On many occasions I am requested to help company leaders with improving employee recognition after the results are back from a recent employee engagement survey. There are usually one or two questions on the survey touching on some aspect of employee recognition and how well the employees feel valued for their contributions.
None of these surveys have ever come back with the employees pleading, “Please stop giving me so much recognition!” Neither has there ever been any social science research found revealing companies are giving too much recognition to their staff.
The Inevitable “Too Much” Question
That’s why it is so interesting how in management and leadership education sessions I am repeatedly asked questions like, “How much recognition is too much?” or even, “Can you give people too much recognition?”
My answer to these questions always revolves around this concept: You can never give too much recognition when it is given the right way.
However, if you are insincere and not specific about what you are recognizing someone for, that could add up to being seen as negative recognition.
The first key to giving authentic recognition is to being true to yourself. This means consistently giving people recognition for credible reasons. Secondly, remember to tell the person you are recognizing exactly how their contributions made a difference and to whom. This way they know you not only noticed what they did you also validate the purpose behind their work by connecting the dots between their actions and their personal impact.
At the same time I must advise that you can give too many rewards, which are not the same as recognition. It is critical to carefully distinguish the differences between recognition and rewards.
Quick Review of the Differences
Briefly, Recognition is mostly an intangible expression of acknowledgement of an individual for their positive behaviours, their personal effort or contributions they have made.
Based upon this definition, recognizing people for their positive behaviors, effort and contributions, is only limited by the lack of these actions by the employee AND another individual, whether peer or manager, stopping to actually acknowledge them. Recognition has no limits other than the right intentions and the authenticity in how given.
When you see something, you say something. The best time to give recognition is right away – when you see or are told about someone’s positive action, learn to say or do something about it as soon as possible. The sooner you give someone recognition the shinier the star.
In contrast, Rewards are a tangible, monetary or experiential item given to a person in return for reaching pre-set goals, a significant achievement or service performed.
Rewards should happen less frequently than recognition because they come at the conclusion of goals reached, achievements made or services rendered. Rewards have limitations based upon supply with allocated budgets and the necessary criteria met before giving them.
Rewards must be handled with care. If they are perceived as the only program in town for acknowledging people because of a lack of recognition giving, then you will influence an entitlement mentality of people wanting more and more rewards.
Managers and employees must learn to better understand the differences and the place for using recognition and rewards. As recognition and rewards are used properly you will actually see an increase in the use of recognition and rewards being used more discriminately.
Understanding the power of giving authentic recognition the right way for the right reasons will help dispel the myth of giving too much recognition.
Q: How do you address manager perceptions of giving people too much recognition?
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.