He has to be their best kept secret, I thought as I watched the technician set my glasses on the counter to look at their balance, then lift them close to his face to check for problems near their joints.
For weeks I’d been walking around with frames that, over the course of day, would quietly rise off my left ear, leaving my glasses sitting crooked on my face. I’d gone to optical stores here and there to address the issue. A slight adjustment to one arm or the other, a quick and unsatisfactory wipe of my lenses and I was sent on my way. The glasses would feel and look right for a couple of hours before the problem returned. It was a small annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but an exasperating one.
Which is perhaps why I was so surprised by Joseph’s — we’ll call him Joseph — work. My slipping frames were just a minor issue to past associates, but he made them his issue. He took his time to figure out the source of the problem, made miniscule fixes, then tested his work before going back in and meticulously making more adjustments.
It was rush hour when I met Joseph, and this took what felt like 20 minutes. It’s quite possible that 20 minutes is too long by a lot of company and customer standards — especially nowadays. But I appreciated it so much.
He told me he’d been with the company since the first Daley administration, and in the glasses business for longer than that. I thought about how much I valued his work, then I thought about what might influence his work — the relationship between employee appreciation, performance and engagement.
Not long ago, I wrote about how large a role managers play in employee retention. If only they were more communicative, collaborative and more inclined to acknowledge employees for their talent and commitment, they would see greater performance, experience more loyalty and see fewer people leaving. This is my unscientific take on the matter but when it comes to how employees respond to an unsupportive environment, I see three groups: those who care and are deeply impacted, those who care but deal until they simply can’t anymore, and those who are indifferent to the culture and love their job or their paycheck so much they won’t be deterred by a lack of support. My guess is the technician who helped me falls into the latter category. But he is the rarity, not the rule.
If the truth that employees leave managers not companies is no longer vibrant enough for you, how about the neuro-side of this.
In a study conducted by researchers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, when two groups of university fundraisers were compared to one another, the group given a pep talk by the development director made 50 percent more fundraising calls than the group that did not get a pep talk.
Why? Gratitude has a powerful impact on people’s lives because it engages the brain “in a virtuous cycle,” wrote Alex Korb, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today article. Our brains are incredibly impacted by feelings of gratitude — these feelings activate regions of our noggins associated with the release of the “reward chemical” dopamine, which encourages us to stay motivated.
Gratitude promotes well-being, has positive effects on employee work-life balance, and it’s contagious. I don’t think its business and social value can be overstated, as long as it’s done from a place of authenticity, of course.
I do hope that’s the case for Joseph, my glasses technician, and for others like him, giving it their all, unbothered by the culture around them. Because culture does matter. Companies can’t afford to use employee resilience as an excuse to ignore the human-ness of the people they hire to do their work. They’ve got to see them, really see them and tell them they see them and all they do, just like I saw Joseph and he saw me.
Bravetta Hassell is an associate editor for Chief Learning Officer. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.