The Best Form of Recognition When Resources Are Tight

As a well-known book recommended: Find someone doing something right and take one minute and tell them. The best form of recognition can almost be free!

For the last several months, I have been part of a team consulting project for a manufacturing firm that is recovering from a 175-day strike. At this plant, there are about 125 hourly union employees and about 50 salaried non-union employees. The goal is to weave the culture together so all employees feel as if they are on the same team. This is one of the most challenging projects in which I have been involved. But it also will be the most rewarding if we (a team of three) can accomplish our goals.

We interviewed a majority of the union employees and almost all of the salaried people. We discovered a strong theme: People want to feel appreciated.

Building Relationships

This may sound obvious. So what is going on?

Loneliness was an epidemic before the pandemic. The National Academy of Sciences reported that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely. Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, author of “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connections in a Sometimes Lonely World” said recently in a New York Times essay:

“When people are socially disconnected, their risk of anxiety and depression increases. So does their risk of heart disease, dementia, and stroke. The increased risk of premature death associated with social disconnection is comparable to smoking daily—and may be even greater than the risk associated with obesity.”

Loneliness is an issue for people of all ages. In Robert Waldinger’s TED talk, “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness,” and his book “The Good Life,” Waldinger says that while many young people tend to think that fame, fortune, and hard work will bring them happiness, it’s actually our social connections that are most important for our well-being.

In previous columns, I emphasized how leadership is not a position or title. Leadership is a relationship. Now more than ever is the time for leaders to focus on building relationships. While it sounds easy to do, relationships take time and intentional thought—an investment that pays off.

Quick Recognition Tips

Christopher Littlefield is an expert on appreciation, recognition, and culture. Littlefield often writes articles about employee recognition and engagement for Harvard Business Review and Forbes. Here are a few ideas from Littlefield that do not cost money or take that much time:

  • Block out “Recognize for Retention”or “Recognition Time” on your calendar for 20 minutes each week. During that time, write a handwritten note to two to three people. The more specific the note, the better.
  • Put five coins in your left pocketat the start of the day. Each time you compliment a person, move the coin to the other pocket. Compliments should be authentic and again say something specific to the person or about the situation.
  • Keep a list of all of your employees on your desk. Each week, recognize two to three people. Not sure what to recognize them for? Notice. Be aware. Look for a small win.
  • Create a personal ritual and start every day by sending one message of appreciation to a staff member.

Take Just a Minute

For this consulting project, we are advocating that leaders use a variety of practices to weave the culture together. We want to create a culture in which all employees want to work. So we are coaching the senior leadership team to make the time to get to know their employees at a deeper level. As a result of the strike, turnover increased, which creates an opportunity to create the desired culture.

This leadership development consulting project has reminded me several times of the 1986 classic book, “The One-Minute Manager,” by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Find someone doing something right and take one minute and tell them. The best form of recognition can almost be free!

Jann E. Freed
Jann E. Freed, PhD, is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development consultant. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge Publishing, 2023). For more information, visit