It’s Nutty to Think Recognition Does Employees “More Harm Than Good”

© Andrew Adams -
© Andrew Adams -

I am deeply disturbed by an article by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times.

In it, based on research about sales people flattering customers, Kellaway concludes that public recognition is bad, and therefore, recognition of others should only be given in private.

Clearly, this is a flawed use of irrelevant research to underpin conclusions drawn based on personal experience.

Creating “more harm than good?”

Here’s the parallel drawn by Kellaway:

The office parallel is obvious: if you overhear someone from another department being flattered you will be unmoved but if the person sitting next to you is praised by your boss, the effect is roughly like drinking acid.

This means that most managers are getting it badly wrong. They have been taught that a vital part of their job is to stroll around the office dispensing praise here and there. They think they are justly celebrating the success of some and motivating others to try harder. What they are actually doing is creating resentment and making themselves deeply unpopular.

Likewise, all those schemes loved by ‘good’ employers – like choosing an employee of the week, or writing glowing profiles in company newsletters – create more harm than good.”

Kellaway does have a point. When the types of recognition Kellaway describes (employee of the month, irregular newsletter articles, manager as the primary giver of recognition) are the only or primary types of recognition, then the benefits of public, positive praise can be skewed.

The reason for this is simple – the winners’ circle is far too small.

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Open the floodgates of recognition

Most of us work in deserts of recognition. In these situations, too much emphasis can be placed on the infrequent oasis of the recognition that does occur.

Stop limiting recognition like it’s a scarce resource. Goodwill and appreciation should be free-flowing in any organization.

  1. Make recognition more timely and frequent – Stop limiting recognition to a monthly or quarterly reward for one person. Recognize people in the moment, often and in very specific ways for what they did deserving of praise.
  2. Empower everyone to “catch someone doing something good” – Let me be crystal clear – Recognition is not the job of the manager. It is the job of everyone. All employees should be engaged in looking for the good their colleagues are doing every day and praising them for it. Indeed, research shows people derive greater pleasure and engagement from giving recognition.

How does public praise affect you? Are you empowered to recognize others?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


2 Comments on “It’s Nutty to Think Recognition Does Employees “More Harm Than Good”

  1. My wife has managed volunteers for most of her working life, and one of the big reasons why so many of her volunteers stick around for years is because of her ability to make them feel appreciated. One of her strategies when having a staff meeting is to verbally recognize strengths and contributions of each person present individually in front of the others. What she tells them is meaningful and sincere, and some people have literally been transformed by this practice. It is one of the things she does that her volunteers can’t wait to be a part of, and several have taken the practice with them as they have become leaders themselves. Recognition for what we do is usually why we keep on doing it…I can go anywhere for money, but make me feel appreciated and recognize my contributions, and I will stick with you to hell and back.

  2. I believe you need to know your team and how they like to be recognized. Each person is very different. Some enjoy the public spotlight while others do not. I had one member from my team who if I would’ve recognize her in public, would have crawled under the table and died. That was not her personality to be in the spotlight. Instead, if she wasn’t at her desk, I would leave a post-it note or send an email to her. If she was at her desk, I would sit down and quietly talk to her to show my appreciation. She much preferred either of these than the public recognition.

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