An interesting conversation emerged in a workshop I was delivering this week.
The discussion was regarding how to recognize employees and the value that a pat on the back and a simple ‘thank you’ can have on an employee’s engagement level. The feedback one leader had received during another training session was that she says ‘thank you’ too often. That saying ‘thank you’ for work that you already expect employees to complete in some way diminishes expectations. Can a manager ever acknowledge, recognize and praise an employee too much? Who decides on the quantity of praise? Is saying ‘thank you’ praise or just being well mannered?
The Disadvantages of Over Praising
There has been much criticism about Gen Ys receiving too much praise. They have played on sports teams where everyone gets a trophy for participating and their parents have excessively rewarded them for what was once considered basic expectations; going to school, cleaning your room, doing chores. This has translated into an expectation that they receive on-going, frequent recognition by their managers. So it can certainly be argued that there are potential disadvantages if a manager gives too much verbal praise. The risk is that we may be creating the same type of ‘hyper recognition’ culture within our organizations, and that the basic functions/tasks of a role shouldn’t be recognized or rewarded because the expectation is that employees do their jobs well and to standard. Therefore, only those who go above and beyond in their roles ought to receive special acknowledgement.
Be aware of the risks of over praising:
- Praising employees when it’s not genuinely warranted can devalue meaningful positive feedback when it actually does occur
- Employees that have an egocentric outlook may assume that they are the only ones being praised and may assume that they are the favourite or top employee. This is particularly risky in a unionized work environment.
- Productivity might be adversely affected by giving too much verbal praise to an employee. An employee who is told that he /she is doing an exceptional job all of the time might be prone to thinking that there is no room for improvement.
To overcome these disadvantages, leaders need to give specific feedback when providing praise. The feedback should reinforce the right behaviours and motivate employees to continue in the same positive direction.
Providing the right amount of praise also requires managers have a keen sense of the different motivators of their team members. If an employee is externally motivated praise will be more valued. If they are internally motivated then a manager can run the risk of overpraising if recognition is too frequent. The best way to gauge what an employee needs is to watch their reaction. If you see a rise in productivity and engagement with more frequent praise then you know it’s a good fit.
The Value of Saying Thank You
I believe there is a distinction between saying ‘thank you’ to an employee on a regular basis and over praising. Being appreciative of the value that employees bring to your team and the contributions they make, contributes to a collaborative and support environment. Saying thank you is not only polite, it demonstrates that you value others. This is no way diminishes the standards required for success or the high levels of performance expected. When I say ‘thank you’ to an n-gen team member for completing a task or providing me with something I have asked for, this is not done to over-praise or placate them. It is done because it is polite, it is respectful, and I am grateful they are part of this team. Everyone on our team knows the high standards expected of him or her and if they aren’t meeting them, each employee receives feedback and coaching on how to improve.
Having worked with over 200 organizations, it is much less common to find managers who over praise their employees, than under praise. In most cases leaders and managers have been so focused on identifying gaps in performance that they overlook the daily, weekly or monthly opportunities to acknowledge and thank their team members.
Since all employee are choosing to invest their human capital with the organizations / departments / leaders they work with, it just makes sense to demonstrate appreciation for their time and effort and create a culture of respect. I have never heard of an employee feeling devalued by their manager because they received too many thank you messages, but many have complained to me that they wish someone had simply acknowledged their hard work with a genuine message of “thank you, I appreciate your efforts”. I will always choose to err on the side of more praise than less, with concrete feedback when performance standards aren’t being met, to create an environment of gratitude and appreciation for everyone I have the opportunity to work with.
As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. With close to 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than 13 years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance.