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3 Approaches to Employee Recognition That Do More Harm Than Good


How exactly can employee recognition end up having a negative impact? I’m glad you asked! If you tuned in to last week’s blog you may recall a brief sidebar about how it’s possible for poorly executed employee recognition to end up not just failing to make your team feel valued but actually do more harm than good. Let’s take a look at the rest of that thought.


1. Ticking the Box

This may sound like a no-brainer but the most important thing to remember is the purpose behind employee recognition. Why are you doing it? Probably to communicate gratitude for a job well done, especially when a team member has gone above and beyond the call of duty – right? You’ve recognized that an employee has contributed something significant and you want to ensure they feel “seen”, that they know their efforts are appreciated. Because we’re all different, what makes us feel valued is different. (*Note: read last week’s blog if you’re interested in learning more about that very thing.) If our mindset is that we need to say thank you just for the sake of it, it’s unlikely the effort will come across as genuine. Leaders who are perceived by their team members as being insincere have a much harder time fostering trust amongst their teams, which of course is an essential ingredient in high functioning workplaces. A culture where the organization is seen as hopping on whatever bandwagon is popular at the moment for the purpose of checking an item off the “how to operate a functional workplace” list will have ongoing challenges with employee relationships and satisfaction, and ultimately in retaining talent. Offering broad comments like, “You’re all doing a great job,” don’t hold their weight. Personalized, well deserved expressions of recognition are much more meaningful.


2. Lack of Strategy

You might think a neutral approach would yield a neutral result, and sometimes – best case scenario – that’s all it does. More often than not though the impact ends up being a negative one. An example might be a leader who, perhaps when they’re in a good mood themselves, will offer thanks to some team members haphazardly, using broad comments like, “You’re all doing a great job”. Maybe team members will shrug and the impact won’t be either good or bad. Or, maybe it prompts a downhill trend in morale when some employees notice that their leader made a big deal out of work done by their peers but didn’t notice their contributions. I’ve been burning the midnight oil for weeks to finish Project X, someone on your team might think, “and the boss hasn’t even noticed! Meanwhile Susan clocks out every day by 4:30 and everyone’s thrilled with her. This can breed feelings of unfairness and helplessness, and when employees feel unappreciated active disengagement is often the end result.


3. Over-Thanking

This is kind of a funny one. It comes from a lovely place but in my consulting role I’ve seen an overzealous approach to employee recognition backfire on well intentioned leaders. There’s a huge focus today on workplace culture and fostering a positive vibe in our teams – how awesome! What we need to be careful of is this: when we adopt a cultural norm where a leader waxes poetic about everything their team members do, employee recognition can end up getting very diluted. It’s kind of like the workplace version of “everybody gets a first place trophy” – you’re unlikely to feel much pride in taking home your trophy when you see that everyone else on the team got one too, regardless of effort or ability; you probably wouldn’t see being awarded that trophy as a true indicator of how well you played. Certainly all leaders should work to foster a culture where employees feel safe, respected and supported; but effective leadership also builds on that foundation by offering constructive, solution-focused criticism when it’s warranted and likewise, gratitude and accolades for a job well done.



When executed with due thought, time and energy, going the extra mile to make your employees feel truly valued isn’t just the right thing to do from a human and workplace culture perspective – your sentiments will also likely be reciprocated and you’ll earn respect, trust and loyalty from your team. End result: highly engaged employees, reduced absenteeism and admirable retention rates. Everybody wins! I’d love to hear about your organization’s approach to employee recognition! I hope you’ll share your wins and learning moments in the Comments section below. Thanks for reading, everyone!

Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.


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