A Few Key Phrases Can Turn Employees from Wilted to Blooming, Author Says

    Author Todd Patkin
    Author Todd Patkin

    Spring is a time of renewal. The sun is shining. The plants are starting to grow again. Everything seems like it is ready for a fresh start – including your relationship with your co-workers and employees.

    At least, that’s how author Todd Patkin feels. If your company’s morale is wilting, maybe you need a little renewal in terms of how you talk to one another, said Patkin, author of “Finding Happiness” and a former executive in his family’s auto parts business (his second book, “Destination: Happiness: The Travel Guide That Gets You from Here to There, Emotionally and Spiritually” will be published soon).

    These are the phrases that your employees or co-workers want to hear, rather than the sometimes negative or defeating statements that happen on a routine basis. Rather than call it “employee engagement,” how about Spring Revitalization?

    “In the midst of the everyday chaos of running a business, leaders often don’t think about what they could or should say to motivate their employees,” Patkin said. “Often, leaders assume that their employees know how they feel – about each person’s individual performance and about the company’s health in general. Usually, though, that’s not the case.”

    FindingHappiness_3D_CoverPatkin grew up in Needham, Mass. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next 18 years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy.

    One of his most reliable growth strategies, he said, was proactively nurturing his employees’ attitudes about their jobs by engaging them in conversation. Now, Patkin translates that experience into consulting with organizations to help them build corporate morale and promote greater productivity.

    Here are some of the phrases your employees want to hear more of this season – or any time of the year:

    1. “I need your help.” The age of rule-with-an-iron-fist, top-down leadership is fading fast. More and more, organizations in all industries are realizing that there’s an almost-magical power in the synergy of teams. “Yes, your employees will be looking to you to steer your company in the right direction, but I promise, they know you’re human, and they don’t expect you to have all the answers,” Patkin said. “So the next time you’re facing a difficult decision or brainstorming options, ask your team for help. Rather than losing respect for you as a leader, they’ll appreciate that you treated them as valued partners—and they’ll feel more invested in your company’s future because they had more of a hand in creating it.”

    2. “How is your family?” The truth is, people don’t care how much you know (or how good you are at your job) until they know how much you care. Your employees will be more loyal and more motivated if they feel valued as individuals, not just as job descriptions. So get to know each team member on an individual basis and incorporate that knowledge into your regular interactions. For instance, if you know that John in Accounting has a daughter who’s applying to college, ask him which schools she’s considering. Or if Susanna in HR just came back from vacation, ask to see a few pictures.

    3. “What do you need from me?” Often, employees are anxious about asking the boss for what they need, whether it’s updated office equipment, more time to complete a project, advice, etc. They may fear a harsh response, want to avoid looking needy, or simply feel that it’s “not their place” to ask for more than you’ve already provided. By explicitly asking what you can give them, you extend permission for your people to make those requests—and they’ll certainly appreciate it.

    4. “I noticed what you did.” Every day, your employees do a lot of “little” things that keep your company running smoothly and customers coming back: Refilling the copier with paper when it’s empty. Smiling at customers after each transaction. Double-checking reports for errors before sending them on. And so forth. Unfortunately, in many organizations, these everyday actions are taken for granted, which (understandably) has a negative effect on employee morale. “Your employees want to know that you notice and value the mundane parts of their jobs, not just the big wins and achievements,” Patkin said.

    5. “Thank you.” Yes, your employees may crave recognition for doing the mundane parts of their jobs, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t also appreciate a heartfelt “thank you” for bigger accomplishments. “People love to hear positive feedback about themselves, and in most cases, they’ll be willing to work a lot harder to keep the compliments and thanks coming,” Patkin said. “Praise, especially when it comes from an authority figure, is incredibly fulfilling.”