Is showing care and concern for our fellow employees an act of recognition or something completely different?
From my point of view, I have defined recognition as mostly an intangible expression of acknowledgement and valuing of an individual or team, for their positive behaviours, their personal effort, or contributions they have made.
By this definition, recognition occurs because:
(1) Some positive action or specific positive behaviors have occurred by an employee on the job.
(2) You feel their actions merit you acknowledging and valuing them for who they are or what they do.
(3) And, unlike rewards, you are not expecting the employee to do something in return just because you’ve recognized them.
So now, in response to a recent question asked of me, do you give recognition to people because they’ve experienced a positive life event or perhaps they’ve had some serious challenges?
Let’s examine this carefully.
Putting Care and Concern In The Right Place
I quickly did a dictionary.com search of the words “care” and “concern” to compare with my recognition definition and with the whole question around showing care and concern to employees. Below are the definitions I chose that are best for our discussion.
Care is the provision of whatever is needed for the well-being or protection of a person.
It would appear that showing care happens when:
(1) An individual is not in the best state of well-being or needs some demonstration of protection.
(2) This state of the individual rarely has anything to do with work.
(3) You never expect anything in return for showing someone genuine care.
Concern is the engaging of a person’s attention, interest, or care that affects a person’s welfare or happiness.
As for concern, it would appear that you show this when:
(1) An individual or family has a reduced level of welfare that needs addressing or you want to share in their recent happiness.
(2) These situations rarely have anything to do with their work situation and are personal.
(3) Nothing is ever expected in return for showing someone sincere concern.
Southwest Airlines’ Care and Concern
Anytime I think of showing care and concern for employees the organization that stands out in my mind in doing this well is Southwest Airlines. They have a team of staff called their Internal Customer Care (ICC) team, and they are the ones that make care and concern come alive at Southwest on behalf of the executive team.
I reached out to my friend Andrea Mathews, Manager Executive Office, who oversees the Southwest’s ICC team to ask her a few questions about the amazing things they make happen.
When I asked Andrea whether she felt Internal Customer Care fell under “recognition” or if it is it kept entirely separate, she answered, “I don’t personally feel like ICC should fall directly in the same bucket as recognition. While very related, I never want what ICC does to be tied to a motive.”
She said, “We are dealing with very personal life events versus work events. When someone is fighting cancer, we don’t want them to feel as if we are only caring in order to get something in return.”
Training People on Care and Concern
Giving care and concern requires a great deal of empathy and awareness of employee needs.
Are these skills and attributes taught to Southwest employees?
Andrea shared that ICC invests deeply in training their leaders and their employees. This can include creating educational flyers for posting at all the workstations, visiting the stations to meet with leaders and local employees face-to-face, and presenting sessions at the Leadership Training classes for new leaders.
The purpose of all of their training and communications is to educate all employees about the importance of life events in people’s lives and how to let the ICC team know about those life events when they occur.
One area to flag for all of you is remembering Personal Privacy laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This requires that before ever sharing an employee’s potential care and concern need, that a reporting employee, supervisor, or manager, has the permission of the identified employee to share their information with ICC.
Southwest is moving heavily to encouraging employees personally to let the ICC know directly of a care and concern need. This puts the team in the best position to act on first-hand information in a way that is most meaningful to the employee.
Andrea indicated they see a huge opportunity to train local leaders on how to make sure employees feel the Southwest “LUV” from all levels. They will do this through providing tools, forms, awareness building, and communication support.
Southwest Care and Concern is Leadership Driven
I thought I would ask Andrea if she knew where the idea behind the ICC program originated. She immediately responded with “Surprise, surprise, Colleen Barrett!”
They affectionately refer to Colleen as the “Mother of Southwest”. She was an executive leader for many years and stepped down as President and Corporate Secretary of Southwest in 2008.
Colleen is best known for creating Southwest’s famous culture committee. Corporate and local culture committees are in place to enliven and improve Southwest’s culture and correct it when things aren’t going right. Colleen’s core focus is to always treat others with the Golden Rule attitude. She tells associates at Southwest to own the culture and do what is right. Heart is love, or the Southwest spelling of “LUV”, and that’s where care and concern starts.
It is no surprise then that Colleen Barrett birthed the idea and concept of ICC. Andrea shared, “It is still her baby! While she has stepped away from the day-to-day operations of Southwest, Colleen is still very involved in the ICC process.”
Now, with Gary Kelly at the helm of Southwest as CEO and Chairman, he too believes in the importance of the ICC team. Gary is just as invested in taking care of Southwest employees. Gary’s mantra on the subject of caring is they want to help “celebrate in good times and comfort in difficult times.”
Andrea concluded, “We remain extremely blessed to have our Executive Leaders genuinely acknowledging and caring for the Southwest Family.”
How Southwest Shows Care and Concern
To show care and concern to employees at Southwest, the ICC teams takes the notifications they receive about various employee life events and then show that care and concern at a higher level of care consistent with the Southwest LUV culture. It is just the way they do things at Southwest.
These are some life events that could happen to any of us and are acknowledged at Southwest by the ICC team:
Birthdays, Anniversaries (work and personal), Births, Adoptions, Marriages, Illnesses, Surgery, Accidents, Deaths, On the job injuries, Military leave, even the death of a pet.
Andrea and her ICC team get to work as soon as they receive an employee life event notification. They have oodles of customized cards to fit all the life events listed above. At this point in time the ICC team members have a vast library of genuine and heartfelt words to draw from when writing the right message inside cards or letters.
In fact, I received a lovely letter of condolences back in 2016 from my friends at Southwest when my father died. They had heard about his passing and treated me with the same Southwest culture and respect as they would their own employees.
They also send the perfect gift items when appropriate to accompany some of these messages of celebration and comfort. It could be a teddy bear to celebrate the birth or adoption of a child or a Southwest Airlines-branded plane-shaped piggybank. There is the red, plush blanket for an employee who just had surgery and lots of wonderful items that go beyond the words to express care and concern from their Southwest family.
From what I can see, true care and concern comes from your culture and is driven by a strong and committed leadership.
Care and concern doesn’t necessarily fit under employee recognition, but both of them should come from the heart.
Recognition Reflection: How does showing care and concern to employees during various life events happen in your organization?
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