Here’s one management issue I’ve never fully understood. Everybody likes to feel they’re doing a good job; most everybody likes to feel like their manager recognizes that and values their contributions. And virtually all managers understand, in theory at least, that it makes good business sense to recognize employees for jobs well done. There’s nothing complicated about it. So why is employee recognition so big a problem? Why is it so persistent an issue?
Let me give additional context. During my decades in management I was involved in many employee surveys, both as an employee taking them and as a member of the management team reviewing the results and implementing solutions based on the findings. The one issue that recurred in literally every survey I was involved with was employee recognition. Employees never got enough of it – it was always a pain point.
Companies tend to respond to such findings by coming up with formal, often bureaucratic employee recognition programs: Employee of the Month, various leadership and innovation awards and so forth. While such official programs are OK – usually they’re positive enough and do no harm – when you delve into the situation more deeply what you generally find is that what employees are really looking for is more personal. Personal recognition from their direct manager. Nothing fancy, nothing involving selection by committee that takes months to determine – simply the occasional word of praise, encouragement, thank you, or pat on the back for a job well done.
In praise of praise – All of these small but valued forms of management recognition have a common cost: zero dollars and zero cents. And all have a common management investment of time and energy: minimal. So why is this kind of recognition a common management stumbling block? Why are employees so frequently frustrated by managers who are parsimonious with praise?
I’m not entirely sure. That’s why I maintain the mishandling of recognition is a puzzling aspect of management. Naturally recognition should only be given where it’s genuinely warranted. Providing it where it’s not deserved does nothing but undermine management credibility. But when an employee deserves it, why withhold a word or gesture of praise? It costs nothing and requires little effort.
Some managers and companies are better at it than others. No doubt. Yet in the aggregate, national survey data from organizations like Gallup still places employee engagement levels around the 30 percent mark, meaning the vast majority of employees are not engaged, not emotionally committed to their companies, and likely not working at full productive capacity. While a number of factors contribute to such widespread disengagement, it’s a very safe bet that employee recognition – or more accurately, the lack of it – is a substantive component in this disaffected mix.
So here I’d like solicit some readers’ opinions – from both employees and managers. Why is employee recognition a big persistent problem? It shouldn’t be a difficult managerial function, yet it seems to be.
Why is this the case? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
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