Categorized | Workplace

The Power of Praise: Motivate Workers With Positive Words

Posted on 05 September 2012

Ask managers worth their salt if praising staff is important and they will answer with a resounding “yes.” Then ask their employees if they receive enough recognition.

Invariably, they crave more kudos for their hard work. Why is there such a disconnect? If managers wholeheartedly agree that praise is beneficial, why do their employees struggle with praise deficits? Lack of money can’t be the culprit–praise is free. Lack of time is a weak excuse at best, but praise can be offered within a matter of seconds. What’s the real reason?

Dangerous Assumptions
Amy Newman, principal and co-owner of Organization Blueprint, warns managers not to assume good pay and benefits are enough to motivate employees. Newman advises managers to communicate and recognize work more often; to show employees at all levels how important their work is in meeting business goals, and how valuable their contributions are to customers and the bottom line. “Employees want to feel valued by their companies. They must feel like they’re contributing to something big,” Newman explains.


Perceptive managers understand that all employees have admirable talents that deserve recognition.


Waiting too late to address these items is risky. Talented employees will eventually move on if their contributions aren’t acknowledged. Once they are at the point of interviewing for other jobs, they’re likely to have convinced themselves that they should go. Newman warns, “Luring them back may keep them another disgruntled six months, at best.”

High Standards
Most managers are goal-oriented individuals. After all, they didn’t just stumble into their leadership roles by accident. They appreciate challenges and expect a lot of themselves. Impressive! However, these high standards can be a double-edged sword. Managers who set high personal expectations for themselves can be equally demanding of their staffs, thus finding few efforts worthy of recognition.

One successful executive lamented his staff’s “lack of depth” and “low motivation.” He used himself as the barometer to judge others–a perfect recipe for constant disappointment! Consequently, his employees felt his disapproval, and were discouraged. They sensed they were not measuring up to his lofty expectations because they rarely heard words of encouragement or praise.

Perceptive managers understand that all employees have admirable talents that deserve recognition. They do not attempt to make everyone fit a preconceived, cookie-cutter image.

Motivation Myths
Employees cringe when they see them coming: tyrannical bosses who use fear and criticism to “motivate” staff. In reality, these generate short-term results at best.

Managers who don’t understand what makes people “tick” often neglect praise. They rely on “motivators” that produce external actions, but not internal loyalty.

Charles M. Schwab was widely respected for his people skills. He summed up his philosophy on praise when he stated, “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing else that so kills the ambition of man as criticism from his superiors. I never criticize anyone!”

Fear of Appearing Foolish
Managers who are not comfortable expressing warm emotions may feel uneasy when they praise their employees. Rather than developing the ability to offer genuine compliments, they avoid the challenge. They worry about the possibility of appearing foolish or insincere. It would probably surprise them to know that even an awkwardly delivered word of praise is powerful. People are generally quite astute at determining when a message is from the heart. That is what they will focus on, not a perfect presentation. Managers would reap greater benefits if they concentrated on their employees’ needs instead of their own personal comfort zone and self-consciousness.

Concern About Consequences
Some managers assume that if they praise an employee, they will “create a monster.” What if praised employees expect a big raise? What if they begin relaxing, thinking they no longer have to work quite as hard? Like most worries, they are unfounded. Certainly, if praise has been withheld in the past, employees may wonder what caused the change. But they probably won’t overanalyze it, because they will be too grateful to finally get some much-needed appreciation. But the consequences of praise are invariably positive. They include higher productivity, a sense of pride, and a deeper commitment to the organization. Managers who understand the value of praise–and what keeps them from offering it–are more likely to tap into this potent motivator. So, give it freely; it costs nothing and you can benefit immensely.

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