IT Employment

Six reasons managers don't use recognition

Despite the evidence that employee recognition works-it motivates employees and increases their performance-many managers don't make it a practice. Why not?

Despite the evidence that employee recognition works-it motivates employees and increases their performance-many managers don't make it a practice. Why not?

That's the question Dr. Bob Nelson-a leading authority on employee recognition, rewards and retention-asked of managers of 34 national employers, ranging from The Walt Disney Corporation to the U.S. Postal Service. According to the study, here are the six reasons managers cited as to why they don't use employee recognition:

1.      They're not sure how to best recognize employees.

2.      They don't feel it's an important part of their job.

3.      They don't have time to do it.

4.      They're afraid they'll leave someone out.

5.      They don't feel that employees value the recognition they've given in the past.

6.      Their organizations don't facilitate recognition efforts.

Here are my lightning round responses to these reasons:

  1. How about an occasional email saying "Nice job on solving that issue" or a short announcement at a staff meeting about an employee who took care of a technical glitch that was plaguing everyone"? Recognition doesn't have to have a ticker-tape parade stature or result in an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. Recognition is anything that shows an employee his or her effort has not gone unnoticed.
  2. Yes it is. If it's not, what is important? Moving around human chess pieces until you get X amount of production out of them?
  3. There is always time.
  4. Ask questions. Find out who helped.
  5. They do.
  6. Who cares? (See point number 1.)

The actual study is very thoughtful and thorough look at the results of recognition and what they found to be the differences in the people who practice it and those who don't. It's worth a read.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

34 comments
jsargent
jsargent

It's a manager's job to correctly handle recognition in order to maximize productivity. If a manager is incapable of doing that then there's obviously something wrong with the manager. If you have ever compared two managers wrst this the difference is obvious. 

Granddad200
Granddad200

Just had a discussion with my manager about what I call buy-in to an idea that he wanted to promote. It was over an Occupation Health and Safety policy he was not seeing being adhered to by many people. One person he was wanting to do what he needed them to do, would not budge when challenged with his job and became negative because he then felt under appreciated. So my manager in an unrelated way, gave the person some praise about his efforts and job. Next thing you know, this guy was doing exactly what he was being asked too.

spiralingcrazies
spiralingcrazies

I think the most important one missing is that if you give praise then come performance evaluations you'd have to also give a raise. In most departments raises given are taken out of the manager's bonus.   

Kodi WooBoard
Kodi WooBoard

Great insights Toni! I agree 100% to your rebuttal of the 6 reasons. But instead of a simple email, why not get workers to interact with an <a href="http://www.wooboard.com">employee recognition </a> platform that is accessible and allows feedback and praise to be shared and trackable? This is one of our key aims at WooBoard, also ensuring recognition is aligned with a company's core values.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Compare this with the article about Linus having a rant!

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

This online service is for engineers and people like that, right?

So readers might be able to think with this observation:

I don't see engineers much involved in the DESIGN OF HUMAN SYSTEMS.

I have now worked in two organizations created by engineers or engineering-minded people.

And they work better, are more interesting to work in, and give more value to the individual and his or her efforts than organizations I have experienced that are designed by non-engineering types or that have drifted away from their engineering origins.

So engineers: If you think all managers are "jerks" or  useless cogs in the system, why not do something about it? Find out how to design human organizations the right way and push to get reforms made in your company or organization.

We can't brush off "management." If YOU didn't know anything about managing, you couldn't even hold down the job you have! Everyone is, to some extent, a manager, if even of just their own life, and should be knowledgeable and skilled in basic management practices. Unfortunately, good management, just like good engineering, is seldom taught in modern universities. If you want gold, you have to dig for it.

I found my mother lode. More "non-managers" should. Then maybe our human systems would start operating a little more smoothly - and humanely.


mjeds
mjeds

the biggest reason is because most "managers" are self-absorbed, narcissistic jerks.

kitekrazy
kitekrazy

Good leadership is rare in America.  Nice article.  Check out positive sharing dot com.  There some nice reads there.

grh
grh

Management is the achievement of objectives through other people. When those people achieve those objectives then recognition is due. 

But this does not happen in my experience. The manager takes all the credit without sharing it. 

Many have huge egos built out of hot air and to give recognition would deflate them big time.

Many managers are there by bullsh*t and know it and to develop their teams would expose it.

Don't hold your breath for recognition.


christianjgustafson
christianjgustafson

The managers respond as victims and skeptics (no one told me / they dont' help me / it wont work).  I see the valid responses given in your article and feedback from the other contributors but, with so many poor examples of leadership you see within organizations where is a manager supposed to learn these skills?

jcarter
jcarter

I think you left out at least two other reasons, possibly more important than the other 6, why managers don't use recognition.  First, the manager has no idea what the individuals he is managing actually do.  He just hopes someone gets the work done.  A good manager "manages" people (not human assets), and is not just a "paper pusher."  Second, weak managers do not want to bring to anyone's attention someone in the department who might pose a threat to the manager's position.  Remember, a long existing problem with some managers was they didn't want anyone in their department to look too smart.  I personally liked having around people who were smart.  When they did something extraordinary I made sure others knew about it, and I looked like a good manager.  Side point, I once even went so far once as to identify a new product in a way the individual could show her friends her item in our catalog. (Sigh! Those were the days when companies and employees were loyal to each other.

Gator98
Gator98

One of your jobs as a manger is to train and develop your staff.   If you believe you only have to worry about time and budget then you are doing your job wrong.  The second part of your job is to motivate your staff, recognize people for going above and beyond not your standards but the industry standards.   Just because you like to work 24/7 doesn't mean your staff does and you need to recognize each person that works for you and their different talents. 

BrucePurcell
BrucePurcell

Loved the lightening round responses. Addressed the issue at the very simplest level. Anyone at any company can start here and move it up if appropriate. Thanks, Toni.

jbgisser
jbgisser

I just want to recognize a guy I worked for (no names, please) but anyone reading this who might now him will remember how he frequently gave people cards that said "You are Great!" and a short note about why he thought so. And he would hand it over with a big smile on his face, so you knew he meant it. The last one I received from him was 15 years ago, and I still appreciate being appreciated that way.


Same company sent me and my wife out for dinner - and "make it worth your while" - for putting in a lot of extra hours that weren't paid. Of course, the pay would have been better, but it wasn't going to work out that way, so the effort to show appreciation in another way was also appreciated.

Spike_Needle
Spike_Needle

Recognition can be small but try to do this public, positive feedback on someone motivates others too and so it helps the team.  

On the other hand critics must be tried to keep private and play the ball here, not the player, that way they mostly aren't defensive and can learn from the mistake.  If it's a dangerous situation that has to be communicated, don't say a name.  People appreciate it.  

A managers job is to get the job done in time and budget, try to avoid errors and to keep people trying to do their best.  And motivation doesn't cost money or time

Vorpaladin
Vorpaladin

There is probably nothing more demotivating than going the extra mile for a company and getting no recognition, not even an "atta boy/girl".  What's even worse is when the "recognition" takes the form of a comment to the effect that recognition should not be needed because they were doing their job (yes I've actually seen this happen).

usbrits@gmail.com
usbrits@gmail.com

 The problem we see here is the fundamental misunderstanding of what a manager is... your job as a manager is to get the best out of your people (not to build an empire and get more people reporting to you). If you truly understand the soft skills needed to get the best out of your people then you don't need anything more than good old fashioned human interaction...

Some of the biggest responses I've had to recognition were from people that I wrote a 2 sentence hand-written note-card to and dropped it into the mail to their home address...  

If you don't think recognition is part of your job as a manager, you shouldn't be in a management position..


gechurch
gechurch

Those responses show how those interviewed have a fundamental misunderstanding about what recognition is and how to give it. Employees want to be treated with respect, and to feel that their efforts are appreciated. If the company has larger and more formal ways of recognising people that's a bonus, but from a managers point of view appreciation should be small and frequent. Whenever you ask an employee to do something, say please. If they shoot you an email saying it's been done, reply saying thanks. If they did it quickly, say "thanks for getting on to this so promptly". If you noticed they stayed back to complete something make sure you point out that you a) noticed it and b) appreciate it. if they stay back frequently, say that you notice they do it frequently. My take on the responses: 1. You seriously got to adult life without learning the words "please" and "thank you"? If you're not sure how to recognise people, so choose not to do it at all instead, then you should not be managing people. 2. If you don't understand that motivating people below you and keeping them happy in their job is important, then you shouldn't be managing people. 3. Adding "please" on to the end of a sentence doesn't take any time. There's no excuse for not doing that. For people going above-and-beyond (like consistently staying back late) you should go and say thank you in person. Yes, that will take a couple of minutes. It's worth it. If they consistently stay back on their own time, surely you can spend a couple of minutes out of your day on occasion. If not look at it from this perspective: how much time will be lost if you need to hire someone new and train them up because the current employee leaves? 4. You're doing it wrong. You might occasionally miss someone out, but if you're giving positive feedback constantly (and on an individual basis) they will still feel appreciated. 5. Many people try to be modest and downplay what they did. This doesn't mean they don't value being recognised (I bet these same managers appreciate it when people recognise their efforts). And even so, why would you conclude that not showing appreciation would be a better idea??? This reminds me of people that complain about being fat and tell you that they tried eating well and exercising once, but that it "didn't work for them"! 6. Seriously?? You'd need permission from the CEO or a corporate policy enabling you to say "please" and "thank you"?

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

perhaps the *only* job of a manager, is to motivate the employees to do what the manager (and, presumably, the company) wants. Figuring out how to motivate each employee is the manager's number one priority - some will be motivated by recognition, some by money, some by threats, etc

spdblp
spdblp

There are two types of managers who this article applies to, those who are incompetent, and those who are timid. The incompetent manager got his/her job by being a suck-up or brown-noser. As such they can't allow recognition to occur, because one of their underlings might be recognized as making a greater contribution to the organization than they are. Or even that a good idea in the organization came from someone other than themselves. The timid manager finally got the promotion after all those years. So they don't want to do anything to upset the apple cart. Recognition might upset the un-recognized staff. Or they might have picked the wrong person. Or the need to be recognized came about because the manager is afraid to say no to anybody. I've worked under both of these types, they make for plenty of good Dilbert material.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

doesn't acknowledge the fact that it isn't about time, it's about priority. Just replying "there is always time" doesn't work in a time-management sense. It should be a [I]priority[/I] for management to publicize success and good work along with the list of those responsible. When management does this it says this is the direction we want to go and these people are leading the way. Peer recognition while nice doesn't have the same organizational implications. Any manager who would give any of the above excuses why they can't do employee recognition doesn't have their priorities straight.

GSG
GSG moderator

It's great when it means something, but when it's just done, because the organization is focusing on it, or when it becomes like Prom Queen voting, then it's a real demotivator. For example, I appreciate a "Thanks, you really helped me out" from a co-worker or someone in another department than I do the thank you notes that I get from Management. Why? Becuase the "thanks" that comes from the co-worker is heartfelt and meaningful. The thank you notes from management come all in a 1-2 day period at the end of quarter when they're trying to make their quota for the quarter that they're required to send out. I've gotten thanked for things I've never done, from people I've never helped, and who didn't know who I was 2 days later, all because they saw my name in a CC on an email. No thank you. Don't bother. Almost as bad is when there are monthly nominations to recognize people through the whole organization. The same people get recognized every month, such as the CEO's secretary (brown nosing much?), and the people who worked their tails off overnight so that you could come in to a working system (which you broke by opening that email attachment against policy), rarely gets recognized. So, keep it sincere and meaningful, and be cognizant of everyone and their contributions.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Especially when you combine with a nice job comment. Not necessarily for ordinary work, but anything that comes by that has something different needed to acheive the end product is a good reason. Like a periodic report that requires an additional modification from the last time it was done. Or somebody stayed 15 to 30 minutes past quitting just to make sure a wireless node was working properly instead of waiting for the morning.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If it's not pay and or promotion, it ends up just being some form of favouritism. Peer recognition is far more valuable if there's no remuneration attached.

wharrell
wharrell

Doesn't really work when a company tries to replace compensation with manager and peer recognition for your average employee. When small pay increases only happen on a 6 year cycle because the budget for merit increases is always lacking, recognition does mean very much! Not a problem for the executive ranks!

jsargent
jsargent

@christianjgustafson "no one told me / they dont' help me / it wont work" ? They they are definitely not management material. Only God can help them if they say this.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

way more uncomfortable than appreciating someone myself. The part I really don't like is I appreciate you for turning up to the meeting on time and I appreciate you putting a 100 hours in upaid to rescue us from the catastophic error in planning I made. (Not usually worded that way.. :p ) are seen as equivalents. I think they should really appreciate me for the latter!

Spike_Needle
Spike_Needle

@TRgscratch You don't want people in your team that are motivated by threats.  Is shines through on the rest of the team.

stgagnon
stgagnon

@TRgscratch This is mostly true.   If threats motivate someone, it is only short term and will lead to a potentially toxic relationship..

ronbo4610
ronbo4610

@GSG Somewhat along the same lines I believe a constant "atta boy" culture can serve to devalue achievements.  I admit to being somewhat old school, but I was raised on the idea that I don't need anyone to constantly pat me on the back.  I know when I'm making the effort and doing a good job.  I'm also have a job and am getting paid.  There have been times when I've been praised or given awards for just doing what I'm supposed to do or maybe just a bit more.  It makes me think that I could get away with less than what my goal is -- to be great not just good.

In my organization I constantly hear references from management to how everyone's working so hard -- showing their appreciation to their employees as a whole. I approve timesheets and in reality nearly everyone I have managed over nearly 10 years puts in a 40 hour week, maybe 40.5.  If they average 41 or 42 it's a great sacrifice.  We get paid a good salary and in my belief system putting in up to 45 hours per week should not ellicit any praise.  If you were working for yourself running a business you might have to put in many extra hours to satisfy a client -- a few extra hours for an exempt employee making good money is nothing.  I understand people have kids and lives -- as I do -- but I believe small sacrifices get blown up when the culture shifts to constant/frequent praise.

I had one person who without my requesting it from him would consistently put in 50 or more hours per week. If he had a deadline he would kill himself to meet it -- 80/90 hour weeks, even if I told him hold off, let's change the deadline.  He took on new tasks and multitasked, with consistent success.  This individual came in the organization below me on the food chain and he easily jumped over me after a few years.  I recognized him and also stepped aside and let him succeed/shine on his own. This individual got recognition on nearly every project/task he worked on.  So I managed him and also people who do a good job but work normal hours have the expected level of competence at their jobs, etc. By rewarding him are we telling others they need to do the same?  By rewarding others are we telling him you don't have to do what you're doing, you will get recognized for much less?  I don't have the answers ....


toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I've seen that scenario in action and, you're right, it's ineffective (and transparent).

jsargent
jsargent

@perihelion54@hotmail.com @christianjgustafson Moving up through the ranks in the same company in the traditional way involves a lot of luck along the way as those people will testify. It is extremely difficult to understand when the mail man has the potential to be a great leader. For one thing he has to somehow place himself in the spot light so he can be seen.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

@perihelion54@hotmail.com Used to be that managers started in the mail room (or equivalent) then worked their way up through various non-management positions and then became managers. Nowadays, most of them come out of college with a degree and get put straight into management without the seasoning gained through "comming up through the ranks" as it were. Companies are worse off because of that practice. Of course, there are exceptions.

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