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The importance of professional compliments & recognition in the workplace

When was the last time you genuinely felt appreciated in the workplace? 

According to a recent poll, one in three employees say they haven’t received recognition in the past six months. The same study found that organisations with more frequent recognition reap the rewards, as they are 41% more likely to see increased employee retention and 34% more likely to see increased employee engagement. It’s actually quite astounding how building and embedding a recognition culture can have such a huge impact on organisations. If you have ever wondered how and when to get started, next week may be your opportunity.

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There is no better time to show some appreciation than on World Compliment Day (March 1). It’s a day that’s being dedicated to appreciating the basic human need of recognition and appreciation.

If recognition is not already common practice at your workplace, you may feel a little uncomfortable at first. Some of you may not be sure how to do it, or even worry that you might come across disingenuous. Don’t worry, as it’s not overly complex if you follow some basic tips. Sincere compliments instill confidence, validate a person or a team’s efforts and ultimately make people feel good.

Here’s a quick and timely refresher on how you can provide genuine recognition.

Be specific

Psychotherapist and author Marcia Naomi Berger says recipients of vague compliments more often than not end up brushing them off easily as they “could apply to anyone”. So, when you’re recognising someone, take a moment to really reflect on the work you’re about to comment on. A tried and tested method of providing great feedback is the SBI model developed by the Center of Creative Leadership. SBI stands for Situation-Behaviour-Impact. You first want to describe the specific setting in which you observed the behaviour (the when and where), then the behaviour itself and finally the impact it had on you or others. 

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Recognition isn’t always about numbers or results

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, employee appreciation specialist Christopher Littlefield argues that compliments should delve into the process rather than dwell on the results. He suggests that focusing on numbers or results actually has the reverse effect and encourages anxiety from the team member about repeat performance. So, think about complimenting an individual on HOW they did their job and not just on WHAT was achieved. For example, you may want to acknowledge someone on their customer centric thinking, rather than simply on them being able to win an account.

Link it back to your overall purpose

Daniel Pink’s book Drive describes an experiment which resulted in employees achieving twice as much when they were reminded of the big picture, and more specifically of the impact their work could have. So, when you thank someone for their hard work and link it back to your organisation’s mission, it allows the individuals and others around them to remember what you’re all striving to achieve, and in turn you all get closer to that goal.

Be timely

Strike while the iron is hot. For recognition to feel genuine and meaningful, it’s always better to provide it as soon as possible. Radical Candor by Kim Scott also recommends this, and goes on to suggest that in person feedback is even more impactful as you can gauge how it’s being received and make any necessary adjustments to ensure that your message comes across in the way that you intend it to.

Make it a habit. The positive effects of receiving recognition will only last for around a week. This doesn’t mean that you need to be complimenting the same person every week, but why not carve out time on a regular basis to thank people who truly made a big difference to your organisation. One practice that we’d like to see more organisations adopt in this regard is our Power Hour. It’s a great monthly tradition where we basically drop everything and encourage our entire office to send messages of praise and encouragement to deserving colleagues.

Here are some examples: 

“You have smashed every single obstacle so far this week and I am so glad to be working with you on this project. The hill is steep but we’re taking every step to get to the top. Endless thank yous.”

“An overdue shout out, you’re always positive and great at sharing feedback and praise for other people. It’s so lovely to open a Slack message from you. Thank you!”

You got some really hard questions in today’s lunch and learn. It can’t have been easy fielding those questions in Zoom with the whole company. You handled it like a champ. I really appreciate you keeping us informed!

By the end of the hour, not only are well deserving colleagues recognised for good work, but you also learn to truly appreciate the team you work with and reflect on the great work that has taken place. This is not to suggest that feedback should only be given during specific periods, but it’s a great way to start to build a culture of appreciation at work. 

As with many holidays, World Compliment Day reminds us to appreciate others. Take time this World Compliment Day to do just that. We are sure there are people who have supported and impressed you, so why not let them know. Your colleagues aren’t doing great things for the compliments, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t appreciate your praise. Go on, have fun with it! 


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