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Need more engaged employees? Appreciate them, have an employee recognition programme in place
Dr. Paul White interviewed by Swati Gangawane Gujar - 11th April 2018

Dr Paul White is a psychologist, author, speaker, and consultant who ‘makes work relationships work’. He has co-authored three books, including ‘The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace’, written with Dr. Gary Chapman (author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages) which is in 15 languages and has sold over 225,000 copies worldwide.  Based on their extensive research and expertise, Dr. White and Dr. Chapman have developed a unique way for organizations to improve staff morale, increase employee engagement, and create enhanced levels of trust.  His other two books co-authored with Dr. Chapman and Harold Myra, ‘Rising Above a Toxic Workplace’ and ‘Sync or Swim’, continue to be well-received by employees, HR professionals, and organizational leaders. His most recent book, The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation, has been cited as the #1 new HR book released in 2017. You can learn more about Dr. White’s work at appreciationatwork.com.

The Bravo team had the opportunity to interview Dr. White wherein he shared his insights on why money is not always a the best motivator, what motivates millennials at work and why appreciating colleagues and employees as individuals is important.

Q: In your book ‘The Vibrant Workplace’ in the chapter on generational differences you speak of a good work ethic and how it differs across generations. How do you think organizations could prepare themselves to align with changing needs? 

Dr. Paul White: First, as I indicate in The Vibrant Workplace, I think often what are labeled as ‘generational differences’ often are not generational differences.  Rather, they are patterns that occur regardless of ones’ generation but are attributed to age differences because their outward appearance looks slightly different than previously.  Secondly, often the changes are more due to life stage issues (being a single, 25-year old male versus a 25-year old male who is married and has an infant child).  Thus, I think it is important for leaders to not overemphasize generational differences but rather look to understanding the individual.

Related to this, especially with regards to the issue of perceived differences in work ethic, I think it is going to be important for leaders to understand and accept the reality that many younger employees have far less work experience than prior generations did at the same age.  Therefore, they have not yet learned many of the lessons, behaviors and values necessary to be successful in the work setting.

‘Leaders and organizations encounter obstacles that need to be overcome in order to fully apply the concept of authentic appreciation.’

Q: On a related note, what inspired you to write ‘The Vibrant Workplace’

Dr. Paul White: I am a life-long learner and am always seeking to understand people’s behaviors and try to figure out how to improve situations.  As a result, over the past several years while working with numerous organizations and applying the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace to their settings, I observed repetitive ‘sticking points’ where leaders and organizations encountered obstacles that needed to be overcome in order to more fully apply the concept of authentic appreciation.  Then, as I continued to speak and train, many of the issues were raised repeatedly (‘How do you deal with…’) and so I felt it was time to gather my thoughts and experiences and share how we’ve learned to overcome the challenges experienced.

‘For a more inclusive and equal workplace, communicating and affirming the value of each individual is the starting point.’

Q: A woman in the United States, on average, makes 79 cents for every dollar paid to a man. This also translates to women being less appreciated at work. How could organizations incorporate a more inclusive culture to appreciate them equally at work?

Dr. Paul White: This is a difficult issue because workplace culture reflects one’s larger cultural context. Therefore, if women (or any subset of humans) are not valued equally within one’s culture, then it is highly likely this will be reflected in the workplace as well.  Having said that, there are specific steps that can be taken to help address this issue.  However, it should be noted that the actions will be perceived and experienced as ‘cross cultural’ to one’s dominant culture.

Therefore, there will be both resistance and some risk involved.  Foundationally, communicating and affirming the value of each individual is the starting point.  Then allowing individuals (in this case, women) to demonstrate their competencies by providing opportunities to do so, as well as providing needed training and support for them moving into an area they probably have not functioned previously.  I think the provision of training and support is critical (versus a ‘go ahead—see what you can do’ attitude.)

‘Money is not a good long-term motivator for most people. Non-financial motivators help employees become far more engaged.’

Q: We often find that despite good pay, employees are not fully engaged with their work. How do you think organizations could achieve this ‘sweet spot’?

Dr. Paul White: I’ve just completed revising and updating the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace to be released in January 2019.  In the chapter on ‘For Business Leaders:  The Return on Investments from Appreciation’ I review an amazing amount of new research including that done by the Gallup group and other multinational consulting firms which shows that money is not a good long-term motivator for most people and that non-financial motivators (appreciation, opportunity to grow, meaningful work, and appropriate decisions) help employees become far more engaged than just getting a raise or bonus.  Therefore, it is important to include both types of incentives, especially for high level executives and successful sales persons.

‘Collaboration, training and how their work helps make a difference, can get Millennials engaged.’

Q: What can be done to keep Millennial employees more engaged? How can workplaces transform to make this happen? 

Dr. Paul White: As with any individual (or group), listening is the first step.  Those from other generations need to listen and seek to understand rather than blame and give ‘you should…’ messages first.  Understanding individuals’ true desires and being able to tie work processes into these desires will be the most beneficial.  Having said that, there is the reality that needs to be accepted by Millennials that ‘work is work’ and it is not always fun, fulfilling, and often is demanding and sometimes mundane.  Tying the motivators that Millennials desire – working together collaboratively, being trained in new skills, and shown how their tasks help make a difference in someone’s life – is critical to getting them engaged in their work.

‘People often don’t understand what ‘culture’ is.’

Q: Leaders have the capacity and the power to change things. Despite this we often find that organizations find the transition from being a just about ok employer to a great one difficult. What in your opinion stops leaders from transforming their companies into more vibrant workplaces?

Dr. Paul White: This was clearly the driving factor for writing The Vibrant Workplace which is subtitled, ‘Overcoming Obstacles to Create a Culture of Appreciation’.  There are numerous obstacles that can be encountered.  Therefore, it is important to identify the obstacles in your organization and address those specifically.

I think an important issue is, however, that people often don’t understand what ‘culture’ is.  They tend to think of it as an external concept.  Rather, culture is the result of numerous individual behaviors and interactions between individuals over time.  Therefore, to change one’s culture is to begin to change individual behavior and interactions between all levels of employees.  There are additional steps that help change behavior (identifying, communicating, and emphasizing core values; creating structure and processes to implement these core values, etc.) but ultimately it always comes back to individual behaviors on a day-to-day basis.

‘Appreciating a colleague stems from understanding that they have value, both as a co-worker as well as a person outside of work.’

Q: Often employees don’t get what they want most i.e. being recognized for their individual contributions. Despite so many studies, we still find many organizations stuck in a blindspot when it comes to employee recognition. How would you approach this problem? 

Dr. Paul White: First, I believe there continues to be a significant confusion between recognition for performance and authentic appreciation for the person.  Performance based recognition is valuable and effective when it is designed and implemented correctly (when it is not it can be a disaster, creating significant negative results).  Appreciating a colleague stems from understanding that they have value, both as a co-worker as well as a person outside of work.  Again, this is a value and perspective that many leaders don’t have, where they still view employees as ‘resources’ (just like steel, buildings, machines) and thus treat their employees as resources to be ‘used up’.   Some people don’t (and may not ever) ‘get it’.  I would encourage individuals to start with others who see the need and share the value that employees are more than producers, and start implementing authentic appreciation in your day-to-day work relationships.

Q: Chatbots and automation in the workplace are a big trend. This has its critics as well as supporters. What is your opinion on the use of technology like this in the HR domain?  

Dr. Paul White: While chatbots are used increasingly in many settings, and there are obvious financial and logical benefits from doing so, I believe the risk for continuing to depersonalize interactions is problematic.  I think organizations need to think through the purposes of using technological advances, as well as the potential costs.  Chatbots that can lead you quickly to information are great, but when a customer does not feel that their concern or problem is understood (like when your problem doesn’t fit neatly in the program’s list of problems), then customer loyalty and satisfaction suffer.  Interacting with employees through similar technology can quickly undermine the employees’ sense of feeling valued.  Caution (and testing new processes through pilot programs rather than full-on implementation) should be the guiding principle.  It seems far easier to err towards impersonal interaction (in the name of financial savings) than being too committed to personal interaction.

Q: Which is the product or technology related to HR applications that you are most excited about for in the future? 

Dr. Paul White: To be honest, while there are benefits from technological advances (including HR applications), technology by itself is not going to make life substantively better for us.  We are people first, and companies and organizations are comprised of individual persons.  Therefore, I believe we need to focus more on treating one another well, understanding each other’s strengths and contributions, and learning to work together in healthy relationships.  I think video conferencing (while not new, obviously) is a highly effective tool to facilitate deeper relationships when individuals work across distances.  (We have recently completed some research with remote employees who identify video conferencing as one of the most desired practical steps for improving their relationships in long-distance work relationships.)

Q: You are a psychologist, author, speaker and family business coach. You have also consulted with a wide variety of organizations, including Microsoft, the US Air Force, NASA, numerous hospitals and over 400 colleges and universities. Do you reckon your background in psychology helped you understand the needs of such a varying audience? 

Dr. Paul White: Yes, definitely.  My training and experience as a psychologist has helped me learn how to be observant of others’ behaviors and behavior patterns; be able to listen to them effectively; and seek to understand their inner thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Also, my training in research allows me to explore and investigate the relevant issues (more deeply than those without this training) and pull together common themes that apply to the groups of people we serve.

Q: One last question on a slightly different track. Some of our readers are from India and Asia and it would be great, if you have a go at this question:
Millennials account for 27% of the global population.  About 58 percent of global Millennials live in Asia, including a whopping 385 million in India—by far the largest domestic population of Millennials in the world, and accounting for 19 percent of the global generational cohort. This demographic divided poses a risk too due to lack of proper education and training. If you had the opportunity to shape such a huge resource, how would you approach this problem/opportunity? 

Dr. Paul White: This is a great question and there is a tremendous opportunity to capture.  Many people don’t know that much of my professional experience has been in evaluating students who have learning difficulties.  This is relevant because this, along with my experience in interviewing dozens of successful business leaders, led me to understand that there is a set of skills that are necessary for life success (and are not directly related to academic learning).

While there is not room to delineate all of the ‘key lessons for life success’ I’ve put together, it is important for us to help young people learn:

  • Demonstrated responsibility leads to increased privileges.
  • You have to learn how to work together with others effectively.
  • It is critical to have a learning attitude and being willing to put forth the time (and extra effort) to learn new skills.
  • Accepting responsibility for one’s choices (including mistakes and learning from those mistakes) is critical in order to move forward in life.
  • Accept we all (including your company) have are limited resources (time, energy, and money) and that one must prioritize how we use these resources.
  • Perseverance is key. Most successful leaders have had numerous setbacks and failures, but they attempt to learn from them and “keep going.”

Teaching young people these skills will help them be able to enter into and engage in opportunities for skill-based training and benefit.  Without these foundational attitudes and habits, no amount of education or training will be successful.

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Pozitive” a Product Division of SpadeWorx is next step in taking forward our mission - “Employee Engagement To Drive Productivity & Innovation”. We have been privileged to work with lot of customers over the last decade and have learnt a lot when it comes to the increasing importance of Employee Engagement as organizations are getting on the digital transformation journey.

Increasing Employee Engagement requires a cultural transformation at many organizations and we believe reimagining recognition is a good start. For this purpose, SpadeWorx launched “Bravo – Workplace Recognition Reimagined

With our research, surveys ,participation in expos and conferences a very clear message has emerged which is voiced by thought leaders in HR space that Culture is the most important catalyst in a company for vibrant and positive work place which can bring increased productivity and efficiency.

Bravo is aimed at promoting desired cultural traits which is so very essential for strategy execution.