Lessons From the Subway: Shaking Up Work Routines With Recognition

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How much of your job has become routine? You know the value of doing it, but it’s almost fallen into habit. But you can’t stop doing it either; it’s part of your job.

If this routine element of your job cannot eliminated or revised for legitimate reasons, what could shake up that routine? What could help reinvigorate you in the process?

Why am I asking all of these questions?

Lessons from the subway system

For a fun post, let me share with you this video from the New York City subway system (email subscribers, click through):

What’s going on here? As I learned from the Now I Know blog, the zebra boards have been in place for over a century. Their purpose is to help conductors properly align the train so when the doors on all cars are opened, the passengers can step safely onto the platform. The conductors know they are properly aligned when they are positioned directly across from the zebra board.

But why do the conductors have to point at the board? After a subway accident caused by an inattentive conductor that resulted in dozens of injuries and five deaths, the process was established.

Elevating the routime

From the blog:

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The MTA [New York Metro Transit Authority] says that the rule came into force in September of 1996 and has its origins in Japanese subway safety history — Japan’s operators have to point at a number of things to demonstrate and ensure that they’re paying attention. The MTA adopted the rule to ensure the same result. A failure to acknowledge the zebra sign is a failure to pay attention, and that’s really dangerous if you’re driving a train.”

So while pointing at the board – “at every single subway stop” – may have become routine for the conductors, it is still a vital and important step for the safety of all train passengers. The “point” is worthwhile, important, and… routine.

A little fun mixed with the serious

But the simple act of a few people holding up fun signs (and creating a video now viewed by millions) shows the conductors their work is noticed and they are appreciated for keeping passengers safe. Notice the reactions of the conductors – on every face a smile, a laugh.

Where can you inject a little fun into your daily routines? Perhaps more importantly, how can you express your appreciation to others to elevate their routines and bring a little more joy to their jobs?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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