Leaders Praising Employees

by Sebastian Oros

What’s on today’s to-do list? As the leader of an organization, your calendar is always full – but is “praise employees” listed as an action item? What may sound like a fluffy option for someone who’s a little more touchy-feely than you, praise is actually an essential component of good business. Let’s look at the link between praise and productivity.

Business Advice from Behavioral Science

Behavioral science teaches us that a child needs a praise-to-criticism ratio of five to one. This means that for every negative comment the child receives, they need about five positive comments to provide a counter balance and restore the relationship. What does that mean in real life? Every time you correct a negative behavior, you’ll need to praise five more behaviors to help cement the ones you want to continue. Yikes! 

Believe it or not, the same is actually true of adults, too. For every piece of negative feedback, you’ll need to offer five positive comments to motivate a team member to continue doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Though negative feedback is necessary to adjust behaviors, it’s the positive ones that keep the balling rolling in the right direction.

How Bad Is It, Really? 

Let’s move from scientific theory to reality. I’d guess that this best practice isn’t implemented regularly by most adults in the workforce. Take a quick survey of the last few months. How many times were you praised by your supervisor or director? Maybe several? Maybe none? I’d guess that some folks reading this won’t be able to recall the last time they received praise at work. 

It’s not all about my hunches…when we dig into the data, we see that as many as 65% of employees have not received any recognition for their work in the last year. That’s a long time! If you’re scratching your head to come up with a personal example, you’re not alone.

What Happens When Employees are Praised?

Let’s imagine a better scenario. Research suggests that 63% of employees are more likely to stay at their job for the next three to six months if they’re recognized at work. Wow! Could that be true? Could we really improve employee retention just by saying nice things to them?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Does Praise Increase Productivity?

Of course, we’d love to retain employees. We’d love it if they were happier and more satisfied. But at the end of the day, will increased praise really improve hard numbers? Does employee recognition increase productivity?

Again, by this time, you won’t be surprised to know that the answer is yes. Business productivity can increase by up to 31% when employees are appreciated and happy. That’s not just a feel good idea – that’s a significant statistical increase.

Why Not Praise?

When faced with statistical and anecdotal data (i.e. happy people make great workers), why wouldn’t we move to make this 5:1 ratio a best practice in our organizations? Why is recognition so hard to come by in so many companies? 

In some cases, it’s difficult for leaders to find the words. We may claim we don’t have the time. We may not see “soft” matters like this one as a priority in a busy schedule. None of these are legitimate reasons to ignore a powerful reality that our internal motivation increases naturally when we’re praised and treated with kindness. The 5:1 ratio is a rule that works across work platforms.

This is a choice. 

We can lead with the importance of putting others first. We can do things differently and create a positive environment and a thriving business. 

Need a Push?

Even leaders need coaching. If implementing the 5:1 rule sounds daunting, you don’t have to go solo. The Intention Collective works with leaders and organizations every day to encourage both profits and a healthy work culture. Reach out to learn more.

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