Superiors are repeatedly told: Praise your employees, acknowledge performance, don’t just take good work for granted. Who hasn’t been happy about praise from the boss? When it comes to recognition as a motivational factor, there is apparently an enormous difference in effectiveness. Sometimes praise spurs us on, but in other cases it stifles performance. According to researchers, this may depend on the type of job an employee is commended for.
“With complex tasks, it is a hindrance when someone expects verbal praise or thinks about it,” said behavior expert Rebecca Hewett, the magazine “Time”. “It can be counterproductive.” The researcher from the University of Greenwich and a colleague had 58 employees at a British company fill out a questionnaire every day for two weeks. It noted how mentally challenging a task was, how motivated the people involved were in performing it, and whether some kind of recognition was expected.
The researchers found that when it came to more difficult tasks, employees tended to derive satisfaction from the job itself. Either because they actually enjoyed the work or because they recognized the value of the job. In these cases, words of praise from the boss rather disrupted motivation, as the scientists found out. According to Hewett, superiors should then be on hand to provide support, but otherwise leave the employees alone.
This is how praise really motivates
Things looked completely different with rather mundane tasks. Here praise – for example in the form of a thank you email – increased the motivation of the employees. According to the report, the study’s authors suspect that the recognition will add value to the job.
Conclusion: It can be worthwhile for bosses to use the motivational injection in a targeted manner. Employees who do the same boring tasks every day can be saved from frustration by frequent praise. Employees who are involved in challenging projects, on the other hand, may prefer to be served with a token of appreciation at the end.