In the fast-paced world of today's professional environment, the importance of recognising and appreciating the efforts of colleagues takes on new importance. Praise at the workplace can be a powerful tool that fosters a positive work culture, boosts morale, and enhances overall team performance.
While we’ve previously blogged about making sure you get credit for your work, and even regaining stolen credit for your work, today we look at the other side of the coin and delve into the fine art of giving praise to colleagues, exploring approaches that genuinely express appreciation and contribute to a thriving and motivated team.
The importance of praise
Some years ago, the Institute of Leadership and Management conducted a study into what makes workers most productive and, surprisingly, increased pay and bonuses were not the top motivators. Over 1,000 employees across the UK were asked to identify one thing that would motivate them to do more, and 31% of them said ‘better treatment from their employer’, ‘more praise’ and ‘a greater sense of being valued’.
Giving and receiving praise are both important parts of the workplace motivational jigsaw. We all want to know that our contributions are valued and worthwhile and it’s a very human requirement to receive assurances that our efforts have been noticed.
Praise has been shown to be akey motivator for the Gen Z demographic, who value transparency and feedback very highly, and nearly all of us have been, or will be, moved into positions of management or supervision of others. So, getting the nuances of praise right is an important step in everyone’s career journey.
Praise is quite a subtle art. Praise needs to come across as genuine, otherwise it can fall flat, or worse, make you come across as insincere or even patronising!
Therefore, one of the keys to meaningful praise is specificity. Rather than simply a generic and throw-away "good job" comment, take the time to highlight the specific actions or qualities that impressed you. For example, "I appreciate how you took the initiative to streamline the project management system – it really has improved our team's efficiency." Being specific not only reinforces the positive behaviour, but also shows that you've genuinely observed and acknowledged your colleague's contributions.
From a psychological point of view there is a strong correlation between telling someone that they have done something well and them repeating that behaviour in the future – again making outlining the specific behaviours very important as this also counts as constructive feedback.
Don't let praise linger. Timely acknowledgment reinforces the connection between the action and the appreciation. If you witness a colleague going above and beyond what’s required, or excelling in a task, don't wait for the next team meeting – express your praise quickly. A quick thank-you email or a brief acknowledgment during a daily catch-up meeting can go a long way in making your colleague feel valued and, again, reinforcing that positive behaviour.
It’s important to consider the personality and preferences of your colleagues when deciding whether to give praise publicly or privately. Of course, many individuals appreciate public recognition and public praise can boost confidence and morale - praising a team member at a group meeting, in a company internal circular or even on social media can be really powerful.
However, others may prefer a more discreet acknowledgment and experience discomfort in a very public setting. Private praise allows for a more personal connection and can be especially effective for introverted team members.
Equally, it is easy to notice the work of more talkative, outgoing or self-promoting employees as they will often openly communicate their good work. However, almost certainly there are people in your company who are behind-the-scenes geniuses and facilitators - work which can easily go unnoticed. It is important that these employees don’t feel their efforts are being ignored – even if that means taking some time out to hunt this golden activity down.
Be Mindful of Cultural Differences
Linked to personal preferences are cultural differences. In a diverse workplace, it's crucial to be aware of how praise is received in different societies and geographies. Some cultures may value individual recognition, while others may prioritise collective achievements. How feedback is delivered in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur can be quite different in London, Mumbai or Riyadh. Be respectful of varying preferences and adapt your approach to ensure that your praise is well-received and culturally appropriate.
A platform for praise
Praise shouldn’t only be top-down. Encourage a culture where team members appreciate and recognise each other's efforts - fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. There are a few ways of doing this – for example some kind of peer recognition program, where team members can nominate each other for excellent contributions. If you’re not sure of the best approach, get the team involved in the decision making of how best to implement this - which in itself is showing trust in your team/colleagues to be able to work this out – a form of indirect praise.
Also, it’s a great idea to provide a platform (maybe even some kind of weekly team call), where team members can share their experiences and newfound expertise with colleagues. This is a win-win situation as it educates other employees whilst boosting morale of the individual who is sharing their knowledge and builds their self-confidence.
Highlight growth and progress
Praise is not limited to monumental achievements; it can also be a powerful tool for acknowledging personal growth and progress. If a colleague has overcome challenges or demonstrated improvement, make sure to recognise their efforts. This not only boosts morale but also encourages both a collective and growth mindset within the team.
Beware the feedback sandwich!
Finally, a note of caution. A common way of delivering constructive feedback, and an approach that has been recommended for many years, is what is known as the feedback sandwich. Essentially, this is attempting to make constructive or negative feedback more acceptable to the person receiving it, by layering it between two pieces of praise.
On the face of it, this looks like a good tactic, but the reality is that it often backfires, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, if managers or supervisors make a habit of using this tactic, it become obvious very quickly – and the positive feedback can feel false, while recipients prepare for the negative feedback that this whole construction was meant to obscure - they wait for the ‘but’ and the start of the negative. This skirting of the issue also impacts trust, the most essential ingredient in any functioning and properly communicating team.
Secondly, this up-down-up rollercoaster approach can make the feedback confusing – leaving the employee unclear of what they need to do next or the importance of either the praise or the part they need to improve. And again, clarity is an essential part of what makes teams work well. Most employees want open, honest, straightforward and specific feedback.
Finally, trying to deliver feedback in this way, that basically makes the manager feel better about delivering negative/constructive criticism, can be seen as a sign of weakness – as not be able to delivery difficult messages when they are needed.
Giving praise in the workplace is an art that, when mastered, can transform team dynamics and elevate organisational success. By being specific, timely, and genuine in your acknowledgments, fostering a culture of peer-to-peer recognition, and providing constructive feedback, you contribute not only to individual motivation but also to the overall positive atmosphere of the workplace.
In a world where teamwork and collaboration are paramount, a culture of appreciation is a powerful catalyst for success. So, why not take a moment today to acknowledge the exceptional efforts of your colleagues – you might just be contributing to a more inspired and productive work environment right now.