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Employee Perception: Breaking the “Us” vs “Them” Mindset

Perception is a strange thing. It’s highly subjective and changes easily. If someone has ever tried describing your experiences and completely missed the mark, you understand that, sometimes, your version of events is radically different from someone else’s. And it’s all because of perception. The way we perceive the world is defined by our senses; we are given a set of stimuli, and as we process that data, we create our own interpretations of what it means to us. One person might hear a dog barking and think “danger!” while another might think “cute, furry, and friendly!” Yet, the individual’s perception can be changed simply by adding additional data to the mix, like a child laughing or a “beware of dog” sign. Perception is what we use to navigate the world around us – and it also plays a big part in how we work. 

Why Perception Matters

Many physical and emotional factors affect what and how a person feels at work – colleagues, superiors, environment, a sense of inclusion (or lack thereof). If you think your boss is difficult or unpleasant, you’re not going to like your job very much. If you don’t get credit for your work or have opportunities to excel, you’re going to feel ignored and unfulfilled.  

While those outcomes of perception are apparent on the surface, there’s more to the story. Employees are drawn to separate themselves from managers and leadership because they feel they don’t have power. Instead, employees might find comfort in disassociation from authority and leadership, putting up mental barriers shaped by what research points to as the social identity theory and psychological safety. These concepts suggest that an employee’s attempt to fit in determines their behavior in the workplace, whether they try to separate themselves from authority or see themselves belonging as a group with their peers.  

Why is all of this important? Because employees are people. When they perceive managers and supervisors as some out-of-reach entity, it takes away context and purpose from their work. It promotes the thought of “my decisions have no influence anyway, so what’s the point?” And that’s not just detrimental to employee engagement – it’s bad for business.

Employee Recognition can Positively Influence Perception

Companies that pay attention to their employees can save more than $16 million annually, just by increasing recognition and reducing turnover. This was a major finding from a recent report by Gallup and Workhuman, which also revealed that engaged employees mean a significant boost in profits and productivity and decrease in safety issues and non-commitment. Changing perception can be a challenge – but a necessary one – so here are some insights from the report that can help you succeed:  

  • Invest in recognition as a strategic differentiator for your culture by encouraging unanimous buy-in from the company’s leadership.
  • Lead by example and be transparent about the importance of recognition in shaping company culture.
  • Assess and align your recognition practices with organizational priorities and values to ensure fairness and effectiveness.
  • Appreciate employees for what they bring to work beyond their professional capabilities and customize recognition efforts based on individual accomplishments and preferences.

At the end of the day, what every employee seeks is empowerment and engagement. If you are seen as an effective leader, you will have a shot at helping your employees overcome emotional disconnect. If they believe in the company, leadership, mission, vision, and values, they will believe that they matter. If you can recognize that people create value, and in turn a successful organization, you just might have a winning formula.

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