The Bad Consequences Of Good Work

A couple of years ago I was facilitating an employee engagement planning meeting for a business team in Johannesburg, South Africa. The session was designed to put actions in place to increase the engagement of the team based on the results of a Gallup Q12 employee survey they had taken. During the meeting, one question in particular came up for discussion: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” The team’s roll-up score for the question was a little over a 2 – with a 5 being “strongly agree” and a 1 being “strongly disagree”. A pretty poor showing of employee engagement.


The manager was quite surprised. “I don’t understand how we could have gotten such a low score on this question,” he remarked. “Every time someone on the team does something good, I get them up in front of the whole team to celebrate it.”


But when the team was asked to feedback about the mysteriously low score, they declared their collective modesty. Most were so uncomfortable with extra attention that they were doing everything in their power to avoid being “rewarded.” The manager thought he was recognizing them; they were afraid that good work would force them into an embarrassing situation. Had the manager simply asked his employees how they liked to be recognized he would have had a much happier and more productive team.


Lou’s Take Away: Not everyone likes to be recognized in the same way. Effective recognition needs to be personalized. It means more that way. Ask your employees how they individually like to be recognized and follow suit.

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