Employee recognition getting it right matters

Whether they intend to or not every manager is using employee recognition. But some actually discourage their employees and harm their bottom line by using counterproductive types of recognition. Of the 3 types of employee recognition in rotation every day – only one is actually an incentive for employees to do good work. We’ve all likely seen these 3 types of employee recognition in action:

1. Negative recognition – Mistakes get the spotlight and good work is never noticed.

Good work is taken for granted. But any missteps or productivity drops get called out quickly. Don't confuse this with accountability that happens in private exchanges and in conjunction with constructive direction.

Think of the boss you only hear from when something goes wrong.

2. Neutral or vague recognition – Good work is treated the same as mediocre or even bad work.

This happens often and is just as discouraging to employees as negative recognition. The article, Being a neutral boss is toxic to your team highlighted research showing that of bosses with the lowest productivity and most negative outcomes half were the typical tyrants but the other half were neutral bosses, the kind of boss that fails to advocate for employees and recognize good work.

Think of the boss that can’t be bothered to notice top performers and reliable employees. But instead unfairly treats everyone the same by offering only vague generalized acceptance of everyone.

3. Active recognition – Good work and reliability is actively acknowledged.

Employees are validated and recognized for hard work and reliability. Great performance and reliability gets spotlighted and appreciated.

Think of the boss that shows appreciation for employees and has recognition strategies in place for employee contributions and great performance.

And the winner is...

So (and I know I'm stating the obvious here) active recognition is the way to go. Overwhelming evidence shows that receiving recognition for good performance creates a powerful dopamine release in the brain that establishes ongoing, positive patterns of behavior. This is about far more than making employees feel warm and fuzzy. Active recognition for good work is shown to cause a 20 percent increase in productivity and revenue.

Further confirmation of the value of active recognition is found in Behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s TED talk: What motivates us at work? Ariely highlighted a study he did with MIT students in which three groups of students were asked to complete a task in return for compensation. One of the 3 types of recognition was used for each group as follows.

  • Active recognition group: Workers handed in their work with their name on it and their supervisor looked at the work and said, “Uh huh,” before placing it into a pile.
  • Neutral recognition group: Workers handed in their work anonymously, and their supervisor did not look at the work before placing it into a pile.
  • Negative recognition group: Workers handed in their work, and their supervisor devalued their work by immediately shredding it.

These simplified worker recognition practices minimized bias and kept results as empirical as possible.

In the end, workers in the negative recognition group needed to be offered twice as much money as those in the active recognition group in order to keep performing the task. Workers in the neutral recognition group needed almost as much money as those in the negative group. The study shows clearly that active recognition even at its most basic is necessary to encourage continued work productivity, also negative and neutral recognition are equally bad for motivation.

But… it's not about the money

According to Ariely the study shows, the less valued we feel our work is, the more reward we want to do it. So, ultimately it comes down to knowing that we are valued at work and that's always about more than money. In fact research shows that once an employee's pay is in line with industry standards, financial compensation is not a strong long-term motivator for employee engagement. Employers that showcase employee achievements and regularly recognize employees for their contributions create an environment where employees thrive and know that they are valued.

For organizations and mangers interested in actively recognizing employee contributions visit RedCritter Connecter at www.redcritterconnecter.com to learn more.