The link between recognition and motivation in the workplace are clear. We need only look to our own experience — the pride we felt when our work was praised by an appreciative supervisor, the improvement in our outlook when we were sincerely thanked for the grunt work we do month in and month out — to understand how the one leads to the other.
But in spite of the fact that it stands a free, immediately implementable, and constantly available source of employee motivation, recognition is sadly lacking in the workplace.
The toll of such oversight is heavy, in both organizational and human terms. One of the executives of a steel corporation in eastern Pennsylvania, for example, one told us that when he was first hired as the foreman of one of the foundries, he was receiving performance reviews on all employees on a regular basis.
He noticed one day that a certain long-time employee had been doing particularly good work the past several weeks. Wanting to encourage such performance, he called the man over the next time he saw him, and said he had noticed his efforts and wanted to thank him for everything he was doing for the organization.
In recounting the story to us later, the executive noted that the worker stood well over six feet tall and weighed upwards of 250 pounds, with not an ounce of fat on him. He was a hard man through and through, and not someone looking for charity from anyone.
But as he stood in the heat of the foundry floor that day, tears began to stream down his face. “I’m sorry,” he said with obvious embarrassment. “It’s just that I’ve worked here for seventeen years, and this is the first time anyone has ever thanked me for something I’ve done.”
That the contributions of countless human beings, from foundry workers and waitresses to managers and vice-presidents, go unrecognized and unthanked for weeks or even years at a time is simply a reality of the world today. It may seem morally acceptable to you, or it may not. But feelings of propriety aside, wholesale disregard of the dynamics of effective human interaction has tangible, bottom line consequences on organizational performance.
All across the nation, workers do their jobs in the absence of any meaningful sense of gratitude from their organization, and many do them well. But the potential they might otherwise be able achieve is squandered day after day after day. For people will never give their all for an organization that takes their efforts for granted.
This might be good enough for some leaders. They might believe that nothing more is possible, or simply be content with employees who will, most of the time, do what they are told. But mere compliance will never suffice as a foundation for true excellence. Distinction will never be built on a workforce simply clocking in, clocking out, and collecting their paychecks.