Praising employees is a simple action that leaders can take to improve motivation.
It sounds easy, doesn’t it?
I simply praise the people in my team and recognise them for their good work and watch morale, productivity and performance improve. The research even backs it up.
If only it were that simple. I’m sure many managers have read books and articles about motivation and employee engagement, then started to make an effort to lavish praise on their people.
But in some situations, I find it doesn’t work so well and may have little effect in helping your people feel valued.
In this post, I’m going to take a look at some of the situations or conditions where I believe praise doesn’t work so well, so we can start praising our people in a way that really works.
Why Is Praising Employees Important?
There are a few reasons why praising employees can be a useful thing to do.
Firstly, praising your people can build trust. When you praise or recognise somebody’s efforts, you are reducing the perception that you are only thinking of yourself. You’re giving credit, where credit is due.
It can also reinforce your expectations as to what “good” looks like. You can praise the things you want more of, to hopefully improve your chances of seeing them more often. This acts as a form of feedback that can help your people feel as if they’re making progress.
Praising employees also has the useful effect of showing that you’re paying attention and that you value the work that they do.
Instead of your team members being just another cog in the big company machine, your recognition can provide them with a greater sense of purpose. A reason for showing up, other than just because they’re getting paid.
Learn More: 3 Ways That False Praise is Ruining Your Team.
What Do You Mean Praise Doesn’t Work?
I’ve noticed that sometimes, praise and recognition can fall flat, instead of having a positive effect.
Some managers have a tendency to read a leadership book which says you should praise your people, and then just start doing it with no intention behind it.
Thoughtful leadership is all about intention.
So now, I’ll take a look at some of the instances where I’ve noticed praise failing to have the desired impact. Then we can be a little more intentional about how we use it in the future.
Praise Doesn’t Work Very Well When People Don’t Trust You
Trust is huge in leadership. When you don’t have a trusting relationship with your team members, you might find that your praise doesn’t carry much weight.
One of the biggest factors that erodes trust is self-interest. Showing too much self-interest means that people might perceive you as being more concerned about yourself than for the people around you.
If your people don’t trust you because they think you’re self-interested, they may believe that any praise or recognition is simply a tactic. A hollow statement designed to manipulate them into working harder or doing what you want them to.
Another important ingredient of trust is credibility. If you aren’t perceived as a credible source of feedback or recognition, then your team may regard any praise as empty and meaningless.
If you’ve ever been praised or recognised by someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, you’ll know what this feels like.
For guidance on how to build trust in your team, you can read this related post here: Start Being Trustworthy For Your Team: Here’s How.
Praising Employees Is Less Effective For Trivial Tasks
Have you ever had someone say you did an amazing job for something quite simple? And then tell you that over and over again?
It’s nice to receive praise, but only when it’s meaningful.
It’s important to genuinely recognise people’s contributions for great quality work, or for the effort they put in. Particularly if they delivered the work using unique skills and experiences they bring to the table.
Praising the small things too often can just become white noise if we’re not careful.
Praising Employees Is Worthless When It’s Not Specific
Specific feedback is more valuable than general statements.
“Great job!” is nice, but it doesn’t tell me what I did well, or what part of it was so good. Without specifics, people may be confused about what you really valued – especially if they don’t think the work was such a big deal.
You don’t want your people giving you the big eye-roll… like this 👇
A lack of detail means you’re missing an opportunity to highlight what stood out for you, and therefore reinforcing what you’d like to see more often.
When delivering praise, take the time to be a little more intentional about providing some details.
Here are some prompts to assist:
- What was it about the work or the effort that was so good?
- Was it the technical skill that resulted in excellent quality?
- Or was it perhaps the manner in which the work was completed?
Maybe the person worked well under pressure, or communicated really effectively, or resolved a conflict in a difficult situation.
If you can’t pick out the specific aspects that were praiseworthy, then your attempts at recognition could be in danger of being a little too general to make much of an impact.
And if there is nothing that stands out, perhaps you’d be better off waiting until you can find something that would be more valuable to mention.
Learn More: 10 Simple & Effective Tips For Giving Feedback.
4. Praising Employees Can Backfire When Presented In the Wrong Forum
Think of the quiet achiever who does great work without fanfare. Or the outgoing life-of-the-party type who likes to be the centre of attention.
They’re vastly different characters, but I’d argue they both want praise and recognition. It’s the preferred method of delivery which is likely to differ.
Some people appreciate a private “thank you” to recognise their contribution. Others enjoy the heightened status of being recognised in front of their peers.
Take some time to think about which method of delivery is likely to feel best for your team members. You don’t want your praise becoming a stressful or underwhelming event for your people.
Get the Basics Right Before You Focus on Praise
The final point I’d like to mention here is that all your efforts to praise and recognise your people will be for nothing if you don’t get the basics right in the workplace.
So what do I mean by the basics?
The basics I’m referring to here include factors like:
- Team members being fairly paid – according to market rates, and when compared to their peers
- A functional (as opposed to dysfunctional), safe work environment; and
- Reasonable workloads and stress levels.
When people start to resent or feel cynical about their role or working conditions, I’ve found that praise has little effect on morale and motivation.
Praising employees is the easy part. Fixing deeply entrenched workplace problems (the basics) is hard. So let’s not pretend that praise is a silver bullet that will address all our motivation problems.
It’s simply one action you can take to help your people feel valued and to recognise their contributions.
What do you think about praising your people? Does it have much of a motivational effect for your team?