Sufficiently recognizing and appreciating the efforts of employees poses challenges at all levels of the organizational chart. Everyone from vice presidents to fry cooks say that they hear about every small mistake they make, but only rarely are told when they have done a good job.
This is due, in large part, to distortions of perception. We human beings are acutely aware when our efforts go unrecognized—I worked all weekend on that report and she couldn’t even manage a lousy ‘thank you’! But we are almost unable to realize when the labor of others goes similarly unacknowledged.
Many times we will not know that a subordinate worked all weekend preparing the report. But even if we do, it simply will not mean as much to us as if it had been our own free time spent on company business.
Our own labors are always more real to us than those of our employees. And because of it, we will rarely give as much recognition as we would expect and hope to receive for the same amount of work.
In short, we will, time and again, give to others less than we would want to receive.
Further complicating the issue is that while recognition is a primary source of motivation, its lack is rarely a source of significant complaint or grievance.
Employees will not typically agitate or protest when they feel their efforts are going underappreciated. As a result, there might be few overt symptoms for a leader to “fix”.
But while a lack of recognition and appreciation may not cripple a workplace, it will steadily eat away at morale and blunt enthusiasm. It will not sink the ship but it will prevent the sails from becoming fully filled.
To effectively express gratitude, then, leaders must take into account and work to understand the perceptions of employees. They must strive to ascertain how employees view the recognition they are giving.
But most important of all, they must take the time to get to know the people they supervise. Just as generic gifts are never as meaningful as those that reflect a person’s individual likes and dislikes, generic recognition will never be as effective as appreciation that springs from a leader’s ongoing association with the person being recognized.
Recognition, then, can best be understood not as a tool leaders employ, but an expression of the quality of relationships they hold with others.