How to Praise Your Employees

Career Advice

A key ingredient to turnover within organizations is an employee who feels underappreciated, undervalued, and underpaid. The feelings may not be reality. Unfortunately, people’s feelings often shape their own reality. Ironically, the employee that you wish would find the exit door probably won’t, but the keepers will seek that door if you do not give them a reason to stay.

Think back over your career and consider what has motivated you over the years. Are you self-motivated? Do you feed off of encouragement? Do you hate negative feedback from your boss or coworkers? Are you naturally encouraging or critical of others?

While it’s good to praise your employees, it is helpful to be strategic about how or why you praise them. This is less about calling someone a ninja, guru, superstar, rockstar or whatever trendy new term we may come up with to make others feel good about themselves, and more about understanding what actually inspires others to continue to work hard and contribute well to the team goals. Michael Scott awkwardly praises his employees because he’s a fictional character. You’re in the real world, where employees need more substance to their praise than ‘rockstar’ or ‘ninja.’

A motivated workforce is a productive workforce, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to praise and what to skip. Here are several ways to move your praise in the right direction:

Be quick to praise.

Don’t wait until an employee scales a figurative Mt. Everest to lavish on the praise. And don’t just praise their skills or an attribute about them. When we stick to the low hanging fruit, it shows that employee performance is only great if it’s successful, and that you only value people for what they do. Praise the qualities that lead your employees to success, and you encourage them to put those qualities to use even further.

Don’t be fake.

Don’t issue participation trophies to your employees. It is good to reward actual accomplishments, and it is also okay to reprimand or fire employees for costly decisions or actions. Create a culture of ongoing praise and encouragement that does not feel fake, contrived or distributed equally to all employees like they’re on a kids’ soccer team. Don’t just try to check the praise box on your to-do list. Mean it, and your employees will respond.

Look for the good.

If you’re looking for ways to praise your employees, you may be surprised at how many praiseworthy items you find. We often simply look for the bad, and assume if we don’t see anything negative, then things are operating fine. But fine doesn’t mean our employees are motivated and contributing to their full potential. What would you miss about an employee if they found another job? Make sure they know what you value about them.

Separate constructive feedback.

Most days, the hours seem short to fit it all in, and if you don’t immediately share the good, the bad, and the ugly, you might forget something. But positive feedback is usually drained of its positive when negative is applied at the same time. Identify when you will provide constructive feedback sessions and save your praise for the appropriate time.

Offering encouragement to employees is less about checking off a management or leadership box, and more about understanding that inspired and motivated employees are better workers. Right now, some of you feel like you would have to search long and hard for praiseworthy items for your employees. But it’s worth the search…even if your employee’s performance warrants more constructive feedback than praise right now. Find times to encourage what you can, and depending on the employee, you may see other unexpected jumps in their performance – without having to provide constructive feedback, too.

Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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