Recognition at Work – Are you giving it where it is needed? – 10 tips for Leaders

In the workplace we either, love, hate or just do our jobs – I guess that the last one is probably erring on the side of hating a job.

But have you ever wondered just what it is that makes us love or hate our jobs?

There are some really elemental ingredients that help make up job satisfaction, motivation and stimulation, but some are so obvious that they are often discounted as being periphery.

In this article, I will be focusing on Recognition, which I feel is one of the main issues in an increasingly busy and performance related workplace, and something that people often put aside as them just imagining things that are not there. However, if you are feeling something this strongly, then it is probably there in some form and you must find out more.

1. Recognition – we all need to feel that we are appreciated, and valued. Recognition can take many forms but is more often linked to communication – or lack of it. I know of people in good jobs with high salaries and lots of perks who are seriously thinking about getting out as they lack recognition from their colleagues and / or boss. When asked what recognition is to them and how it is, or is not manifested it appears that it is really difficult to put their fingers on what they really mean by recognition. It seems such a subjective and situational concept, that it is often brushed aside, but if the feeling is there then there must be some kind of problem that is causing them to feel this way.

Very often recognition is confused with change or changes – in the workplace, of attitudes between people or even ‘geographical’ change – something has changed, which has caused a feeling of lack of recognition, which, more often than not, boils down to communication.

We could realistically argue that recognition, in the first place, is solely based-on, and about communication.

I have worked with regional sales managers who were accused, by their sales force of lack of recognition when they did not give a personal reply to emails that were sent them. There are always two sides to every story – the manager received up to 200 mails a day from his sales force, informing him of successes, changes and risks to the business from his team throughout France. The manager’s argument was that he would spend all day just answering mails that didn’t really need an answer (or did they?). The sales force, working almost independently, argued that they were being ignored and even disdained by their manager who didn’t answer the mails that they took the trouble to send. Well, yes, we can see both sides, but communication is at the root of this issue, as it all so often is.

As I have stated many times, from my own personal beliefs, communication is not about facts and truths – it is about perceptions – I feel I am communicating clearly to you, the reader, but that is only my point of view – you may feel that I am vague and unclear – who is right? – me of course 😉

Change can cause all sorts of problems and complications, in life and in the workplace. If something changes, in terms of relationships in the workplace, and the changes are not clearly communicated, it can leave people feeling unappreciated, unrecognised and isolated. Brushing things aside and telling people that things have not changed only serves to confirm these feelings, insinuating that the person is being emotive, can only intensify these feelings.

As much as we would like to separate professional life and emotions, I’m afraid we will never be able to do this, due to the fact that we are all human, social animals and emotions are part of what makes us human. The idea of leaving emotions at the door to the office is, frankly, an impossible and undesirable notion.

As in all human interactions, a good dose of empathy – putting oneself in the place of the other person, can help us see the results of out actions and interactions. Let’s be clear that empathy is not the same as sympathy.

It is important to remember that we are speaking about communication – which is implicit and explicit – people read things into what the manager is doing, as much as what they are saying and, in turn, react to this, in terms of what they feel is expected of them – sometimes referred to as ‘The Pygmalion Effect’.  This has a huge effect on people’s self- concept, motivation and self-esteem, and ultimately on their feelings of being recognised and valued.

Another aspect is the “Galatea Effect”, which in simple terms is the way that a leader can help their people to believe in themselves – almost a self-fulfilling prophecy – that they can succeed and they are half-way to getting there, and of course the opposite is nearly always true.

Apart from the usual suspects of salary, benefits and a positive workplace – four of the most important variables in workplace well-being and key to motivation are; Trust, Recognition, Empowerment and Autonomy.

Recognition is probably one of the most important factors, which is, in turn, impacted and formed by the other three.

The problem with recognition is that is often so impalpable, that it can easily be discounted and rejected as a subjective entity that has no real foundation – of course I recognise and value you …. Whereas, if somebody feels that they are lacking recognition, it can have a profound effect on motivation, performance and self-esteem, that can, at extremes lead to stress and even depression. Just telling people that they are recognised and valued is not going to cut any ice – actions speak louder than words here, well everywhere else too …

Here are a ten ways that a leader can make a person feel that they are lacking recognition – check to see where you are with this pulse-check:

1. Do you given challenges in work that stretch your people? Leaders who challenge their teams ensure that they are always ‘pushed’ to learn and reach their top performance levels, which also demonstrates trust and belief. ‘Stretch Objectives’ help stimulate and help people grow – giving people mundane tasks on a regular basis will ensure that they carry out their work to the minimum acceptable quality – but that is all. It will also help in the development of a “clock-watching culture”.

2. Do you give support to people to reach their goals? If you give challenging tasks without the necessary support, you may be setting people up to fail. If you give ‘stretch objectives’ then just stand back and watch – there are perhaps two outcomes that can result – either people reach their goals or they fail, exceptionally, people will go and look for support to reach their goals, but the company culture needs to be geared-up for this to happen, it doesn’t just occur through osmosis.

3. Do you facilitate mentoring in the workplace? Mentoring is a great way to give two-way support to people – mentors also learn from the experience and are stakeholders in the successes and failures of their mentees. The difference between mentoring and coaching is that mentoring is subject / context specific, whereas coaching should be process orientated.

4. Do you support people with their personal and professional development efforts? One way to kill motivation and self-esteem is to leave people where they are with no stimulation and learning opportunity. Helping people develop is not only a great way of motivating people, it is also something which brings huge mutual pay-back to both leader and their teams.

5. Do you give consistent, clear messages? There are times when messages and information changes and u-turns are necessary, but consistently giving vague, unclear, ambiguous messages confuses people and leads to erosion in trust, belief and motivation. Clear communication is one of the top soft skills of leadership – neglect this at your peril.

6. Do you communicate frequently with your people? Frequent, clear and structured communication is a necessary aspect that helps people to gain clarity on their roles and on the business, which also helps foster mutual trust between leaders and their teams.

7. Do you give regular, structured feedback? Feedback is an area that a people have big issues with. often feedback is unsolicited and amounts to little more than mono-directional criticism. If you wince when your leader says, “Can I just give you some feedback …” then you are in this situation. Good feedback is structured, free from opinions – based on facts and observable behaviour, made up of perceptions and is elicited by the person receiving the feedback in most cases.

8. Do you leave people to discover information by chance? This is one of the best ways for a leader to kill off the motivation in a team and has very wide-stretching impact. For a team member, if you can answer yes, to this, then there is a chance that you feel that you cannot be trusted by your leader – here we are talking about information that you would normally have free access to. On the other hand, it could be a simple case of a leader forgetting to pass on the information – nevertheless it does little for fostering trust, belief and confidence And, a leader needs to have a good memory – this is not an optional extra for leadership.

9. Are you distancing yourself from your team? This can be in terms of geographic or perceptual distancing. If this is something that has not been clearly presented with the benefits for the team and the organisation as a prime objective, then you risk causing upset and rumblings in your team, which often leads to a lack of respect and trust.

10. Are you letting your private life interfere with your professional life? This is a very touchy subject in business in all meanings of the term. People don’t expect a leader to dedicate their life to their company or their jobs … or do they? There should be a clear division between personal / private and professional life – anything that spills over into work, can ultimately cause issues, both for a leader and for their teams. If you have always been able to juggle the two, then that may be satisfactory, but if it is a recent occurrence, then this will cause problems. Work / life balance is so important for the well-being of all concerned.

One of the principal problems regarding feelings of lack of recognition in the workplace is that it continues to buzz around in the head, long after the work-day has ended, often leaving people feeling under-valued, demotivated and basically down.

When I coach people in their careers, I often try to help people identify what causes, what I call, “The Sunday Syndrome”. The Sunday Syndrome, is that feeling of dread in the pit of the stomach that occurs at the same time as the person thinks about work – “Oh, No! Work tomorrow” – It can be caused by many things – but things don’t have to be like this!

If you get the Sunday Syndrome – it is time to deal with it. You need to act, get a plan together, do something about it – nobody should feel this for long, it is unnecessary, damaging and ultimately, 100% negatively counter-productive.

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