Employee Recognition: What Not to Do When Trying to Motivate Employees

congratulating employee

There’s no greater asset to a company than its employees—qualified and happy employees. Numerous studies have been conducted to understand the relationship between an employee and a business’ success better. The results are all the same. Motivated employees create a positive environment in the workplace, which results in higher productivity. Conversely, an unmotivated worker creates a demoralizing environment, leading to poor quality work.

From creating trendy working conditions with aviator desks and bean bags to creating work-life balance initiatives, companies have employed different methods to get the most out of their employees. Over time, however, some of these workers are bound to become unmotivated. According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, only 21% of the workforce say that they are managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

Too few managers understand the importance of shaping the environment for employees to feel motivated. Yes, they do not forget to throw compliments every day because that’s one motivational tool that works. But this praise comes off as insincere, superficial, and obligatory. These managers sound like they are simply checking off a daily motivational checklist. Here are some forms of “motivating” that managers and supervisors should avoid:

Guilt Gratitude or Recognition

In two recent studies involving 3,500 employees from startups to Fortune 100 companies, it is shown that recognition directly affects staff morale and engagement. Eighty-seven percent of the workers feel better engaged when their companies have strong recognition practices. But when gratitude or recognition is used to compensate for something that a manager feels guilty about, it will always feel especially manipulative. This misapplied approach serves the supervisor more than the recipient or the employee.

Instead, managers should start with a truthful acknowledgment of what has happened. For instance, a manager could have asked an employee to sacrifice a weekend to meet a deadline. The facts should be laid out in the open to allow the manager to further affirm the employee’s work by asking for the story behind the accomplishment. By asking and listening to how the work has been accomplished, it makes the employees feel that they and their work are appreciated. Then managers can move on to effusively expressing gratitude and expression for the job well done.

Inconsistent Recognition

Boss/employer admires to young businesswoman/staff/employee with smiling face for her success and good/best in work

If a manager’s recognition efforts are done sporadically, two things are likely to happen:

First, employees will feel that the manager has an agenda or that there is favoritism involved. Favoritism in the workplace is exactly what it sounds like: leaders favoring a certain employee not because they have done a good job but for reasons outside of work performance. A good example is when a manager and their subordinate have bonded over common interests such as music or sports. A survey by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, in fact, reveals that 25% of Americans believe that their managers practice favoritism, and over 50% suspect that other managers are also practicing favoritism. Of course, these perceptions of biased treatments will have detrimental effects on the employee’s motivation.

Second, inconsistent recognition practices can result in businesses failing to encourage the desired behavior from their employees. Companies should never undermine the potential of employee appreciation. Set up a team to manage regular recognition practices and programs better and avoid this costly motivational mistake.

It’s been said that employees do not resign from companies. They quit because of their managers or supervisors by, of course, leaving the company. By making sure to avoid the common mistakes of “motivating” employees, leaders can guarantee themselves a better-engaged workforce.

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