The Positive Effective of Good Behavior in the Workplace

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One of my colleagues is from the Southern United States. She tells me she was raised to be a Southern Belle.

Now, being from Ireland, I’m not entirely sure what all the connotations of that mean, but I do understand that good manners, polite good humor, and kind words are a part of the equation. One of her favorite sayings is, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Many people live their personal lives in this way. I like to think I do, as well. It’s quite true that a kind word returns better than an angry one. Yet, why do we so often behave differently or experience far different behavior at work?

Why managers fail to get more out of employees

Writing in Human Resources IQ, Feras Banna outlines 3 reasons managers fail to get the most out of their employees. One critical point he makes is:

“According to research by the Corporate Leadership Council, a group that conducts research through several high profile organizations, providing positive feedback to your employees is categorized as an A-Level Driver, affecting performance with a value higher than 30 percent.  The CLC also identified that while 89 percent of employees believe positive feedback to be their biggest motivator, only 39 percent seem to get any feedback at all.”

As Feras explains, one way to do this is:

“Explain the positive effect of the behavior on the working environment. If you want a certain behavior to continue, your employees must understand the value of this particular behavior on the job.  One might say, something like: ‘By drawing our attention to the risks of this project and identifying the measures we should take to minimize this risk, you helped the company avoid a serious setback that would have affected the whole project!’”

A specific message yields great returns

The specificity of that positive message is critical. A general, “Thanks! Great work!” is certainly better than never giving praise or acknowledgment at all. But a very specific message, such as that illustrated by Feras, returns 1,000-fold. It takes little more effort to explain exactly what was “great” about the work, but taking a moment to do so makes your praise more personally meaningful and far more illustrative of what you want to see in the future.

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If this feels too “soft” to you, let’s look at the purely financial importance of a strong organization culture. Bruna Martinuzzi cites the following in Open Forum:

“’If you do not manage culture,’ says Edgar Schein, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, ‘it manages you. And you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.’ Culture has a significant impact on a company’s long-term economic well-being: A 2000 study published in the Harvard Business Review found that company culture can account for nearly a third of financial performance. This is too high an impact to ignore.”

Far too high to ignore, indeed.

What are you doing to strengthen and improve your company culture and, consequently, drive the financial performance of your organization?

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


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