Recognition gap

Esther Derby describes a notice from Gallup about the lack of recognition and appreciation in modern companies.

We use the Gallup organisation polls to gauge a nebulous concept called “employee engagement” at Suncorp. It is this poll, and others like it, that Gallup use to come up with figures like “Sixty-five percent of Americans received NO praise or recognition in the workplace in the last year”.

One of the questions on the poll is “Have you received recognition in the last seven days?”. Personally, I was rather glad that during the seven days prior to the last poll at work[1] that my manager almost entirely avoided giving recognition; I’m certain that I would have thought it rather cynical and suspect. Perhaps the joke I made that he should have a countdown praise clock went a long way towards that. 🙂

I know of managers who do keep track of the praise they give out and ensure that everyone gets some each week. I find this as odd as those computer games where the score is always a multiple of 100 or more; the only thing this does is devalue the praise (or score) because you know you’re going to get some anyway. It makes it seem insincere.

My previous manager had an even better way of handling this, to my mind. He cracked jokes about it as well, coming into the poll period. Every day leading up to it, he made a humorous comment: “3 days to go. Like the shirt” style of thing. It was amusing, and meant that when he delivered praise normally that we took it sincerely (well, at least I did).[2]

Appreciation doesn’t need to be rare to be effective. It does need to be sincere, and it has to be perceived to be sincere. Remember that perception, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder (literally), and that how you deliver praise or appreciation can be counterproductive. A really good example of this, for me at least, is the so-called Praise Sandwich: a slice of criticism surrounded by a slice of praise on each side. Whenever I encounter someone using this technique, I immediately dismiss the praise on either side as being insincere; the only reason it is there is to soften the emotional impact of the criticism. To me, the Praise Sandwich is counter-productive; the praise gets tossed out and the criticism gets seasoned by the sense that the giver was trying to manipulate me instead (never a nice sensation). However, the Praise Sandwich presumably does work on many people. In a similar fashion, I find the idea of a group round of appreciations to be insincere; true appreciations shouldn’t need to be stage managed in this fashion, and would actually throw any lack of appreciation outside of the group into an even starker contrast. At least for me. I appreciate that other people can have different ideas, of course. 🙂

To me, the message is that people need and value appreciation, but I shouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to artificially offer it. Instead, I should aim at lowering my personal threshold for offering it sincerely: to say “thank you” and “good work” when I feel it, rather than let it slide as I know I sometimes do. This may take conscious effort to start with, but it must slide into unconscious competence for it to be effective; true sincerity is never forced.


[1] Yes, the dates are known in advance.

[2] I’ll actually be highly interested to see if either manager mentions this to me. 🙂

Author: Robert Watkins

My name is Robert Watkins. I am a software developer and have been for over 20 years now. I currently work for people, but my opinions here are in no way endorsed by them (which is cool; their opinions aren’t endorsed by me either). My main professional interests are in Java development, using Agile methods, with a historical focus on building web based applications. I’m also a Mac-fan and love my iPhone, which I’m currently learning how to code for. I live and work in Brisbane, Australia, but I grew up in the Northern Territory, and still find Brisbane too cold (after 22 years here). I’m married, with two children and one cat. My politics are socialist in tendency, my religious affiliation is atheist (aka “none of the above”), my attitude is condescending and my moral standing is lying down.

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