Why Can’t We Give Praise?

An Old Italian proverb states, “The best way to get praise is to die.” Unfortunately, many in today’s workforce tend to agree with the Italians when it comes to receiving praise. In fact, some workers would go so far as to say that death might be the only way to receive praise from a superior at work. Why is it so difficult for managers of all levels to give praise? Everyone is aware, due to personal experiences, of the benefits of receiving praise and yet, positive recognition is rarely bestowed. Even when praise is finally delivered, often it is impersonal and lacking sincerity. A client shared a story of how she received word of her promotion through an email with no personal congratulatory remarks and to make matters worse, her job description was incorrect in the message and her name misspelled! “Maybe it wasn’t even supposed to be for me”, she sadly mused.



Before we continue, let it be clear that there are indeed some managers making concerted daily efforts to offer praise when warranted. However, these supervisors are the exception rather than the rule. Thus, let us turn to the reasons (or excuses?) for failing to give praise.



Though the list is exhaustive, we shall limit our discussion to four of the most common reasons that managers cannot give praise, which are: Threat of Competition, “Wow Me” Factor, Poor Interpersonal Skills and a “No Praise” Company Culture.



Threat of Competition – Many managers fail to give praise for they feel threatened by the employee.  Mistakenly, managers feel that by praising the positive gains of an employee, it will diminish their own accomplishments. The fear of an employee “climbing the corporate ladder” past them restrains many managers from giving positive feedback.



“Wow Me” Factor – Oftentimes, managers believe that recognition should only be given for extraordinary accomplishments. “Wow Me” or no praise is given. Praise, however, should not be reserved exclusively for exceptional acts. Managers must recognize that employees who diligently and faithfully complete their work day-in and day-out merit praise as well. To solidify this point, imagine what your work setting would be like if these “unspectacular” tasks were not accomplished. Indeed, these routine assignments viewed from such a perspective show their true importance.



Poor Interpersonal Skills – Some managers do not give praise because they simply cannot interact and personally relate with their employees. These managers not only suffer from being unable to give praise but also lack communication skills, motivational abilities, empathy and other shortcomings.



“No Praise” Company Culture – A company’s culture is what distinguishes one company from another. It is what makes a company unique. With that, a culture that does not promote recognition is the greatest reason behind a management team’s inability to give praise. The values held by the owner(s) and upper management manifest themselves in actions and if praise is never shared from above, then surely it will be missing throughout all levels of the company. In such a case, a “trickle down effect” occurs whereby a VP does not receive praise so his directors receive none and the general managers next in line do not praise their line managers as well for they hear none from the directors and so on. This pattern continues right down to the last employee.



How does a company change itself and become a “culture of praise”? First, it must recruit employees and managers who believe in giving praise. Hire individuals who possess enough confidence and humility to freely offer sincere praise. Second, train your existing managers in “how-to” deliver praise. Show them that praise must be timely, personal, preferably on the spot and above all, genuine. Third, make positive recognition a key performance indicator of your company. Survey your employees to gage if management is truly changing and giving praise. Review exit-interviews to determine if lack of praise remains a reason behind turnover. Fourth, foster communication and trust between management and the employees. Open lines of communication will lead to mutual respect and with that, will follow, giving and acceptance of praise.



Fostering a workplace environment that promotes positive recognition is vital for a company’s growth and survival. Many people erroneously believe that money is the prime motivator for employees. However, a recent study in HR Fact Finder found that “88% of employees (interviewed) say their biggest issue with their organization is ‘not enough acknowledgement for their work’. Another study by Dr. Gerald Graham involved surveying 1,500 employees in a variety of work environments. Dr. Graham found that the most powerful motivator for the group was “personalized, instant recognition from managers”. Furthermore, the second greatest motivator in Dr. Graham’s findings was “a letter of praise for good performance written by the manager”.



Marcus Buckingham’s quote nicely summarizes the difference between pay and praise as motivators. It reads:



“Salary and benefits are like tickets to the game…they will get you in, but they certainly do not ensure a win.”



Pay your employees a fair wage but treat them superbly by giving sincere praise and your company will get that “win” – a focused, dedicated and motivated workforce that feels valued.

About the Author:

Darryl Dioso is Senior Lead Recruiter and a Job Interview Coach at RMSG in Toronto, Canada. For close to 20 years, Darryl has been helping company clients improve through designing, implementing and managing hiring initiatives, operational improvements, and HR processes. He is passionate about business, technology, sports, travel and most of all – his family. Connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/darryldioso and follow him on Twitter at @DarrylRMSG.