As they say, no news is good news. But should that be the expectation when it comes to professional feedback? When employees make a mistake, managers are quick to follow up. But many of us only find positive acknowledgment during annual reviews. But did you know this lack of appreciation could cost your company thousands or more? If you’re in a leadership position, see if you can save your budget with these tips on how to praise your team.
Why do we say “no news is good news,” anyway?
Unfortunately, we have a predisposition to negativity. Back in the caveman days, our brains had to identify threats for survival purposes quickly.
So it’s no wonder we put negativity first.
But we don’t live in caves anymore.
Yet most of us struggle with positive acknowledgment. Be that with ourselves, our subordinates, or peers.
So to fight our instincts to rank negativity higher, we need motivation.
And what motivates people more than anything?
Power of Acknowledgement
When we’re talking about acknowledgment, we have to consider Judy Umlas. Because Umlas wrote the book on acknowledgment.
The Senior Vice President of the International Institute for Learning released The Power of Acknowledgement in 2011 to stand up to common beliefs that praising people isn’t necessary.
Between home life, stress at work, and everything else, it’s easy to lose sight of positivity and a general appreciation for others.
Especially in a remote world.
But how do we improve our recognition skills?
Let’s look at an excerpt from the book and see how we can apply her knowledge to save a few bucks.
The Seven Principles of The Power of Acknowledgement
It can be easier to talk to strangers than to people close to you for some reason.
Whatever it is, use it as a springboard to work on your recognition skills.
Tell the HVAC guy you appreciate him keeping your house comfortable. Instead of only tipping, tell your server you appreciate their hard work that made your night out an enjoyable experience.
These small interactions will help you make acknowledging people you know more natural.
Once you build up your ability to compliment lesser-known people, start to recognize those closest to you.
Depending on your personality and relationships, some may find it odd if you suddenly tell them you appreciate them.
But you don’t have to get deep with people, and it doesn’t need to be formal.
Umlas suggests that simply recognizing someone’s work or presence goes a long way. You don’t need to write a speech.
Jealousy and envy can get in the way of personal and professional life. And that goes both ways between managers and team members.
And for many, these feelings are the basis for sour relationships inside or outside the workplace.
Just because someone outranks you doesn’t mean they don’t have envy for you.
But by recognizing those around us, especially those that might not be our favorite people, we could see those weak relationships improve.
Try to remove jealousy, however mild, and acknowledge the strengths of others.
Recognition is the lubricant of any team when done right.
Acknowledging your team and others around you brings positive vibes—more positivity in the workplace equals happier people. Maybe learning how to praise your team could also improve life at home.
What’s the scientific proof here? I don’t know, but we all know that life is easier when we get along.
In this case, when work is more manageable, people spend their energy in the right places.
We all know when we receive false praises. Employees realize when managers just took a thirty-minute webinar on treating their teams better. Or when the CEO tells their managers they need to lighten up on their teams.
On a human level, it’s easy to see when someone forces praise they don’t really mean.
Sometimes it’s watered down, such as when managers continue to say, “we appreciate your hard work.” It lacks realness, and it becomes background noise when given from a leader to a group, such as a mass email.
When leaders give true praises, their employees can tell. That doesn’t have to be one-on-one, but those are often the most heartfelt as they are often the most difficult for the manager.
Could we live longer or have more quality of life if we acknowledged people more in daily life?
Again, I don’t know its science, but it makes sense to me.
Many people go for the majority of their lives with little recognition.
If we could improve our quality of life, think of how that impacts work.
Less stress at home means less stress at work. Less stress at work means more productivity.
It’s super important to understand people as individuals before you attempt to recognize them.
For example, some people can’t stand a compliment in front of others, while others don’t mind.
As I mentioned, managers may have different preferences on what setting to recognize people in.
If we work on praising each other genuinely, we can figure out each other’s personalities and how to better engage each other.
Cost of Not Knowing How to Praise Your Team
Of the times you left a job, what were your reasons? If you felt like people took you for granted, you aren’t alone.
According to OC Tanner’s research, 79% of people quit their jobs due to lacking appreciation in a decade-long study including 200,000 participants. In extensive research, 69% of North Americans said they didn’t receive recognition within the last year.
During The Great Resignation period of 2020 to 2021, many people left their jobs as their daily loops broke. This opened their eyes to what they really wanted in a career for many.
But a general lack of appreciation isn’t a new fad.
Still, many leaders or companies may be clueless about the hard costs of turnover since it’s not always readily available.
The truth is, turnover has a high cost. Yes, in both hard and soft costs.
Especially when team members leave with irreplaceable knowledge and human skills.
According to a 2020 Training Industry Report, average training costs in big companies went from $17.7M in 2019 to $22M in 2020.
But don’t forget about the hidden fees.
Even when new employees are highly efficient in their field, it takes time to become comfortable in a new environment.
They have to learn the contacts, vendors, and company expectations. All that takes time, and time is money.
Also, new hires cause friction as new people learn the ropes.
When people work well together for a long time, and suddenly there’s a replacement, they have to start over.
All the little things that came as second nature to the company veterans now gone must be re-trained.
But even when underappreciated employees stick with employers that fail to acknowledge them, money still goes down the drain.
It turns out knowing how to praise your team can save big money.
Lack of Appreciation Translates to Lost Potential
It’s a line from the cult classic Office Space, but there’s truth to it.
Instead of working for praise, we work to avoid punishment or negative feedback. Gibbons had seven bosses, so his motivation was to prevent reprimands from multiple managers.
And even if Gibbons worked harder, the only people to benefit were his leadership. Not him.
When people don’t receive recognition, they don’t work to their full potential, and this causes 70% of people not to give their all.
Since the organization doesn’t make a personal connection with the under-appreciated employees, they don’t have a personal desire to go the extra mile.
According to a Gallup poll, disengaged employees cost $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.
Following the same thoughts as Gibbons, why should we work harder when not recognized financially or when management doesn’t know how to praise their team?
Cost of Culture
Ever hear of Janetloven?
In a Scrum Alliance webinar, Judy Umlas mentioned another seminar she did in Norway. While speaking with local professionals about acknowledgment, she found recognition was not a part of Scandinavian culture.
I looked it up and found it’s true. They call it Janetloven, and it’s a set of beliefs that boil down to Norwegians who don’t know the power of acknowledgment.
Tradition discourages individuals over the group. Everyone works for the greater good, and individual accomplishments are not high on the recognition list.
Umlas also pointed out the high suicide rate in Norway.
Of course, it’s an observation, and we must consider other factors, such as long winters with limited sunshine.
But it’s fair to ask, could a lack of acknowledgment contribute to a lack of self-worth?
As we said before, a more positive environment means people are happier and less stressed.
It makes sense to me there’s something to be said for a relationship between lack of recognition and lack of health.
Why People Don’t Acknowledge Others
Some people didn’t grow up with acknowledgment. Be it a lack of recognition from parents, past jobs, or cultural expectations like Norway.
We know change is hard, especially for people later in their careers. But you can teach old dogs new tricks.
Part of the problem is what we define as progress and success.
When it comes to promotions and reviews, we have tools to quantify success and advancement. But not for everything.
Salespeople know what numbers to beat. Security analysts can measure threats by the number of attacks or threat severity.
If we can measure our work, it’s easy to define progress.
But that only applies to practical skills such as coding or sales. And when it comes to human skills, there’s no grading scale.
So we end up with people with measurable skills promoted to leadership positions that may have terrible human skills.
In other words, there’s no measure for keeping jerks out of high-ranking positions.
It’s no wonder human skills are scarce in the workplace.
Some leaders may think praise is inefficient or a waste of time.
In a world of participation trophies, managers may not want to put energy into making people feel better about themselves.
But more than that, leaders may be afraid to praise their team even when they want to.
For example, if I think you’re a better developer than me, I don’t want to inflate your head because I don’t want you coming for my job.
Acknowledgment takes courage and can open us up to vulnerability.
How to Praise your Team
As Judy Umlas mentioned, we can practice praising people outside our organization.
But the ultimate goal is to make acknowledgment a state of mind, not a manual process.
Think of martial arts. It’s about a mindset and attitude that allows the actions to come naturally.
When you head to your dojo tomorrow, keep Umlas’ “5Cs” in min when working towards your blackbelt in acknowledgment.
The stress at work can make it hard to have the capacity to account for acknowledgments. But identify thoughts that can serve as praises or recognition.
It’s all about discretion. Don’t force a compliment if you aren’t in the mood.
Again, we open ourselves up to vulnerability when we compliment others or recognize they may do something better than us.
It’s not about saying “good job.” It’s about honest recognition. Maybe consider acknowledging something about others that they may not expect.
Once you improve your recognition skills, build them into your training and lead by example.
Mindset vs. Practice
How do we make acknowledgment more natural?
It can be hard to acknowledge people in a remote setting with multi-layered teams in large organizations.
But here are a couple of ways to optimize your communications for recognition. Even if you don’t meet in person.
A big reason people may feel underappreciated is a lack of interaction.
As we said, many leaders lack human skills.
If leaders lacked human skills in the office, they certainly didn’t improve when they went remote.
Communication through chat or email tends to wane among many leaders because they don’t communicate well with their words.
People may feel even more disconnected between short emails, lack of care, and extra confusion with unclear messages.
On the other hand, an email could be a handy proving ground to learn how to praise your team for those who struggle with verbal recognition.
Be sure to make your compositions clear, proofread them, and be mindful of your written voice and how it may appear on the other end.
I know this advice might be hard for people with certain personalities. But recognizing your team might be easier than you think.
You don’t always have to compliment a specific action or trait.
By simply being courteous, you can compliment people on a human level.
As we’ve become more technical and spread out, our etiquette changed.
Whether we’re talking about email or in-person communications, people are much less polite than we used to be.
Take a second and be sure you’re communications are good-natured.
A little courtesy can go a long way.
Make it Personable
Leaders cannot set a cookie-cutter acknowledgment method and expect it to work.
Just like in personal relationships, people respond differently.
For example, in the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, the author identifies methods of showing affection as follows:
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Quality time
- Words of affirmation
- Physical touch
Immediately, we can say physical touch isn’t a big one in the workplace. Although slight gestures such as should touching or handshakes are effective when done right.
Also, receiving gifts isn’t popular among human resources guidelines. Still, team gifts such as buying lunch are always a good move.
The point is people respond differently to acts of acknowledgment. It’s essential to know how to praise your team personally.
Maybe some team members appreciate weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings to discuss work or things outside of work to build a relationship. Others might find the private session awkward or a poor use of time.
If we spend the time to get to know our team, acknowledging them will become more natural.
Avoid Recognition Sessions
Many companies come up with clever ways to drive team acknowledgment. For example, Zappos runs an incentive program to gift each other for performance or appreciation.
But others host recognition sessions after group meetings.
These come across as disingenuous because leadership expects participation.
Also, many people don’t appreciate receiving feedback, be that good or bad, in front of others.
Improve Your Health and Budget!
So, now that you’ve learned more about recognition, could any of this help improve relations at your workplace?
Does your company have a high turnover rate with a low-acknowledgment rate?
What about you? Do you feel appreciated for your work? Or does your workplace perpetuate toxic behavior?
If you’re like most people, you could use this info to praise your team more naturally in the future.
And if there are people on your team that still struggle with acknowledgment, share the potential health benefits and money saved by improving their human skills.