THE POWER OF APPRECIATION: A 3-part Blog Series – Part Two: More than the air we breathe

Part 2 – More than the air we breathe

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”  —Warren Buffett

kayakWhen I first moved to Colorado I was enamored with all the outdoor activities that were possible and I promised myself I would try them all. A number of years ago, I decided that summer would be about learning to whitewater kayak. I had a friend who was a professional kayaker and he offered to take me and a friend out at a nearby creek that was mellow enough we could practice.

A few things to know about whitewater kayaking: Kayaks are small, very small – getting in is difficult and getting out seems nearly impossible. The water in Colorado is cold, like ice-cold – consider it was snow only a few hours ago and this makes sense. And whitewater kayaks tip over easily, very easily. After maybe 15 minutes of paddling, the bow of my kayak caught a little ripple and I learned how all three of those factors can induce immediate panic when you are upside down, underwater, half-way jammed into a plastic coffin. It probably only took a few seconds for me to extricate myself from the boat and resurface but it felt like minutes. And it made me realize how much I appreciated breathing.

All due respect to Mr. Buffet but I think it is more than just noticing the air – I mean I appreciated it. And it’s not just that way with trust or air, it seems to be a theme in most people’s lives. We only seem to appreciate the sun when it’s raining, we only appreciate the rain when everything starts to turn brown, we only appreciate programs and perks when they go away, and a saddening majority of the time we only truly appreciate great people after they have left.


Interestingly, the benefits of employees feeling valued and cared for extend far beyond getting good people to stay and perform well. People who feel valued at work report less stress (25% vs 56% of those who do not feel valued) and better overall psychological health (89% vs. 69%). Even more interesting in how feeling valued correlates to employees’ perception of their company and work culture:

 *percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements Feel valued Do not feel valued Variance
Overall, I am satisfied with the growth and development opportunities offered by my employer 75% 10% -65%
I receive adequate monetary compensation for achievements and contributions at work 70% 17% -53%
Overall, I am satisfied with the recognition practices of my employer 75% 7% -68%
My employer regularly makes changes in response to employee feedback 56% 5% -51%

It’s not just about keeping good people; it’s about making good people better; it’s about improving how we feel about coming to work in the morning, and it’s about gaining a stronger sense of self and self-worth. If you want your company to be awesome, you need to start by being awesome. Want to feel more appreciated? Appreciate people more. Want something to change? Then you need to change what you do. Breathe deeply, appreciate it and use that breath to tell someone how much you value them.


High Attrition and the Fundamental Attribution Error

I was recently speaking with a friend who noted that the turnover rate at his company was surprisingly high at 26%.  According to him, this was news to everyone as no one had been tracking it, there was just an assumption of good culture since most people seemed happy… at least outwardly.  However, a few departments had seen unusually high turnover, one of them being Human Resources at over 50%.  Now, I would hope this would be cause for alarm by some of the leadership but quite the contrary, many of the senior leaders seemed quite aloof.  My friend had heard them say such things as “they [those that left] just weren’t committed to what we are doing here” and “I’ve lost over half my staff in the past year…I’m trying not to take it personally.”  WHAT!?

I’m going to go in reverse order since the last one seems the most perverse.  According to my friend, this person, a senior HR leader, has lost 5 of his 9 direct reports within the past year.  Does this person not read any studies about why employees say they leave?  For that past 20+ years, the number one reason people leave a job is their boss.  That is not to say the ONLY reason employees leave is because of a bad boss but the law of averages has to catch up to you sooner or later.  I am reminded of a rather cynical quote I saw on, “The only consistent feature of all your dissatisfying relationships is you.”  So how you could possibly NOT take over half your staff leaving, personally?  Now I could open up the flood gates to all the other external reasons why someone might want to leave but that just gets us into the second issue…or the first comment by senior HR leaders above.  The fundamental attribution error.

The Fundamental Attribution Error is a psychological principle that basically says we mistakenly confuse character flaws with situational causes.  It can most notably seen when we make observations about others in comparison to ourselves.  A simple example is: if you get into an accident, you are a careless driver and weren’t paying attention (character). When I get into an accident at that same intersection, the stoplights were messed up and there was ice (situational).  Moreover, we tend to seek external causes to our misfortune rather than looking internally.  It is always because of something else that bad things happen, not because of us.  So because [they] are not committed, they left.  I’m sure it has nothing to do with you. Right.

Here is another disturbing indicator, this company my friend works at, does not do exit interviews. Presumably, because they either don’t want to know why people are leaving, or they DO know why people are leaving and they don’t want it confirmed.  After all, a fair amount of our defensive responses surround protecting ourselves from things we do not want to feel, or be reminded of.  So if I  fear I am a bad boss and I do not want to feel that way, I will think of countless ways to avoid it (such as not asking, attributing turnover to external causes, blaming, rationalizing, etc.)

If you have high turnover, and it is a surprise when it happens, there is a good chance you are not paying attention to how YOU affect your employees.  Sure, there are other reasons, but YOU have control over most of them.  If you really want to know, find a good 360 instrument, ask your employees, and DO something with your exit data.