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How negative bosses should give employees more recognition for work well done

01 Jun, 2020 Employee recognition

“Why do I only hear from management when I do something wrong?” “They never notice anything I do well,” or “I only hear from management when I do something wrong.” It’s not uncommon to find a culture where people are holding their breath, bracing themselves against the next time they’ll be criticized for a mistake. So, why is acknowledgment rarely consciously and consistently given? Insights are below, and the bottom line is there is no doubt bosses should give employees more recognition.

Here are some common responses from bosses

  • “They already know – I shouldn’t have to tell them.”
  • “Pay is acknowledgment enough.”
  • “Too much acknowledgment slows down production – it takes too much time.”
  • “I’m not comfortable giving acknowledgment, and some people seem genuinely uncomfortable receiving compliments.”
  • “They’ll think I’m fishing for a reciprocal comment.”
  • “I don’t want to get too personal, want to keep this relationship professional.”

The above may be true. Employees may already know, although I don’t think you can tell someone what you appreciate about them too much!

Bosses should give employees more recognition

Bosses may feel uncomfortable giving and receiving appreciation – unfortunately, they aren’t used to giving it. However, Gallup researchers have concluded that many people, especially the younger generations, would work for less money as long as they feel appreciated.

We can choose to stick to our reasons, and continue to have periodical performance reviews where we talk about business in – as Susan Scott puts it – “carefully parsed phrases, approved by legal counsel.” We can check “meets and/or exceeds expectations” or “needs improvement in this area”, etc.

But ask yourself, what is likely to happen if we retreat from giving sincere acknowledgment? People won’t feel truly valued and may do only just enough work to stay under the radar rather than bring their full enthusiasm, intelligence and creativity to the process.

High attrition rates result from resentment – “I’m going to go where I know I will be appreciated and truly part of the team.”

In today’s economic environment, the organizations who are creative and original will survive. And that means we need to surround ourselves with people who are passionate and energetic. Who genuinely want to be there, fully functioning, who feel valued.

You can go beyond the surface, to share appreciation authentically, without getting all gushy or taking a lot of time. It’s a simple formula that helps to overcome the problem that bosses should give employees more recognition.

Your acknowledgment should include:

What – The observable behavior
Where – Where it happened
When – When it happened
Why – Why it was good, and what changed or got produced for the better

It’s a simple formula you can easily use. What you say doesn’t have to be very long. It can be as simple as:

“Thank you for getting that report back to me so quickly. With your information, I can now make a decision about the next step.”

“I have genuinely appreciated your participation in this meeting today. I believe your input helped us all understand the process better – what will and won’t work; and, as a result, our strategy will be stronger.”

When you give heartfelt, thoughtful admiration, people feel it; in your body language, your tone of voice. It’s not just word speak. And you can do this on the spur of the moment when you realize someone has done something well. You can also use this as an exercise to begin or end a meeting. Results from giving more praise to your direct reports is extremely gratifying, and clearly demonstrate that bosses should give employees more recognition

Line managers too often are a weak link

Employee recognition and employee engagement are two key factors leading to higher productivity and organizational performance. Engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace, as defined by Gallup Inc. Employee recognition is the open acknowledgment and expressed appreciation for employees’ contributions to their organization [including recognition of their peers, team and boss], as defined by Bonusly.

With 50 years of employee engagement research completed on the topic, Gallup states that engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees — across industry, company size and nationality, and in good economic times and bad. And detailed Gallup research finds that employees whose managers are open and approachable are more engaged, as shown in the image tables below:

Image: State of the American Manager report, Gallup 2015.

However, around 69% of US line managers are uncomfortable giving feedback, according to Lou Solomon, CEO of Interact communication consultancy, in a widely quoted 2016 Harvard Business Review article reporting on the results of a survey that included 616 employed managers. Around 20% of the respondent managers even felt uncomfortable recognizing employee achievements.

The Interact survey findings were consistent with Gallup conclusions in its State of the American Manager report in 2015, which revealed that “managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units,” but just 35% were engaged in their work.

And yet a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report in 2013 from research with 568 US executives, including 12 best-practice company leaders, found that:

  • 71% of respondents ranked employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success
  • 72% of respondents ranked recognition given for high performers as having a significant impact on employee engagement. In fact, they rated recognition as the highest of any contributing factor. More reason that bosses should give employees more recognition.
  • But only 24% of respondents said employees in their organization were highly engaged.

Gallup’s theory of talent maximization shows bosses should give employees more recognition

From its decades of research, Gallup has formed a view of the organizational factors that lead to maximum individual productivity, as discussed in the firm’s 2020 meta-analysis of “The relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes.” “Recognition/Reward” plays a significant part in this theory of talent maximization. It is directly measured as Question 4 in the famous Gallup Workplace Audit (Q12) questions: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Gallup consultants conclude that the theory of talent maximization is:

Per-Person Productivity = Talent x (Relationship + Right Expectation + Recognition/Reward).

The secret to high employee engagement

Consultants from the prominent international executive recruitment firm, Korn Ferry, believe employee recognition is “the secret to high employee engagement.” Their Employee Effectiveness Framework, shown in the diagram below, indicates employee recognition is just one of a dozen factors affecting employee effectiveness and leading to a good business performance. However, Korn Ferry also found that “recognition is deemed as one of the most meaningful rewards,” and observe that many organizations are including recognition as part of their reward program.

Image: Korn Ferry.

Read more about doing employee engagement well

My article, “Employee recognition is important: here’s how to do it well” is worth reading to give you an broader viewpoint on this important topic. The bottom line is that bosses should give employees more recognition. What’s more, team praise, peer-to-peer recognition programs and praise of bosses also comprise employee recognition that powerfully lifts workplace morale and productivity.

Fierce appreciation

Fierce, Inc. recently did an appreciation exercise where everyone shared what they appreciated about each other. Participants shared that “the impact of this exercise is profound, and is a reminder that expressing our appreciation of others can transcend beyond our boundaries and expectations.” This is the real deal. When people are connected at this level, business takes care of itself.”

I’m a great admirer of Susan Scott and highly recommend her book, Fierce Conversations, as it contains invaluable advice about dealing with people. Scott is founder of leadership development and training consultancy, Fierce Inc., and her trainers found that one of the most common employee complaints was lack of acknowledgment for good work. Some of the content of this article is based on a Fierce article.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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