HR Pros Can’t Fix Everything Wrong With the Workplace, but Creating a Culture of Appreciation Goes a Long Way

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While COVID-19 has affected us all, it has made the jobs of those in HR especially challenging.

The human resources team is the keystone of an organization. These individuals commit to inspiring and motivating employees; finding the best candidates; keeping people engaged; and building atmospheres of equity, diversity, and inclusion. What makes the division so special is in the name itself: Human resources is a humanizing presence in a corporate world that so often boils everything down to a matter of metrics.

More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, most industries are still far from fully recovering. For those fortunate enough to still have their jobs, the reality of another year without a promotion or the bonus they’ve been accustomed to receiving is setting in. People feel stuck.

A recent survey by Strada Education Network found that many Americans feel powerless in their careers, with more than half of respondents finding it hard to land a good job or advance professionally.

With so many of the pandemic’s effects beyond anyone’s control, even HR teams feel helpless when it comes to getting employees unstuck. But while you can’t grant every promotion request or hand out raises, HR does have the ability to make a tremendous impact on the way people feel at work.

It Starts With Recognition

Think back to your school days. It was probably pretty easy to tell when you were doing well, right? If you put in the work in the classroom, you’d be rewarded with a grade that validated your effort.

That desire for validation still burns brightly within all of us when we’re adults — but validation is much harder to find in the professional world. When we don’t get it, we’re left feeling disappointed and frustrated. Amid the pandemic, employees are feeling that frustration more than ever.

HR has an opportunity to reengage employees by creating a culture of recognition and acknowledgment — and doing so doesn’t necessarily require any massive overhauls to company operations. Something as simple as a “Job well done!” email or a virtual high five in a team meeting can go a long way because adults often neglect to reward themselves. We are our toughest critics, and when we do accomplish something notable that may have taken months of continuous effort, we usually move right on to the next project without so much as a pat on the back.

Of course, HR can’t spend every moment celebrating successes. More often than not, HR doesn’t even have insight into employees’ day-to-day wins. But HR can play a critical role in changing the overall company culture by making acknowledgment of employee wins a routine.

I recommend setting a daily intention to recognize at least one person for one win. Do so via email, a public acknowledgment, or any other way you feel comfortable. When you focus on how other people are succeeding, you’ll notice more of it. Before long, recognition will become a habit.

When employees see the HR team modeling this behavior of acknowledgment and recognition, they’ll feel the impact and want to follow your lead. Sometimes it just takes one simple act to spark a culture change, and HR is uniquely situated to be that spark.

Ask the Tough Questions

Everyone defines happiness differently. For some, “happiness” means the corner office on the executive floor. For many others, happiness is something far less tangible, far harder to put into words. It may not seem like much, but helping to create a culture where leaders and colleagues take the time to recognize the contributions of others can have a tremendous impact on how employees feel every day.

But what about you, HR pro? What do you really want? If anything were possible, what would you really want to be doing?

Before you proceed, take down your walls. This isn’t a question you can answer with a carefully crafted and memorized elevator pitch. If you take the time to answer this question genuinely, it can be an eye-opening experience.

That’s because we rarely take the time to ask ourselves what we really want. I should know — I never did. I spent 17 years in the corporate world, pushing every single day to get recognized and continuously promoted. For a while, I was thriving. Yet, amid all of the professional accolades, something was missing. I still felt empty.

In June 2010, my daughter was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, and my entire life changed. Everything I thought had mattered before that moment suddenly seemed meaningless. I had to take the time to look deep into myself and come to terms with what I really wanted out of life.

The diagnosis caused an awakening that drew me further away from the familiar corporate machine that was safe and unfulfilling. Instead, I entered a career that had me serving others. I wanted to support those who felt stuck in the same way I did. I made it my goal to spend each day coaching people to find the things that made them feel truly fulfilled.

Ultimately, this work led me to develop what I call the “New Golden Rule.” Not to be confused with the “old” Golden Rule — “Treat others as you would like to be treated” — the New Golden Rule encourages you to “Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you.”

Since the day I left the corporate world behind, I’ve focused on helping others find happiness in their work and themselves by following the New Golden Rule. HR pros can do the same for employees by using their power to make people feel seen, needed, and more fulfilled in the work they’re doing each day.

We’re living in a weird time, and while no one can fix everything wrong with the world of work today, we can help others see that the work they do makes a difference. Promotions and bonuses may be on hold, but HR can still make the workplace feel more human.

Emily Golden is a master certified coach and the author of The New Golden Rule: The Professional Perfectionist’s Guide to Greater Emotional Intelligence, a More Fulfilling Career, and a Better Life. 

By Emily Golden