Welcome home! These two small words carry potent possibilities for creating a connection that evokes loyalty and teamwork. Yet, one seldom thinks of “welcome home” in the context of work. In fact, it is only through recent incidents that I have become acutely aware of the power this gesture holds.
Scene ONE: a world away in the remote regions of the western Himalayas.
Our team had been warned of the dangers in crossing the white water rivers fed by glacier melt. The crossing would be on foot and had to be done as early as possible in the day-before the sun would begin to melt the ice pack and the rivers rise within minutes. Our team of locals had gotten us up before dawn-sending us briskly on our way after a hot breakfast. They stayed behind to pack up gear, tent, and load the mules. We made it across the frigid water by forming a human chain. Our team was too late. They had to spend the night on a rock pile, in below freezing temperatures, and cross at 5:30 am the next day.
My husband and I were up early that morning with the head guide. Suddenly, we heard a shout and in the distance saw the figures of our team coming down the slope. We cheered, waved, hollered and wrapped them in an embrace with the words, “Welcome Home.” We stood around beaming at each other. For the rest of the trek, this team seemed even more helpful, solicitous and full of extra effort for those of us who welcomed them home.
I frankly had not made the connection until another incident happened.
Scene TWO: a combination assisted living and memory care facility in Southern California.
Mom, age 93, had fallen and broken her hip. Now, two months’ from the time an ambulance sped her away to the closest hospital, I wheeled her back through the front door. Her mind and body had taken a terrible assault coupled with embolisms and a decreasing ability to emotionally or mentally cope. She would not be going back to her upstairs studio but rather into the rooms behind the locked door.
As soon as we entered, the receptionist jumped up to give Mom a big hug and said “welcome home.” Other care managers came up and knelt down and hugged her. When we walked down the hall toward the locked doors, residents who had known Mom were sitting in the activities room. They shouted to her and applauded. As I pushed her down the hall to her new room, more care managers came up to us Lastly, at the door of her new room were balloons and a big sign, “Welcome Home, Mary.” I cried.
Any lingering doubt about the wisdom of this move vanished. Despite the fact Mom can’t remember them and alternates in moods that range from pleasant to belligerent, this team of caregivers continues to serve with compassion and care. They come from different parts of the facility to tell me they are so glad our whole family has come home.
Funny. The first day I left her, the security guard at my building hollered out “welcome home.” I swear I had never heard that.
Welcome Home Insights for Leaders
(1) How do you make employees feel as if they are welcomed home? One surgeon was overheard telling a custodian, “Hey, Frank. Glad to see you this morning. I never worry about the cleanliness of this hospital when I see you here.” Don’t you think the employee felt as if he was, “welcomed home”? I do.
(2) Do you notice when employees are absent-whether for illness, travel, or even vacation? And when they come back, do you welcome them home? Sounds trite, but I am beginning to think it is the small things that help us feel valued.
(3) As the economy turns around, you might very well want to bring back employees who have been laid off. How will you welcome them home?
(4) What about your customers or clients? How do you welcome them home? One bank teller not only didn’t welcome a long-time customer “home” but insisted that he could not validate a parking ticket unless the customer made a transaction. The customer was so angry, he made a transaction: closed an account that had several thousand dollars in it.
Welcome Home Insights for Employees
(1) There are some people who bring joy by entering a room and others by leaving. Which one are you? If we had not cared for the staff at Mom’s residence and if she had not been kind, trust me-they would not have welcomed her home.
(2) Watch out for negativity, mean-spirited comments, and “all-about-me” behavior. Behavior like this, even if one is a solid performer by way of numbers, will not generate a “welcome home” feeling. In one law firm, the top rainmaker was fired because the managing partners determined that his behavior so undermined the office that they were better off without him.
(3) Always leave well. Should you leave for another company, another career or even retirement-make sure you leave speaking only well of your employer. Who knows-you might want to return someday.
Remember: home is not given but made. What will you do to make your work a place in which people feel welcomed home?