Getting and Giving Recognition at Work

The job isn't done until everyone gets the credit they deserve

PHOTO: Simon Watson/Getty Images

Who has time to recognize the fine work people do these days, especially with economic turmoil pushing everyone to work more with less? As a manager once told me, ”Carl, I recognize your work by letting you keep your job.” Sound familiar?

Yet deep down we all want to be recognized for our efforts. We are driven to do more when we feel appreciated, and it stunts our growth to have recognition withheld. Unfortunately, many hard-driving managers consider a pat on the back to be ”fluff,” preferring the carrot of monetary compensation for a job well done and the stick of punishment for the opposite.

Maybe the economic recession will revive other forms of recognition as ways to boost both morale and productivity at little cost. Here are several I’ve found effective.

Send notes. A pack of thank-you cards always sits on my desk, and I try to write one every week. You can certainly send thanks by e-mail, and I do that, too, but a handwritten note makes a special statement.

Go beyond the thank-you note. Copy the recipient’s manager, arrange press releases that tout your colleague’s accomplishments, and spread the word on house organs, internal Web sites, and social networking sites.

It’s the thought that counts. Other low-cost ways of recognizing achievement include small but thoughtful gifts, time off to attend conferences or seminars, ”dinner for two” coupons, extra vacation days or comp time, preferred parking spaces, and so forth.

Be generous with credit. Go beyond the basics of giving credit where it is due. A while back, Pat, a young finance guy, and I bumped into our director, who asked me a question about a project we were all working on. I turned to Pat and said, ”Why don’t you answer Jerry?” He didn’t miss a beat, and it boosted his confidence to be allowed to ”show his stuff.”

How much does getting recognition mean to someone? Often you’ll never know. During an airport access project, my team thought up ”Access Aces” awards to give to colleagues for great work. They became the highlight of our monthly briefings. There was no fancy plaque: A short note (which was copied to the employee’s manager) thanked the awardee for his or her accomplishment. It was taped onto heavy card stock and adorned with a turkey-shaped sticker that said: ”Don’t let the turkeys get you down!” I remember going to the office of a coworker on the project, George, and noticing that his walls were bare—except for an ”Access Aces” award hung prominently behind his desk.

Perhaps you yourself can recall how good it feels to be recognized. I once gave a complicated and exhausting briefing to my board on the sensitive subject of airport parking rates. I had just made my way back to my office and loosened my tie when I got a phone call from our executive director: ”Carl, this is Steve. Great job on the presentation! Thanks!” Then he hung up. That was it, but the shot of adrenalin was indescribable.

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