How to Harness the Power of Employee Recognition
Providing genuine employee recognition and appreciation to your workforce should be the easiest thing in the world. Yet managers are constantly failing their teams and, by extension, their companies by not giving praise and recognition for jobs well done.
There are probably some of you out there reading this, scoffing and telling yourself, Not enough praise and recognition? Please. The appreciation is in the paycheck.
Well, I hate to break it you, but you’re one of those managers, and it’s time for an attitude adjustment. Because when your top talent quits, they’re most likely quitting you, not the job.
We’ve known for quite some time that there’s a strong link between feeling valued and appreciated at work and planning to stick with an employer. But one key thing we found in our Employee Retention Report is that supervisors and senior management (and their ability to show respect and appreciation) can be the make-or-break factor for employee retention. Employees with respectful managers that make them feel valued are 32% less likely to find a new job.
Put in the effort to praise and recognize, and you’ll see returns on that investment.
Take a Look at Yourself
Close your eyes and really think about what kind of manager you are. If you have issues with engagement, morale, and discontented employees — the kind of issues that come with a lack of praise and recognition in the workplace, ask yourself the following:
- Do you have a culture of praise and recognition?
- Are you a nurturing leader?
- Do you only focus on issues, problems, and things to correct in your team?
- Are the goals and deadlines you set achievable?
- Could you be perceived as distant, aloof, or unclear in your expectations?
- Are there too many approvals and checkpoints for getting the job done?
If you’re not confident in your answers, you might have a problem. But there are things you can do right now to change the mood in the room:
- Sit down with your employees, find out what’s on their minds, and react accordingly
- Make the effort to see and point out good work in action
- Be transparent with why goals and deadlines are what they are
- Remove a checkpoint, take yourself out of the process, and let employees own their work
But Wait, I Show Appreciation!
OK, that’s good. You’re on the right track. But if your employees still seem unhappy and disengaged, you may want to rethink the quality of your praise and recognition.
Some employees prefer to be recognized publically. Some don’t. Not tailoring the recognition to the employee can do more harm than good because all employees can spot insincerity from a mile away. And a culture of insincerity leaves employees to be unmotivated, without a sense of achievement, and without a reason to take on more than what’s required.
The bottom line: just because you praise often doesn’t mean you have a pleasant work culture. If you think you’re recognizing hard work but still see dissatisfaction within your ranks, it’s time to elevate your compliment game.
Be More Specific
A simple “good job” or “nice work” doesn’t cut it anymore. Tell your workers how they’re doing a good job, what nice work constitutes. Lay off the generic and vague talk and get into the details of what your workers did well.
When you specify what’s working and offer substantial positive feedback, it’s a win-win: they will appreciate the gesture and attention, and you can expect those behaviors to be repeated time and again.
More Isn’t Better
A few well-timed, thought-out compliments can have a tremendous impact. But if you start to value quantity over quality, the generic over the specific, your observances will just be white noise. People can see right through this style of praise and recognition, and it'll quickly lessen the impact of what you want to communicate.
And even if the praise is specific and nuanced, excessive amounts of it can make some people extremely uncomfortable — especially if the feedback doesn’t match the contribution. In some cases, it’s downright belittling.
(Let me be clear: I am in no way saying you should be emotionally stingy — there will be nothing to gain from that! Simply mind the extreme ends of the spectrum.)
When Everyone Is Special, No One Is Special
You’re a good manager, you compliment frequently, and you do it with care and consideration. But you notice that some people are getting overlooked. You know how demotivating this can be, so you change gears with the best intentions and start praising and recognizing everyone.
In theory, this should work like a charm. So why doesn’t it?
The thing is that individuals on a team don’t always work at the same level. Some will underachieve, some will do what’s required of them, and a few top performers will go above and beyond. But if that effort goes unnoticed, how motivated do you think those top performers will be to keep working at a high level? Why go H.A.M. when you can mail it in and get the same level of recognition? And to the people who need to step it up, how belittling must that feel? Keep this in mind the next time you reach for the one-size-fits-all compliment.
Down With the Sandwich Method
Even if you don’t know it by name, you’ve surely experienced it. The Sandwich Method (or Feedback Sandwich) is the praise-criticism-praise managerial tactic often employed to provide needed criticism while sparing a worker’s feelings. It’s becoming increasingly outdated, and for good reason. Here are just a few reasons why this ineffective tactic should be tossed out of your managerial playbook:
- Comes off as forced and obligatory
- Only makes you feel better, not the employee
- Obscures the message that you need to be communicated
- Devalues praise, offering no chance for positive reinforcement
- Devalues criticism, offering no change for correction
- Allows for zero nuance
The next time you need to feedback, try the following instead:
- Be transparent, get right to the point
- Provide feedback in a timely manner, don’t wait for opportunities to develop
- Focus solely on what they did well
- Or rather, focus solely on what they didn’t do well
- As a team, create a clear course of actions/next steps
It won’t be easy leaving the Sandwich Method behind, but your workers will respect you for it. Plus, they will appreciate the thought and concern you put into more nuanced feedback.
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