Get Relationships Right Before Recognition Programs

High angle view business group. Businesswoman sitting at meeting and shaking hands with senior businessman. Teamwork at office.

When I phoned overseas to my Dad in the South of England, I would often ask him how he was doing. His standard reply for many years was, “I’m fine…it’s the others.”

Recognition giving follows a similar pattern to my father’s response to life.

You can actually give genuine recognition to someone for their demonstrated actions or results. But, does the recognition you give to one person have any impact, positively or negatively, on the other employees who work with that recipient of recognition?

What Happens If I Don’t Recognize Someone?

Many managers have commented to me that one of the reasons they don’t give recognition to people is because if they give recognition to one person what will others around them think who have not been acknowledged?

Fair question.

Others will not negatively perceive you singling out one person for recognition if everyone is being acknowledged on a regular basis.

Now some scientific research that looks at the responses of coworkers when someone they work with receives recognition.

Drs. Marjolein Feys, Frederik Anseel and Bart Wille, from Ghent University in Belgium, suggest there is an essential factor that affects the perception of coworker recognition by their peers.

This has significant implications when looking at introducing or improving recognition programs, as it requires some essential groundwork in establishing the right culture and work environment first to make recognition programs more effective.

Creating Right Environment For Positive Impact

The researchers’ focus was to determine when coworkers received recognition if it impacted two types of responses in their colleagues, namely, (1) people’s feelings, whether positive or negative emotions, and (2) one’s intentions to display interpersonal counter-productive behavior towards the recipient.

What was interesting from this study was the discovery of how the quality of the relationship between peers impacted feelings and behaviors when someone was recognized.

Let’s take a closer look at the study’s outcomes.

The Power of Positive Relationship Strength

Take the scenario where you have a positive relationship with a colleague and they are praised or recognized by your supervisor or manager.

In this case, the research found you would most likely hold positive feelings towards the recognition given to your coworker and less likelihood of displaying interpersonal counter-productive behaviors.

Conversely, if you do not regard the colleague highly or in a positive manner you would negate the value of the praise and regard the recognition negatively. You would also have a higher chance of intending to demonstrate interpersonal counter-productive behaviors towards the recognition recipient.

So much for trying to do the right things.

It seems one’s emotional perceptions of the peers around us can affect how we also regard the quality of recognition programs used by our supervisors and managers.

Recognition Significance

Let’s examine the significance of these research findings and how we can apply them.

It is always important to tease out recognition practices from recognition programs.

Managers, supervisors, as well as peers, need to be expressing and acknowledging of praise and recognition face-to-face before any program can have any real impact. Programs are simply a tool and another vehicle for acknowledging people.

Used wisely and effectively recognition programs play a vital role in sustaining recognition initiatives in any organization and make alignment with achieving business objectives easier to measure.

However, what Feys, Anseel and Wille highlight for us in their research is the need for positive relationships between peers to be present first in order for recognition programs to have a positive emotional and behavioral impact on coworkers.

The authors of this study suggest their own implications for us to be mindful of.

Here are three things they recommend that managers should remember:

1. Recognition programs do not guarantee positive responses from employees.

Managers must be mindful of the morale, workplace environment and attitudes of employees towards one another. If these emotional factors are not in a positive state then no recognition program is going to be fully successful. This appears to mirror Herzberg’s Hygiene Factors of having to make sure any dissatisfiers are addressed first before any motivators can possibly have a positive impact.

2. Mindfulness of managers for how and where recognition is given.

Managers should consider how and where recognition programs are used and whether the recognition given should be a private versus a public presentation. This goes for social media feeds of recognition being private or publicly displayed. If employees are not receiving positive feedback and praise on a regular and appropriate basis, then coworkers will likely react negatively to a colleague being recognized. This applies to receiving critical feedback too. Some actions are best given behind closed doors or one-on-one.

3. Relationship building between employees is an important strategy.

Managers should strive to know the feelings of employees towards one another. It is not often we intervene quickly enough on uncertain feelings between employees.

Managers should look for opportunities to help build positive relationships between employees through work projects, trust building exercises, serving together in community service projects, and even social events that provide chances to interact in a meaningful way.

Positive connections happen through working together and chances to communicate and learn more about each other.

These insights on the social-behavioral impact of employee recognition programs on employees should help us in doing a better job of preparation.

Before expecting success from simply the plug-and-play operation of installing a recognition program, the key should always be to focus on your people first.

Question: How are you managing the relationships between all of your employees?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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