Editor's Note: In today's Classic post, Derek Irvine gives us a memorable example of an organizational issue with potentially profound impact on service and results, which can't be fixed (though someone is always trying, it seems) by pay alone.
What is your usual experience at your motor vehicle office? I’m not sure what to call it. In Massachusetts where I am located half the year, it’s called a Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), though I understand Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is common across the US. In Ireland (my home country), it’s the Motor Tax Office, which seems more straightforward in defining the realpurpose.
Regardless of what you call it, I’m learning the typical interaction at the DMV is something most dread. A Boston colleague just spent a harrowing afternoon going through the simple process of renewing a driver’s license, beginning with finding a location that was still open. The actual time at the DMV was more painful, as she was shuttled to three different lines over the course of two hours.
Why is this experience at the DMV so common, it’s the punch line in television commercials?
Recent research described in Good Culture explains:
“The research, titled The Destructive Nature of Power Without Status, concludes that people in positions with power but low social status often use their authority to demean others. The lesson is not just that power corrupts, but that putting people in demeaning roles leads them to demean others. In other words, it's a real life reminder of the trope that ‘misery loves company.’”
What does this have to do with compensation?
Every organization has positions of low social status but with power. Perhaps you are already picturing such a person in your mind – likely a person who is constantly the cause of a stream of employees coming into your office in HR with a complaint. But what’s the solution? You can’t increase “social status” in an organization by increasing salary, though some may try.
The same research offers the solution:
“The solution, obviously enough, is to tell and show people that they're valuable. Respect, the authors write, ‘assuages negative feelings about their low-status roles, and leads them to treat others positively.’”
Implementing such a solution is a matter of changing your culture, however. A culture of respect reinforces in every employee, at every level, at all team members are critical to organization success. Most recognize the value of the work of others. Many are grateful they do not have to perform those roles themselves. Think about your typical school. A history teacher friend of mine is quick to say how grateful she is that she does not have teach gym class. And no school could function for long without an excellent cafeteria team and janitorial crew. They are no less important to the students’ ability to focus and learn during the day than the teachers.
How do you express your respect for your colleagues and their efforts? Words we use at work matter. Try simply saying, “Thank you. I notice what you do. It’s important and I appreciate it.” Creating a culture of respect through recognition is a chain reaction that can begin with one person showing respect and appreciation.
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.