What Parenting Teaches Us About Employee Recognition

By David Hassell, CEO of 15Five

The two most difficult jobs in the world are arguably running a business and running a family. While I myself am not a parent, I’ve had the pleasure of watching friends and family bring new people into this world and guide them through this crazy thing we call life. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are many parallels between successfully managing a team and parenting a family.

One of the clearest parallels is recognition, praise and the science of motivation.

Just as parents are invested in the long-term success of their family, good managers need to be invested in the long-term success of their staff by motivating them to become the best version of themselves.

But be careful – there is a right and a wrong way to practice recognition and praise. Let’s talk about when to give recognition, what to say, and how to make it meaningful.

Who You Are vs. What You Do

Whether motivating or recognizing employees for a job well done, or providing constructive criticism, research shows us that separating an individual’s performance from their personality yields the best results.

A recent study conducted on toddlers aged 1-3 showed that when parents consistently praised their children for their specific actions – what they do (ie. completing a puzzle) – their children showed signs of higher self-esteem and seemed to result in a positive effect on performance. Conversely, children who were praised instead for their personality traits – who they are (ie. smart) – experienced a decrease in confidence and resilience when they were faced with increasingly difficult tasks.

To apply these learnings to the workforce, consider the last time you may have passed on a compliment to a colleague or employee. Did you compliment the way they handled a difficult situation or remark on your appreciation for a task completed early, or did you applaud their smarts and dedication?

If it was the latter, consider a different approach next time. It’s important to consistently connect praise to concrete actions/activities that employees take. As is the case with parenting, this connection increases the confidence and independence of the individuals (in this case, your employees), and reinforces behaviors that positively affect the business’ bottom line.

Sniffing Out Insincerity

“Insincerity is always weakness; sincerity even in error is strength.” – George Henry Lewes

In order for praise to be impactful, it must be sincere. With a significant percentage of employees considering themselves disengaged in the workplace these days, it’s important to be mindful that even the most enthusiastic praise won’t be taken seriously if it’s given too often.

Just like you did to your parents as a child, your staff will call your bluff if they sense insincerity. Make no mistake, insincere praise will be detected by employees and will create an environment of distrust. Like HR expert Meghan Biro said in a recent Forbes article “you have to mean it when you give employees recognition.”

Similarly, praise given in a method that is not consistent with the employees expectation of you or that is misaligned with their needs can be confusing and occasionally even border on insulting. For example, don’t assume a cash bonus or incentive will motivate an employee who really just wants an increase in autonomy or responsibility. Taking time to get to know your employees is essential to being able to craft recognition programs that are meaningful for them, and worthwhile for you.

Stop Giving Out Mugs

When choosing a method of recognition, approach it from the perspective of the individual being recognized. What would be most meaningful (and comfortable!) to them?

Gary Chapman and Paul White speak to the different ways employees accept recognition in the workforce in their NYTimes best seller The 5 Languages for Appreciation in the Workplace. These five languages (detailed in this infographic) are:

1. Words of Affirmation
2. Tangible Gifts
3. Acts of Service
4. Physical Touch
5. Quality Time

Notice something? All five of the languages of appreciation in the workplace are also approaches that parents use to nurture and encourage their children.

Accepting the differences in employee motivation techniques is key to understanding how to help your employees feel important. While some may need tangible gifts, others may be more motivated by quality time with a supervisor or company executive. No answer is more ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ than the next – but a smart manager will try to tune in and respond appropriately.

Finally, remember that recognition programs do not have to be costly in order to be effective. As Kevin Kruse explains in Forbes, the real goal is to make your staff feel appreciated and valued – which doesn’t carry a specific price tag. From a sticky note on their chair thanking them for a job well done, to an impromptu BBQ on the front lawn in their honour, making your staff feel valued can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be.

At the end of the day, just like parents endeavor to make their children feel special and loved, employee recognition is about creating an environment where staff feel genuinely supported and valued. It’s really quite simple – when you start from a place of sincerity and generosity, you will be amazed at the powerful effects that your words and actions can have on company morale.

What is the most meaningful and creative way that you have been recognized? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Source: Lesley Parker

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