“No recognition, please!” said no one, ever

Pure fiction!

These is no other way to describe the following exchange between two characters in Looking Good Dead, a mystery novel by British writer Peter James.

It is difficult to imagine anyone, in any school, office or other workplace, responding in a similar fashion to words of appreciation.

‘I’m coming up there myself,’ (Roy) Grace said. ‘I’ll be about ten minutes behind you.’

‘I’ll have the results waiting for you.’

‘I appreciate it.’

‘Actually, I don’t give a @#!* whether you appreciate it or not,’ the SOCO said, staring straight at the Detective Superintendent.

Sometimes Grace found it hard to tell when Joe Tindall was being serious and when he was joking; the man had a peculiar sense of humour. He couldn’t gauge it now.

‘Good!’ Grace said, trying to humour the man. ‘I admire your detached professionalism.’

‘Detached, bollocks!’ Tindal said. ‘I do it because I’m paid to do it. Being appreciated doesn’t bang my drum.’

Unlike Joe Tindall, most staff members would say that appreciation does “bang my drum.” They would prefer that a whole drum line celebrated their work.

Over the years, I have asked many participants in my programs if they felt they received too much recognition.

The universal response, whether I am working with teachers, health care workers or employees of construction companies, never varies. No one has ever said, “That’s me! I just want to go up to the boss and say, ‘No more recognition, please!’”

According to a new report from Gallup and Workhuman, just 23 per cent of employees strongly agree that they are satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive. That leaves three quarters of staff feeling less than satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive.

Separate research by Gallup found that 65 per cent of employees had not been recognized in the past year.

Another study—this one by Authentic Recognition—paints a somewhat brighter picture. Among workers asked, 42 per cent felt that the recognition they received from their immediate supervisor was “about the right amount,” while 39 per cent felt that recognition was not frequent enough and 15 per cent said it was “about frequently enough.” At the other end of the scale, only one per cent felt they were recognized “much too frequently” and another two per cent said that it was a “little too frequently.”

It’s fair to conclude that people believe you can’t provide too much recognition—if the recognition is Genuine.

I realize there are some managers who believe their staff is made up of people like Joe Tindall. 

“I don’t feel we should thank people for just doing their job,” they say.

Other supervisors think recognition is unimportant for another reason: “I don’t get any recognition myself—never have, didn’t need it.”

These are among the most common reasons one hears for not recognizing staff, all of which are simply not valid. They are just excuses for doing nothing.

Ironically, these same managers see no contradiction between not recognizing their staff and what they, themselves, do when attending sports events and concerts. They join other fans in cheering loudly when athletes and performers do their jobs well, whether it’s scoring a goal or singing one of their hit tunes. 

They likely even cheer when these well-paid professionals simply show up for work, be that running onto the field, skating onto the ice or stepping onto a stage.

How might those managers who claim to have never received praise or recognition feel now, had they had been thanked for jobs well done? What if they had received regular praise? What difference would that have made?

Some managers think the bashfulness or awkwardness that some staff members exhibit when being thanked means they want their fine work ignored. Phrases such as, “I was just doing my job,” or “anyone would have done the same thing,” are seen as evidence that those employees don’t want or don’t need recognition. 

The actual response to their awkwardness should be to offer more recognition, not less. A lack of recognition in their past may mean that they are unsure of how to accept recognition

Eventually, staff members will learn that the appropriate way to respond when they receive praise is with a smile and a simple, “Thank you for noticing what I do.”

In the real, non-fiction world where we live, you will encounter very few employees like Joe Tindall, who are satisfied with just the financial reward of doing their job. Most want more than financial income. They are also looking for emotional income—the feeling that they are valued for who they are and appreciated for what they do. 


You asked: About people who don’t want to be recognized

Phew, No Thanks, I Pass. Displeased Unimpressed And Uninterested

The Question: What to do with a person who doesn’t want recognition?

The Answer: There are techniques to overcome the three most common reasons why staff members appear to dismiss recognition or say they don’t want to be recognized:

1. Some people are uncomfortable with public recognition (whether a person prefers to be recognized in private or public is one of 7 Questions to Ask to Recognize Staff Appropriately). When recognition is formal, such as at corporate-wide events, these staff members will invent excuses to skip the event. Even when recognition is informal, delivered within their workgroup, they appear reluctant to be the centre of attention.

The simple answer is to recognize these people in private. You could invite the individual into your office or unobtrusively stop by their work station to share a few words of appreciation. Leave notes on their desks, send them thank-you notes, leave voicemail messages, text them or send emails. Onboarding tip: As part of your strategy to begin to build commitment on an employee’s first day, meet with the new employee at the end of day to provide some positive feedback about what happened that day. These meetings should be in private, because you don’t know how the new person will respond to recognition. Steer the conversation toward a discussion of the workplace culture of recognition and how the newcomer prefers to be recognized.

2. The staff member is unsure of how to respond to recognition, perhaps because of its absence from past work environments. This person typically responds to recognition by saying, “It was nothing” or “No big deal. Just doing my job.”

Your response is to let them know that they can trust your judgment. When you praise someone’s work, it’s because you believe what the person did was worthy of being praised. “It was more than nothing; it was something!” “It’s always a big deal to me when people do their job well.” Let the staff know that there are several ways to acknowledge recognition, but in the end it is as simple as saying “thank you.”

3. For some staff members, the only reward they seek is more money. “If you think I’m doing a good job, show me the money.” While they may feel this is an Appropriate way to be recognized, it may not always be appropriate for you or your organization. 

You may be able to provide this type of recognition for a time, whether this means providing a raise or a bonus, but eventually you reach a limit as to what you can afford to pay. 

Having reached this point, what do you do next? Perhaps it’s time for a conversation with this individual about how else he/she could be recognized.

A useful tool for this type of conversation is the “Four Steps for Dealing with Difficult Requests” that Beverly Kay and Sharon Jordan-Evans introduced in their book about staff retention, Hello Stay Interviews. Goodbye Talent Loss:

    1. Acknowledge the request and restate how much you value them.
    2. Tell the truth about the obstacle you face in granting their requests.
    3. Care enough to look into their request and stand up for them.
    4. Ask “What else?” (Keep asking “what else?”—you’ll eventual get to something you can work with!”)

Your conversation might go something like this:

You: “I am searching for the best way to acknowledge staff for what they do. I hope you know that I believe you do a good job and would like to how best to let you know you are appreciated when you do your job well.”

Staff member: “Just pay me more.”

You: “I understand you would like to receive a pay raise or bonus for what you contribute, and certainly your contributions are worth a lot to us. The truth is, we are already paying you as much as we can afford to pay anyone. I can talk to “the boss” to see if we can make any adjustments to what we pay you, but meanwhile let’s talk about what else I might do to express our appreciation. What are non-monetary ways we could recognize you?”

Going into this conversation, it would useful for you to identify non-monetary ways to recognize this staff member that he/she might value—time off, opportunities to lead a project, the chance to learn new skills, the opportunity to extend a break, a chance to attend a conference or visit a client’s business.


Do you have a question? It could be any aspect of the hiring process. Or maybe you have an inquiry about staff recognition. Submit your question at nmscott@telus.net and I will answer it in a future issue of Briefly Noted.