Most people who've thought about management for a while know employees appreciate being recognized. And that it makes a substantive difference in performance.

But it's always nice to have hard data supporting 'softer' intuition, and even nicer when that data comes from as widely respected a management source as Harvard Business Review.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Which is why I was interested to read The Easiest Thing You Can Do to Be a Great Boss by David Sturt.  Mr. Sturt, of O.C. Tanner, makes the case in this November article (or I should say his data makes the case) that recognition isn't just a marginal "nice-to-have," but a fundamental difference maker that can be the deciding factor between an employee who's happy or unhappy in the job - and therefore, often, productive or unproductive.

A few key pieces of data from the HBR article make the main point persuasively.

"Seven out of 10 employees who report they’ve received some form of appreciation from their supervisors say they’re happy with their jobs. Without that recognition, just 39% say they’re satisfied."

-  "A new leader can foster an immediate boost in employee job satisfaction — by 31 percentage points — just by recognizing those who have never received any appreciation from their superiors."

Mr. Sturt also cites another study from last year showing that of the employees who say their organization has "strong recognition practices, 87% feel a strong relationship with their direct manager." That figure decreases sharply to 51% among those reporting a lack of recognition at their companies.  This data strongly reinforces the central importance of the manager-employee relationship.  Or, put another way, it supports the old business adage, People leave managers, not companies.

Costs nothing, takes little time - My own feelings about this data, and the broader issue of employee recognition, after decades in management?

I couldn't agree more.  Recognition is an emotional difference maker.  The vast majority of employees are hungry for recognition and value it when they receive it.  Conversely, it gnaws at them when they don't.  They wonder: Am I really doing a good job?  I guess I'm not...

I'm also convinced that the most important kind of recognition is seldom part of any elaborate company program.  It's genuine, candid, personal communication from a manager to his or her employee.

In other words, the most effective recognition costs nothing and takes little time.  Which is why companies should always be thoughtful when evaluating their own management practices in this regard.  It's an easy and inexpensive way to boost management effectiveness.

This insight seems so basic, it's just common sense.  Which is why it's excellent to have the street cred of Harvard Business Review behind it.

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Victor is author of  The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).

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