North Central Business Journal News
(September 2001 issue)
by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.
The complaint employees make most often about
their supervisors is that “they never appreciate me.” This occurs
because there is a common tendency among Americans is to notice negative
things rather than positive things. This is particularly true of
people in oversight positions, such as supervisors or managers. They
immediately notice when employees make mistakes, but are less observant
when things are going well. This leads to negative comments and very
few positive comments, which is why employees perceive a lack of appreciation.
Research on the differences between highly
effective managers and adequate managers finds that one of the major differences
is how often managers compliment employees. Highly effective managers
find something positive to say about their employees almost daily; adequate
managers do so less frequently.
Non-exceptional managers often say to me, “doing
a good job is what my employees are paid to do; why should I give them
a swelled head for doing what they are paid to do?” These managers
seem to believe that they should compliment only exceptional employees,
and even then the compliments should be sparingly applied for fear of creating
excessive egotism. But very few people are prone to excessive egotism.
Most people benefit from others noticing when they do things well.
While payment is a form of reward, it is a
weak reinforcer. Compliments are powerful reinforcers. Employees
who are complimented by their supervisors tend to out-perform those whose
work is not complimented. Since compliments do not increase the overhead
costs of a company, they are an inexpensive yet highly effective way to
improve productivity, and have the side benefit of enhancing morale.
Managers who wish to be highly effective can
train themselves to deliver this powerful form of reinforcement.
The first step in this self-training is to intentionally notice all that
their employees are doing. One of the reasons why non-exceptional
managers tend to focus on negatives is that negatives are actually rare.
When we see something all the time, we tend to be habituated and stop “seeing”
it. To counteract that tendency to habituate to the positive, managers
need to catalog all the right things that are being done.
The second step, having actually noticed the
positive, is to tell employees about the positives. This stating
the positive is most effective when it is a brief specific comment, such
as “you handled that situation well” or “that was tricky and you pulled
it off”. A general statement at the end of the day, such as “good
job” is less effective than a short acknowledgment at the time of some
aspect of the job that was well done. General positive statements
are made by adequate managers; brief specific positive comments are made
by exceptional managers.
Making these brief comments about specific
things the employee does, almost as an aside, not only lets the workers
know that they are appreciated, these comments also inform employees that
managers are noticing their work. This notice will reduce the possibility
of employees skipping some parts of their jobs. When managers notice
the positives and tell their employees what they have seen, the quality
of the work will remain high. Employees will do all the tasks, rather
than just the tasks they enjoy, because they know their manager is paying
attention. That will reduce the need for managers to mention negatives
because there will be fewer negative aspects to their employees’ job performance.
So everyone wins: the employees feel appreciated and the company receives
Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational
Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human
resource issues. Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions,
specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at