Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.
I recently had two experiences, one right after the other, in which people weren’t grateful for what they received for the simple reason they didn’t have the information that would make them appreciate what they were getting.
The founder and principal consultant of a firm that excels in increasing engagement through change management and communication strategies, was describing what he was doing for some of his clients, he mentioned a problem at a famous and hugely admired Fortune 100 company. The company is accurately described as employee-centric and makes every list of Best Companies to Work For.
But, in the last couple of years, employee griping has been rising while gratitude has been falling. Why, he asked me, do you think that’s the case?
The answer is so simple it’s frightening: the employees of this extremely generous company took the company’s beneficence for granted because they had no comparative data with peer companies or, for that matter, with any other company. They didn’t have the facts that would make them aware of the generosity of their organization.
Truthfully, I have never worked in or consulted to or heard of an organization that supplied its employees with this kind of information.
The second example came from Jack, a small business owner who’s a friend. When I saw him he was viscerally upset and the stress was showing. Due to a number of major interrelated but independent occurrences he had just had a month in which revenues were triple his average monthly take – but expenses were equal to revenue.
This is what had happened: There was a major loss of revenue as a tenant who leased a major part of his building unexpectedly moved out with barely two weeks’ notice. Because of the space which was released when the tenant moved, Jack paid out two extra months’ rent for space he was leasing, and moved that part of the operation into the now vacated space in his headquarters building. In addition to the loss of rental income, paying the two extra months’ rent for leaving his rented space early, and getting the newly released space ready, and moving into the renovated location cost as much as the extra revenue rose.
Jack’s company has a bonus program based on revenue and not on profit. Because the month’s revenues were so extraordinarily high, all of his employees got bonuses, in some cases amounting to a 50 percent increase in their paycheck for that month.
Were the employees grateful? Of course not. As far as they were concerned they had earned the extra money.
Did any of the employees say something like Thank you? Again, of course not. As far as they were concerned “the company” had simply paid them what they had earned and it owed.
Who or What is “the company” to employees? Usually, they don’t know. Who guides, builds, adapts and grows the business? Who is mostly responsible for the company’s success – or failure? What happens when revenue falls or costs soar? Who has to pay the bills irrespective of what’s in the till? What does it cost to keep the business running or growing? What does the business pay in taxes, in utilities, in IT software and hardware, in employee salaries and benefits?
Typically, employees have no answers to these questions. In most cases they don’t think about the obligations and responsibilities of “the company” which, in this case, happens to be Jack and his wife. Nor would employees know that the month’s expenses had equaled revenues. Employees, therefore, could not know that as a result of revenue and costs being equal, their bonuses came out of “the company” – that is, the owner’s private and not so deep pockets.
Jack’s employees need to learn the basics of business; they need an introductory business class. Just for openers, the company should open the books and employees have to be able to read the business’ profit and loss statement.
The moral of this blog is this: before you get seriously irked by a blatant lack of gratitude, remember you can never assume that people know what you know. Relevant, focused information that explains what is happening and why is fundamental to building gratitude and is absolutely essential to creating and sustaining high rates of commitment and engagement.