The Evolution of Praise in the Workplace

Work can be a funny place sometimes. It’s a world unto itself – with rules, etiquette, and an internal vernacular that are as individual and varied as the people that work within them. And, seeing that most of us spend the majority of our waking moments at work (with others who aren’t family or otherwise close friends), I’m always amazed by how reticent people are about giving out praise – and in turn, receiving it in kind.

As children, we all long for praise. At home, at school, and on the field of play. We’re taught that working hard, achieving, and learning new skills are avenues to getting a nice pat on the back and a moment in the sun. We bask in the glow of positive feedback. We learn to love that feeling of having someone else take notice of all of what we’ve striven to achieve. Because, let’s face it, it feels great to be noticed.

Yet, it seems the older we get, and the more traditional the workplace we find ourselves in, the less likely we are to get positive feedback. I have often wondered why that is? I remember a few years back being told by a manager that I was “too nice” to my work mates. That I shouldn’t praise their good performance. Or thank them for their efforts. She told me I needed to be a “much harder woman” to succeed. My viewpoint then and my viewpoint now on her comments remain the same: What utter bollocks!

As far as I can see, there’s no such thing as too much praise if it is both genuine and well deserved. I never have and never will hold back words that relay a thankfulness for help on a project, leadership under pressure, a job well done, or simple creative brilliance. Leadership, in my eyes, is not defined by a hard callousness. Instead, I define a great leader by how well they allow their team members to grow and shine – and by how often they lift them up with kind words and thankfulness.

In my estimation, the traditional workplace needs more praise. Heck, even the non-traditional places need it. Every place does where people are giving their all to achieve a shared goal. Negative connotations and feelings of frustration at not being noticed for a job well done spread like disease. Unhappiness festers and spreads. By the same token, positive words of encouragement, commendation and thankfulness do the same. They spread far and wide, but they are stronger than negative words or words never spoken in kind. Positive words act like a communal glue that pulls people, teams, and businesses together.

Businesses spend millions every year to hire “professional coaches” to come into their offices and teach leaders how to lead. They delve deeply into the culture of a business, and even deeper in to the psyche of the bosses that wonder where to start to create productive, happy, forward moving teams. Seems to me this isn’t rocket science: let’s start at the beginning. With kindness. With positivity. And, with praise. Sure, we’re not kids playing games out in the yard anymore. But, we’re all people and still need to be recognized for all of the time and effort we put into our lives outside of home.

In the past year I’ve set myself a little goal, and that is to praise and thank my colleagues daily for everything they’ve done well – no matter how big or small the task. Whether it’s an e-mail, a phone call, a text, or a tweet, simply saying “Thank you” is very empowering to everyone involved. Little moments lead to bigger projects, so taking the time to say a word of applause goes a long way in the end. And, as I mentioned earlier, praising someone is easy if it’s genuine.

So I put this back on you – don’t be afraid to praise your colleagues. Embrace the power of thankfulness, and it will come back to you tenfold.

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