Employee motivation gone wrong: Four ways praise can backfire

by on May 7, 2010 · 6 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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Employee motivation mistakes can have horrible consequences on workplace morale

We’ve all heard that praise is the greatest employee motivation technique. But praise can also be a huge de-motivator if it’s done the wrong way.

Here are four bad ways to praise employees. And even good managers can unintentionally make these kinds of mistakes:

  1. Affirming their subordinate status
    When we praise someone, it implies we have the right to sit in judgment of them, in a sense, even if the judgment is positive. When delivering praise, be sensitive to signs of unequal status – for example, calling the person into your office and delivering it from behind your desk.
  2. Manipulation
    “Nice work, Joe. Now I need you to produce two more units by next week.” The manager isn’t necessarily insincere about the praise, but there is an obvious agenda. Employees learn to mistrust praise from such managers as a way to “motivate” them to do extra work.
  3. Sweetening a bitter pill
    Ah, the hanging “but.” If you get in the habit of using praise to soften a reprimand, employees will catch on. “Tom, your work has really improved… but you need to take more initiative.” Rest assured that the minute you say “but,” Tom will forget the first part.
  4. Trying to win favor
    Evelyn has done a so-so report, but you don’t tell her that. Because she doesn’t seem to like you very much, you decide to use the occasion to try to get on her good side. “Excellent report,” you beam. But Evelyn knows it wasn’t all that good. And she tags you and your compliments as phony.

photo credit: Brymo

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6 Comments on This Post

  1. hrdude
    May 7, 2010 - 1:38 pm

    I'd also add that if your praise isn't sincere, don't offer it. Employees see right through false praise and resent you for it.

  2. Pam
    May 12, 2010 - 5:26 pm

    What do you do when your managers still want to be part of the gang?

  3. Pam
    May 12, 2010 - 5:26 pm

    What do you do when your managers still want to be part of the gang?

  4. Pam
    May 12, 2010 - 1:26 pm

    What do you do when your managers still want to be part of the gang?

  5. Pam
    May 12, 2010 - 1:26 pm

    What do you do when your managers still want to be part of the gang?

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