is there such a thing as too much recognition?

By in Appreciation
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Recognition has always been a problem child for organizations. Almost every organization that exists, suffers from the ‘too little recognition’ syndrome. While many consider recognition a low-cost, high-impact investment and attempt to tackle it by instituting multiple recognition programs, the problem refuses to go away. Amidst all this focus on recognition, I can’t help wonder – is there a possibility of the pendulum swinging from too little recognition to too much? Is there such a thing as too much recognition?

One school of thought believes that praising employees for achieving baseline metrics can lead to low motivation. If done incorrectly and too often, there lies a danger of creating a complacent workplace where the basics are viewed as big accomplishments and employees see little incentive in doing more. This seems to make sense. If I were rewarded for everything, I’d begin to expect it and not receiving it would create disgruntlement. This in turn would influence my self- motivation to do more. While there is no conclusive evidence that extrinsic rewards negatively impact intrinsic motivation, a balance must exists. Yet, when the world around us is constantly pushing us to recognize more, how do we know when it is too-much?

Here are four questions that you must ask yourself when recognizing those around you:

1. Are expectations set right?

It is important for employees to understand the core expectations from their role. When expectations are unclear, there lies a confusion with calibration. Managers should invest time in setting goals and defining success measures. This enables employees to objectively measure success, understand what is non-negotiable and what constitutes as going ‘above and beyond’. Consequently, recognition will be expected only when deserved and not for all efforts.

2. How often do I recognize and what for?

Often praise and appreciation is handed out with too little or improper context. Even worse, sometimes recognition focuses on results vs effort. If you find yourself sending out vague feel good sentences, know that you are heading towards trouble-land. Sometimes, it may be ok to be vague but usually it is not. In addition, if you are saying ‘good job’ every day to every single person, there is a chance you are over-doing it. According to John Correll of Correll Consulting, excessive verbal praise impacts productivity. An employee who is told that she is doing an exceptional job all of the time might be prone to thinking that there is no room for improvement. The best way to appreciate someone is to be specific about what you are appreciating your team member for and that you are focusing on the effort as much as on the outcome.

3. Is it encouraging the right behavior at the workplace?

If you find yourself focusing on outcome vs effort, it is likely that things won’t go right in the workplace. Take a moment to analyze how work is done and if recognition is resulting in a shift in behavior. Often, focus on rewards endangers collaboration. The effort and process of achieving outcomes begin to deviate from ideal and very soon, you will have brought on more trouble than if you’d just stuck to not appreciating anyone on the floor.

4. Is my team energized by recognition?

When you recognize your team, are their eyes sparkling or are they rolling? What are they saying about it? Recognition is intended to motivate, energize and drive joy in work. If appreciation and recognition isn’t being met with enthusiasm, it’s an indicator that maybe you aren’t doing it right.

There, of course, exists an alternate school of thought that believes that there is no such thing as ‘too much recognition’. The debate can go on. However, I can comfortably shrug the question of too much recognition in to a parking lot for a few months given that this problem is still to make its presence felt. However, it is a possibility and I am tempted to ask – what do you think? Is it possible for organizations to over-index on recognition and face negative consequences?

By ankita poddar
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Comments (1)
Peter Cook

It can, in extremis, lead to problems associated with narcissism. One only has to look at Donald Trump for the extreme archetype of what too much recognition can do for some people.

September 12, 2018   |   Reply
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