The most common workplace challenge is a lack of appreciation. Many workers don’t feel valued for their efforts and sometimes lash out, flaunt their performance, or quit. Either way, it’s disruptive.
Well-meaning leaders jump in with polished appreciation programs to shine the light on employees’ success. Some of these work, but many of them don’t.
To be successful, recognition needs to be genuine, specific to each employee and personalized. Generic fixes usually don’t work. They also become a lot of work to maintain.
Some common problems with an appreciation program are:
- People expect a certain level of praise; now, there's pressure to keep it up.
- Highly attention-seeking people demand praise and leave others in the shadows
- Appreciating one person or group can cause resentment in others.
- Recognition is valuable when it's genuine. Praising mediocrity to fill your quotas limits progress
- Appreciate can make people feel entitled
- Some praise comes off as insincere
- When some people don’t get the praise- they wonder if there’s something wrong
- Everybody likes praise for a different reason. One standard approach won’t work.
How can any leader, parent, friend, spouse, or coworker get it right?
The trouble is we’re focused on the wrong thing. It’s not about the praise; it's about the work and the passion people bring to it.
Praise only boosts people temporarily, and restlessness comes creeping back.
People need to feel like they matter. They yearn to be significant; they want to be visible for what matters to them. Somewhere along the way, some staff can feel unimportant or invisible.
To feel significant, they need to see what matters about the work they do. They need to feel like they are a valuable part of that work. Employees want to see that their efforts make a difference.
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Along the way, they want to develop personally and professionally. Meaningful workplaces buzz with purposeful activity. Employees routinely get a glance into their customer’s lives and act as a helpful guide. They solve problems, resolve conflict, and go home knowing they made progress.
It’s not external validation they need; it’s internal satisfaction.
Entitlement sets in when the connection between effort and results is ambiguous. It’s not about the appreciation; it’s about the work. Ambition, initiative, and drive lead to results, followed by appreciation. It’s not the other way around.
Becoming visible doesn’t mean jumping up and down, saying notice me. It means using talent, skill, and ambition to drive results and matter.
Otherwise, Managers are handcuffed to their employee’s need for approval. Leading becomes babysitting, and workplaces become very high maintenance.
To Appreciate People at Work:
- Recognize their ambition, enthusiasm and results
- Listen to them, take an interest in them
- Make them visible to you
- Appreciate results or progress
- Be specific with your praise
Focus on soft skills like communication and conflict resolution skills, creativity, pride in work, work ethic, enthusiasm, drive, and determination. Specific job skills are the most visible and easy to report on a resume, so they tend to get the most attention, but they are the after effect. What really drives performance and motivation are soft skills.
I think everyone is driven to improve. Nobody wants to be average. Most people have a desire to better themselves. Soft skills don’t just make you a better employee; they make you a better person. If you learn to solve problems at work, you may be a better problem solver at home. If you learn to listen to others at work actively, you may be a better listener at home. If you learn to handle stress well at work, you may become better at handling stress at home.
These are the valuable skills that people crave, and our workplaces are fertile grounds to develop them. If you want people to feel proud of their work, highlight this skill development.
Be an irresistible leader that people want to follow. Help employees become better people. Call on their desire to improve.
Inspiration Versus Praise
The best leaders will get in front of people and awaken their enthusiasm. Praise is fleeting, but inspiration is lasting. Tell someone they did a good job, they’ll feel good for a while but tell them you believe in them, and you lift them for longer.
Bolstering the resolve of people can bring life-changing results. Just put energy behind hopeful and positive words. Show people progress, give them goals, tell them to lean on each other and celebrate group success.
And do it often. Your goal is to lift your team and pull them together around progress. For it to be sustainable, you have to do it often.