What You Shouldn’t Praise Employees for Doing

Used right, commendations can be a major motivator for your workers. But a new study suggests they may backfire in certain situations

Written by Murad Hemmadi
Illustration: Kagan McLeod

At one end of the spectrum, there are managers that can’t bring themselves to utter ‘hi’ to their employees in the hallway, let alone praise them for a job well done. But there are also managers who freely praise their staff for event trivial tasks, to show their appreciation.

A recentstudy by the University of Greenwich’s Business School found that praise from the boss can actually be demotivating in certain situations. The study asked participants to complete a questionnaire at the end of their work day, every day, for two weeks. Questions included the specific tasks they worked on during the day, and a self-appraisal of their motivation and any rewards they expected to receive for the tasks.

What the researchersfound was that participants who had expected to receive praise for complex tasks reported lower intrinsic motivation. They enjoyed the task less and had less desire to do it, while individuals who had to work on repetitive, boring tasks experienced a jolt in intrinsic motivation when they expected praise from their boss.

So why is that? Dr. Rebecca Hewett, senior lecturer in human resources management with the university thinks it’s because the complex tasks are interesting enough in themselves to be motivating, so that extra encouragement is unwanted. It’s damaging in fact, since it can actually rob staff of their own inner drive, Hewett says. A simple “thank you” for the dull tasks, however, is appreciated because the task itself is not motivating. The extra encouragement then becomes helpful.

“We all have to do boring tasks in our working day, and this research suggests that managers can help to motivate us to do those simply by providing a bit of encouragement or saying ‘thank you,’” Hewett explains. “For those more complex tasks, on the other hand, it would better to let us get on with it.”


Do you agree with these findings? When is it useful or helpful to praise employees? Let us know by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com