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Your team wants more than money–give them meaning. 


In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, arguably among the great holiday movies of all time, the hapless patriarch Clark Griswold eagerly awaits the delivery of his Christmas bonus, which he’s already spent on a new swimming pool. 


Imagine his disappointment on Christmas Eve when his bonus arrived, and it’s not the fat cheque he’d expected from his boss, Mr. Shirley, but membership in the “Jelly of the Month Club.”  


Despite Cousin Eddie’s assurance that it’s “the gift that keeps on giving all year,” Clark is unconvinced. He wanted that wad of cash!     


The movie was released in 1989, a time when holiday bonuses were de rigueur, an expected part of the compensation package and a major incentive for employees like Clark. 


A lot has changed since then. Money is not the golden carrot it once was. 


Of course, people need to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in our punishing economy’s double-whammy of inflation and high-interest rates. Pay does matter–to a point. 


But the old hallmarks of success–raises, bonuses, promotions–aren’t everything. 


Today, people expect more from work. They are driven by intrinsic motivators such as a sense of meaning and fulfilment.  A Harvard Business Review article cited a study that found that more than 90% of the 2,000-plus workers surveyed across all ages and salary groups would give up an average of 23% of future lifetime earnings to have a meaningful job until retirement. 


That’s huge!


To be clear, I’m not saying nix the holiday bonus. If you can swing it, it will definitely be appreciated. But don’t rely solely on money to show your team you value them. Here are some other, more meaningful gifts you can bestow upon your team, and not just over the holidays–these truly are the “gifts that keep giving all year.”


Recognition

Everyone wants to feel like what they do matters. 

Seize opportunities to celebrate great work, whether it’s an individual achievement or a group win. There are many ways to recognize exceptional performance: public praise, a handwritten note of congratulations and thanks, or even a company award. However you celebrate your team’s accomplishments, let them know their hard work has been seen and valued.  


Respect

This should be table stakes. But too many leaders let respectful behavior slide when things are tough. That is not OK, and it is also unwise: nothing erodes trust like disrespect. It hurts everyone and creates a toxic environment. 


Respect is fundamental to a positive, collaborative, engaged workplace. It includes courtesy (even in a crisis), professionalism, and good habits that affect others, like punctuality and keeping your commitments. 


But respect goes beyond just being polite. It’s also about creating a safe space for people to be their authentic selves. As a leader, you must create a respectful environment where communication is encouraged, and people feel seen and heard. When your team can safely ask questions, challenge each other, and share ideas. 


The result? Respect fosters trust, which increases engagement and builds commitment.


Connection

Relationships are the engine of your company machine. They drive everything. Research tells us that the most effective leadership is relational. 


Building relationships isn’t abstracted from the work; it IS the work of leaders. 


That’s because a positive and productive workplace is one in which people feel safe — safe enough to experiment, challenge themselves and others, share ideas and be themselves. Research shows that people value communication with their manager not just about their roles and responsibilities but also about them as people. 


Growth 

High-potential employees want to learn and grow. They want to do challenging work that allows them to put their skill and ideas to work in a role that amplifies their strengths, interests and values.


Empower your team by cultivating a learning culture in your organization. Communicate the importance of ongoing development, emphasizing that it is a shared organizational goal, and modelling the behaviour by being a lifelong learner yourself. And support them by working together to set learning and development goals aligned with their career aspirations and ensuring they have the resources (time, funding, etc.) to pursue development and training. 


Autonomy

No one likes feeling like their every move is being scrutinized or that they have no freedom or authority to make decisions. 


Giving your team autonomy demonstrates trust in their abilities and faith in their judgment. This trust, in turn, builds a positive culture based on mutual respect between leaders and their teams.


Autonomy is closely linked to engagement. When people have a say in how they do their jobs, they are more likely to be engaged, committed, and invested in the organization's success.


So give your staff room to make their own decisions. And you’ll need to accept that sometimes, they aren’t going to make the best ones. Embrace these as learning opportunities, not failures or proof they can’t handle the responsibility. Learning from mistakes is a valuable part of the development process.


And remember: autonomy isn’t hands-off. Make sure they have the support and guidance they need to succeed. That includes regular communication, setting clear expectations, and ongoing feedback.  

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greg rutledge
greg rutledge
Dec 20, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great read and so true!! Nice blog Sean

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