in a vacant office.  It was lovely, and we all felt more relaxed and able to take on the challenges of the coming days.  At least I did.

Interestingly, only about half of them thanked me.  I'll have to spend more time thinking about that.  Am I not supporting them enough, or communicating my support enough?  Was it too little too late?  Can one day of thanks offset a year of intense pressure?  Do they just feel entitled?  Do we simply not do enough thanking to make it part of our culture?  I'm not sure.

One clue is that two days later I got the news that one team member is leaving.

OK.  That's a pretty big clue.

It's not just me; this really is a difficult work environment and I need to do a better job. Thanking people and then throwing them back into the maelstrom isn't the right strategy. Thanking them and working to change the culture they are in, might be.  So, today I promise to begin to try.  I will try to be the change I want to see in my work world.  And, hey, looking back over the last week, I can see that I've already begun.

No comments: