Mental Models That Inhibit the Recognition of Employees

Recognition of and appreciation for the efforts of employees is central to a culture of engagement, ownership and commitment. The success of such initiatives, however, depends on more than questions of how, when, and in what venue.

Leaders’ efforts at offering recognition are shaped — and potentially limited — by a host of below-the-line mental models, attitudes and values. And unfortunately, these beliefs often rest on assumptions from the past that are becoming increasingly discredited.

Such misconceptions include:

  • Not part of a leader’s job. Many leaders conceive of their job in purely operational terms. In their mind, their job is to ensure that patients’ needs are met, that marketing campaigns are launched on time, that products are produced efficiently and reliably. Lost in this view is the means by which these goals are met, namely, the human side of leadership. If leaders do not see building an effective human system as part of their job description, it goes without saying that they will fail to accurately recognize their employees. This view inaccurately frames recognition as a perk that is, ultimately, unnecessary.
  • Pay is enough. Some leaders feel that personal appreciation from a leader is not necessary, in light of the economic dimensions of employment. The paycheck employees receive is thanks enough, many feel, and any expectation of recognition or appreciation beyond that is unreasonable and unwarranted. Leaders of this kind typically believe that money is the primary or only reason that human beings work. This view, however, is contradicted by research suggesting that money in fact more often serves as a source of demotivation than motivation.
  • Neediness. Some leaders question why they should be expected to applaud “every little thing” employees do, and bristle at the idea of “babying” employees for fulfilling responsibilities that were theirs in the first place. Objections of this kind spring from below-the-line attitudes that frame recognition as a form of psychological immaturity to be grown out of.  Such attitudes are not uncommon, but behavioral research has consistently shown recognition and validation of one’s efforts to be a basic psychological need of human beings. Refusing or neglecting to provide such recognition does not make organizations and employees stronger, it makes them weaker.

Efforts to express appreciation for employees’ contributions rest on basic paradigms about human nature and the responsibilities leaders hold in regards to the people they oversee. To effectively offer recognition, then, leaders must reflect not only on the choices they are making, but on the personal beliefs that drive and shape those choices.

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