am I going overboard with praising my staff?

A reader writes:

After many years as an individual contributor and lead, I’ve been stretching into leadership for the last year and find I enjoy it. I also find I seem to be doing very well in this arena (thanks to your blog, no doubt) and I’ve been asked to step up to a higher role.

One of my struggles is with recognition – but oddly, not the usual problems of under-recognizing effort. I’m afraid I may occasionally get too effusive with my thanks for my team’s comfort, or thank someone one time too many. Additionally, I find that I occasionally stun some of them by thanking them for doing tasks that I find incredibly helpful, yet they consider to be business as usual.

I have frequent 1:1s and team meetings and have built a strong rapport, and I have determined that they operate from a sense of equal fairness while I prefer equitable fairness. I have factored that into public recognition. I’m not sure that my team members even really have a problem with my saying thanks too much – it might be that they haven’t heard it before.

How would you suggest I broach this topic – if even bringing it up? Is this something I should mention to my team, or is this something I should work on for myself and not mention?

I would look at it this way: It’s important to recognize people’s contributions, but the recognition should be commensurate with what they’ve actually done or it will lose its meaning.

If you effusively praise people for just doing the normal parts of their job and things that didn’t take a lot of effort, you’re pretty quickly going to lower the value of your praise … meaning that when you really need to recognize someone for something important, you won’t have the tools to do it with.

It can also feel condescending to people if you go overboard, like that you have really low expectations of them, and/or think that they need constant reinforcement, and/or see them as something far from a peer.

That of course doesn’t mean that you should be stingy with your praise, miserly parceling it out on only the rarest occasions. It’s important to keep talking to your team about what they’re doing well. But you do need to be thoughtful about how you praise.

In your case, it jumps out at me that you’ve phrased a lot of your letter in terms of thanking people. That framing is fine in some cases — “I really appreciate that you made this happen during an already busy week” or whatever — but I think you’d be better off thinking of what you need to do as feedback, rather than thanks. You want to give people clear feedback about what they’re doing well (as well as where they could do better, of course, but that’s not what we’re talking about here). It’s not really about thanks (although I’m sure you do feel thankful to have good staff).

Conveniently, the best way to give positive feedback also happens to be the best way to make praise more meaningful, and that’s to make it as specific as possible. Instead of “great work!” or “thanks so much for your hard work on X,” talk about why it was great work — for example, that their quick turn-around on a last-minute project meant you were able to make a crucial deadline that had been in jeopardy, or that preparation for an important meeting won over a notoriously hard-to-please client, or whatever it might be.

I think it you switch your mindset to “I am giving people feedback on what they’re doing well” rather than “I am expressing gratitude,” you’ll change the tenor of the praise, more easily spot times when it would feel overboard, and end up having significantly more impact.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Don’t ever thank someone for doing his job.  Seriously.  Not only is it condescending, but you’re implying that he’s doing you a favor and/or something beyond normal expectations.  As Chris Rock so famously said, “That’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do.”

    Two things you need to be aware of: raises and promotions.  All the praise in the world doesn’t mean jack if it’s not accompanied with the substantive rewards.  I can’t pay my mortgage with your compliments.  (Don’t even think about trying to replace it with a Starbucks gift card.)  You never said, but if your company is stingy on those two items, then your smart staff will see through that and move elsewhere.

    1. fposte*

      If you mean literally, sure (no “Thank you for being administrative assistant”), but thanking people for performing tasks is de rigueur in some work cultures, including mine, and if you skip that out, that’s going to be seriously demotivating.

      I’d also say thanks and praise are two different things. There are times when it would be weird to give either (both “Thanks for coming in on time” and “You came in on time! That’s great!” are bad ideas), but there are plenty of times where thanks are fine but praise would be weird.

      1. INTP*

        Yeah, in my office we say “Thank you” for random things all the time. It gets a little silly sometimes, but at the same time, it makes interactions where you feel like you are being annoying much more comfortable to get a warm “Thank you for asking!”

      2. Green*

        I think the “feedback” framing is helpful here. I.e., at the end of the year or in a one-on-one, you may say “I’ve noticed that you’re always very diligent about [X weekly routine thing that goes unnoticed] and that’s appreciated since it means we never have to think about X and it always gets done” or in a group setting after an event doing a shout-out “Jane always handles the conference logistics, so thanks to her we had another smooth conference today.” The main thing I would be concerned about is that by going overboard in effusive gratitude, you may also be skipping having honest feedback discussions about areas for improvement, which can actually be more valuable to receive if you’re trying to advance.

    2. LawBee*

      ooooh, I disagree. I mean, yes raises, bonuses, etc are key, but a simple “Thank you” goes a long way for morale. Effusive thanks for standard job doing isn’t effective, but the occasional acknowledgment my staff’s hard work directly impacts my ability to do my job is fine.

      It’s the same as thanking the drive-through operator at the McDonalds. Yes, she was just “doing her job”, but why not spread a little harmless cheerfulness? People appreciate acknowledgment. Just don’t go overboard.

      1. olives*

        I think key here is remembering that there’s two axes here, and there’s a huge difference between, “Thanks for giving me a hand with that!” where “that” is a task that is not directly part of what a person gets rewarded for in their work, versus, “Thank you soooooo much for doing that, I REALLY appreciate it” over something that the person really does need to do on a daily basis. So you can break down any of this along the “casual thanks effusive praise” spectrum, as well as the “directly part of their job something they’re doing to smooth out the work, but isn’t their direct job” spectrum. Where this falls on both spectrums is really important.

        For instance, in my line of work, something like helping somebody else debug their code – yes, you might be seen as a team player, but you’re more likely to get rewarded if you spend your time building out code yourself. Getting a small thanks for that is entirely appropriate. (The “effusive praise” might be more appropriate if somebody ends up taking their workday to help you learn something that’s useful for your career, or for long-term success at the job – but less so in the day-to-day.) However, if you’re thanking somebody just for contributing code – at that point things get a little weird, and you don’t want to be in the habit of issuing praise at that constant a level.

        Point being, it’s all a judgment call – but definitely, if you’re seeing weird feedback from your employees in their faces about feeling unnerved by praise, it’s worth examining whether the praise is too big or the job is too small to merit it.

        1. olives*

          Ugh, my arrows didn’t come through! The spectrums I intended to highlight:

          casual thanks ——————– effusive praise
          directly part of their job ——————– something they’re doing to smooth out the work, but isn’t their direct job

          1. bridget*

            Phew, I was getting worried that I sound like a weirdo, because I give a casual thanks for … almost literally everything. “Here’s this week’s report, bridget” gets a “great, thanks!” even though it took three seconds to print, and it happens every week. It just seems like the gracious way to operate, and the only non-obnoxious response I can think of to use.

            Incidentally, this is the same way my spouse and I operate – doing the laundry, feeding the cat, loading the dishwasher earns each of us a “thanks,” even though it’s kind of the bare minimum of “operating like an adult who lives with another person.” It just creates a good and pleasant environment where everybody feels appreciated for contributing, even if it’s totally expected. Effusive praise would be weird, unless it’s an unusual and difficult chore that made a big difference (like doing time and labor intensive auto repairs to save the household lots of money in mechanic bills).

            1. olives*

              Exactly, this is where I was coming from! It’s nice to feel like people notice the little things you do to keep the house / work turning on a day-to-day basis, even if it absolutely would become a problem if those things weren’t being done. Feeling appreciated on a basic level is a great thing.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      I get your point on raises and promotions, but I disagree with never saying thank you. There are times when it is appropriate to use, IMO.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, I work with writers based most often in Brisbane. Something like attending a project meeting can mean that they stay up until, like, 2am to be there … so I say thank you. A lot. I really appreciate their effort because “attending a meeting” isn’t a big deal, but attending a meeting at 2am is a huge deal.

    4. Artemesia*

      People are supposed to proof their work — but telling someone ‘I appreciate that you present drafts that rarely have a proofing error; this really makes work go more smoothly.’ is both praise and feedback. Most people are mediocre — acknowledging very specific excellence is important and motivating.

      I agree that ‘equal praise’ is the road to disaster. Public praise is probably best used sparingly, but specific feedback that contains praise and is privately given is the key to good management. It is far better to shape behavior with specific positive feedback then to have to give critical feedback. In fact critical feedback is best phrased in terms of targets for success that can then lead to positive feedback. No rah rah, but lots of specifics.

    5. Rebeck*

      Caveat: if you work, as I do, in a field where there are no raises (top of grade, no likelihood of either a raise or promotion unless I go somewhere else), then acknowledgement of a job well done is really, really appreciated. Because it’s not like they can acknowledge say – statewide top of Mystery Shopper results – in any other way.

  2. INFJ*

    What else is there to say? Spot on response.

    I’m curious about the back story on “equal fairness” vs “equitable fairness.” I’ve heard complaints in my current department about some people being recognized for “doing their job” and others who go above and beyond but don’t get recognized. I’m worried the managerial reaction will be to recognize everybody across the board so that nobody feels left out (which defeats the purpose of recognition… no?.

    1. Liz T*

      Yeah I’m also confused about what that means. Is it supposed to be a noun other than “fairness?” Did OP just mean “equality” versus “equity?”

      1. F.*

        Liz T, my take on this is that “equal fairness” means everyone is treated exactly the same. “Equitable fairness” means that people are treated as individuals, high achievers are theoretically rewarded more than those who are doing less. Another thing to take into consideration is that different people are motivated by different things. One employee may be motivated by public recognition, another prefers a private, quiet word from their manager, for example. (I’m sure someone will explain this much more eloquently.)

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          I’m the OP so I’ll clarify – I believe that recognition comes from action, and that it is OK if I give recognition to one and not all. This is equity or equitable fairness.

          My team is a different culture where standing out is not cool. For the team as a whole, I practice equality.

          In 1:1s, we talk about their needs and I save the end for personal feedback.

          In team meetings, we lead briefly with accomplishments with kudos all around.

          This way, I feel I can provide team and individual feedback without upsetting the team and their cultural norms.

      2. INFJ*

        I interpreted it as “praise to everybody” vs. “praise distributed impartially.” To me, that raised questions as to why OP made that distinction in the first place. OP may be inclined to over compensate with the praise if there is concern that some members of the team will feel left out if others are praised and they are not (despite the fact that truly deserved recognition will not be so equally spread).

        1. F.*

          Praising someone just so they don’t feel left out feels like a participation trophy to me. Even kids can see straight through that.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes exactly. Praise when it’s due, and if you find someone always left out, look at why and address that as a separate thing. If you really have someone never getting praise you have one of two problems –

            one – they really do not deserve praise – address as performance issue

            two – you don’t see them doing the praiseworthy things – address as you not paying proper attention to their contributions (as in ASK people what they’re doing that you’re not seeing, they may be doing a tonne of background helping things that you don’t see because you only see the final product.)

  3. Charityb*

    Consider also giving at least some of your positive feedback in written form as well. It doesn’t have to be anything formal — just a quick email. This can be helpful to those employees during performance review times since they can quote directly from the email rather than relying on their memory months later. It’s also easier (at least for me) to be more detailed/explicit in why you’re giving someone praise in writing which can help make it more meaningful.

    1. F.*

      It also is a lasting positive pick-me-up. When I worked at my former job from hell, I treasured the “good work!” emails I had received over the years. I printed them out and kept them in my desk drawer and read them when I was feeling especially unappreciated. Interestingly, none of these emails were from my direct manager.

      1. Anna*

        My boss will give me thank you notes when I’ve put together a successful event (even if it’s an event I am required to do by my job description). I pin them to the corkboard above my desk.

    2. Carrie in Scotland*

      Talk is cheap and can be forgotten.

      Words in an email that you can save and re-read are much more worthy.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      Absolutely! I note those above and beyond moments and send notes copying our boss and account managers so everything gets included and documented for performance. My boss is the one who fights for ratings, so I try to make sure he knows as much about each person’s contributions as possible.

    4. Sparkly Librarian*

      This sort of documentation is helpful for career development. It gives employees who may not be comfortable “bragging” about themselves some concrete basis for answering “Why are you better at this job than the average person?”, “What accomplishments did you achieve during your time at your current/previous employer?”, or “How would your manager describe your work?” in an interview / on a resume / during performance evaluation. If they know a manager feels this way about their performance, they can be come comfortable asking for a reference – and better prepared to jog the former manager’s memory with specifics if it’s been some time.

  4. Cat*

    Back when I was a relatively junior associate, one of the partners praised me effusively for correctly formatting the header on a draft Court of Appeals brief. That’s the best example of condescending praise I can come up with–it’s close to insulting to praise someone for something that is so routine as to barely be part of their job (while, of course, ignoring their substantive contributions).

    Meanwhile, last week I got a note from one of my most on-the-ball clients thanking me for handling something and saying I “handled it well.” Coming from someone who doesn’t throw praise around, I was able to take it for the compliment it was and it meant a lot more than it would if I knew she was someone who did that reflexively.

    1. Serin*

      I was just coming up here to share a similar story! In one of my college clerical jobs, I completely reorganized a filing system that was two years out of date, and my big boss came to my cubicle to tell me I had done a good job of typing a letter for him!

      It pretty much translated to “My management classes say I’m supposed to recognize good performance, but I don’t have a clue what you do all day.”

    2. squids*

      Yes. I get told so often that I’m “brilliant with computers” when I’ve sized images correctly or switched my boss’s keyboard and language settings back to the correct ones. Then something I’ve been working on for weeks or months will get a “thanks” email (no capital, no punctuation).

      Appropriate recognition is the recognition that matters!

  5. grasshopper*

    I’d agree that focusing on feedback is the best way to go. If you are going to do any kind of public recognition, consider that some people love it but some people hate it. There are people who would be thrilled at the thought of being in front of a room full of their coworkers applauding them, but for others that is the stuff of nightmares.

    1. JessaB*

      Yes, and don’t go the other way and give none at all. I worked in one place as a temp where they totally ignored us to the point I literally walked over to the temp company in house rep (we had THAT many of us that they had an on site person to manage us) and told her to her face “Look, lack of feedback does not mean all of us are doing it the way they want us to, and since we’re literally here today gone in five minutes if they think we’re messing up, are we all doing an okay job, can you please find out how we’re doing?” She went and found out for us whether we were meeting goals and got them to hand out the paperwork for statistics they automatically gave employees. Because the stuff got generated ANYWAY.

      So please don’t read “too much is awful” and cut back to “too little means nobody has a damned clue,” either.

  6. Audiophile*

    Seriously, I love my new job but the boss has taking to praising me for really minor things. I edited a PowerPoint, which was just copying and pasting information from a draft version into a new version that used the company’s logos. I was told I was “amazing!”

    No part of what I did was amazing, it was a task I was asked to do and could do, and I very much considered it a part of my job.

    Save compliments like that if I come up with a strategy that boosts donations or saves the company money. Then I’ll have an easier time believing you and letting it sink in.

    1. Kai*

      Same here. My bosses love me and that’s great, but the effusive praise for a regular day’s work can get under my skin.

      I’m really glad this question came up–sometimes I feel bad for complaining that “my bosses praise me too much!” and it’s good to know I’m not alone!

      1. Audiophile*

        It’s jarring because I still feel like I’m learning. It’s only been a little over a month and while I’m thrilled to be included in projects, praise for small things makes me think they don’t expect much from me. I’d rather this person hold praise until I do something really amazing.

    2. Cupcake*

      I actually really enjoy those simple praises. I started a new job at the end of last year, and it’s totally different than what I’ve done before. I finish something, let my boss know it’s done over IM, and I usually get back an “Amazing!” It gives me an immediate confidence boost and an immediate indicator that I’m doing my job correctly.

    3. Sharon*

      “No part of what I did was amazing, it was a task I was asked to do and could do, and I very much considered it a part of my job.”

      I’ve been in this situation also. What I figure out was that (especially when it comes to computer or technical work) it was mundane and simple to me but it actually was amazing from the other person’s perspective because they are in the “computers hate me” group. Or they simply don’t have the time to figure out how to do it.

      But otherwise, yeah. I’ve been rewarded/praised for doing mundane, normal job tasks and also (apparently) ignored when I did something amazing. It can be annoying.

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh, sometimes it comes across as a boss that totally has no clue about what an employee does for a living. If you don’t know what your subordinate does all day, you have no idea whether a task is so easy that saying “awesome” is kind of an insult or a genuine compliment. It’s kind of something you should know in general. What a person does at least in concept all day. What is a simple task vs what is a heckuva lot of work, even if you don’t know the specifics.

    4. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      This is good feedback. I’m new to the team and still learning some processes. I would thank them for what I considered to be extra work just for me (flows, tech details, processes), yet they thought was just part of the job. I’ll scale back as this work lessens, or switch to feedback in 1:1 on why this was important and not just day to day.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Don’t know if this would work in your setting. I had some very cool bosses that would thank me every night when I said, “good night”. There was something about it. No matter how awful the day had been that thank you at night, made me jump up and run right in again the next day. Now. the bosses did not say thank you all the time during the day. But we worked in a fast paced environment and saying thanks was just not a big priority. That thanks at night pretty much covered all the missed thanks during the day.

        At a different place, I tried it with my own crew. You know what they say is true, to be heard once you have to say something three times. One person came to me and said, “I got all the way home. I fixed and ate my dinner. After I did the dishes, THEN, it occurred to me that you had said thank you.” In real life, I had told her thanks each night for the previous two days she had worked for me. She did not hear me until the third day.

        She had rough bosses in the past. Matter of fact, many of them did. The first week I was with them, I would say, “Thanks, all. Good night.” And they stared at me like deer in the headlights.

        I kept using it. Saying thanks at the end of the day seemed to wrap up one day and set the tone for the next day. In conjunction with this, I would also address what was wrong almost immediately, it was a fast paced environment again so you kind of had to correct things in the moment. Their day was definitely a mixed bag of inputs- some good and some not so good. It was kind of a roller coaster job and I used the thanks at night as a leveling tool.

    5. NurseB*

      I get a lot of this but I try to take it in the context in which it’s being given. I’m a nurse (hence the name – ha!) but I didn’t go in to this field right out of high school. I have a background in a few different areas, including office administration/office management, both in and out of healthcare.

      Now that I’m a nurse, when IT issues come up, from fixing a real computer problem to creating a new Excel spreadsheet, I’m the go to person. I pick up new software easily and figure things out with a few minutes of time. In my mind it’s just part of “other duties as assigned” and something that only takes a few minutes. To my co-workers and manager it’s almost akin to sorcery so I get a lot of “wow! That’s amazing!” or “oh my gosh, you did that so fast!” I know it comes from the context of people who have mainly worked in healthcare their entire careers and did little administrative work so spreadsheets and IT issues aren’t their strong sides. I appreciate that they take time to thank me, even if it was just a few minutes of my time.

  7. Ad Astra*

    I do appreciate when people thank me for doing a normal part of my job, or for doing something slightly above the basics that isn’t really a big deal — because it’s nice to feel appreciated. I file it in my brain under “Hey, people are glad I’m here!” and go about my business. It makes work more enjoyable, but it doesn’t motivate me.

    But that’s different from true praise. If you want to reward me for excellent work or encourage me to go above and beyond, I need recognition, not gratitude. Tell me what I’m really good at, or tell me how much my accomplishments mean to the team, and consider telling everybody else how great I am, too. Because I don’t do awesome work as a favor to you, so there’s no need to thank me.

    Alison is right that praise should match the accomplishment, and don’t forget the motivating powers of money and other perks.

    1. Charityb*

      I see what you’re saying. It kind of reminds me of that letter from a few weeks ago about the employee (I think she was an admin or a clerk of some kind) who wasn’t sure how to write a performance review because her work was routine and didn’t have much in the way of specific accomplishments. It’s easy to forget about people in roles like that because you only notice when their job is done badly. When they do a great job, you don’t think about them at all.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Hmm… it makes sense that you bring that up because I’m a proofreader, which is another position that people rarely notice until I screw something up. My coworkers will usually thank me for quickly turning around a project on short notice, but it’s hard for most people to know the difference between adequate proofing and excellent proofing. Most of us can spot bad proofing from a mile away, though.

    2. JessaB*

      Yes, thanks for getting me those copies fast is one thing, OMG you’re so awesome for doing that for me, I love you, you’re great, is another.

  8. Not Karen*

    But note that as much as I appreciate your thanks and praise, it doesn’t mean anything if you turn around and refuse to give me a raise. If I’m doing such a good job, then I deserve to be rewarded for it.

    1. F.*

      Some management gurus claim that ramping up the verbal praise is an effective substitute when raises/bonuses are tiny or non-existent. While positive feedback can be an important motivator for many employees, when it is not accompanied by *meaningful* compensation (money, more time off, flex arrangements; i.e. something concrete), it becomes somewhat meaningless. Try paying for your groceries with praise and see where it gets you.

    2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      Agreed. I don’t manage the raise money, my boss does. As I noted, I give him info as well as other account managers to raise visibility in the hopes that they get better recognition. I do what I can for recognition but unfortunately my budget is smaller and limited pretty much to gift cards.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        Forgot to mention – since I can’t work with money, I do offer flex time, comp time, or work from home as requested when we can do it. Rarely do I decline; the only denial I’ve given so far was while business partners were in town just to see us, but I granted the request the following week. I try to trade off with what I have.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Flexibility like the things you mention will go a long way, especially if your employees are already taking home a competitive wage. So can tossing your high-performers some interesting or higher-profile projects, if you have that ability.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I worked for people that frowned on praising or thanking people for this very reason. It leads to raise requests. It’s a slippery slope, because additionally, the bosses decided that people should be put down so that they did not get any ideas about asking for raises. If the boss thinks you are stupid, you are even less likely to ask for a raise, that was their theory.

      1. Ms. Anne Thrope*

        Hmmm, well if the boss thinks I’m stupid, and he’s the one who hired me, and keeps me on payroll, then what does that make him? ;)

  9. Tomato Frog*

    Yes! Specificity is key to meaningful compliments and feedback.

    One thing I’ve seen often is that managers will be very specific about what people are doing wrong, but very general in praise. Please be specific about what people are doing right! It is not only that it’s easier to take praise seriously when it’s backed up by specifics; it’s also that it gives your employees a sense of what you value and what they should keep doing.

  10. Fawn*

    Hope this isn’t too off topic, but is it okay for thanks to flow up? In my position, I work closely with a manager from another team, putting together marketing materials. He really goes above and beyond from my perspective, even though he’s just doing his job. I always thank him for his work on projects, because it just seems kind, but I guess I could see why this could come across as condescending.

          1. Theguvnah*

            I don’t know, I’m wary of having thanks flow up too much. Sometimes one of my supervisees does this and I find it problematic, but I also am almost at BEC mode with her. But it’s almost – this is going to sound bad but I can’t think of another way to phrase it – like, who are you to be telling someone more senior that they did a good job on something? (Not you personally, the general you).

            I realize that thanking them and complimenting them are different. Maybe I’m overthinking this, not you!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think that’s totally fine as long as you have the standing to be thanking them — like it was your project to manage and they did something helpful on it. If you weren’t really heavily involved in the project, then I think it would seem odd.

          1. Fawn*

            Exactly this – it’s a new project that I’m responsible for that also happens to add significantly to his team’s workload. While I understand that it’s his job to do it, I’m still appreciative of him taking on the additional work.

            1. JessaB*

              I might be more “please pass my thanks to your team for all their additional work, I know it was a lot to add to them,” rather than specifically him. Cause it’s his job to manage his team and he did that, but they did the work ?Does that make sense?

              1. Fawn*

                That makes total sense, and I think gets the point across nicely! I’ll do this instead next time.

  11. Theguvnah*

    I agree with the advice given. I have a friend who is overly effusive in her daily relationships (publicly praising people for being phenomenal and amazing just for basic stuff) and while I know she is coming from a good place and is authentic, I get questions from other people who don’t know her as well about whether she is being sarcastic or not (“is this lady for real??”). I’ve actually been debating whether to raise it with her since I suspect it is hurting her credibility.

    1. Windchime*

      Yeah, I hate the over-effusive praise. Yeah, thanks–I appreciate knowing that you are “so PROUD !!!!” of me for eating a salad. It’s so condescending.

  12. Allison*

    I think it’s also in the delivery, not just the amount. I often get a “great work” e-mail from my boss when I succeed at my job, or an “I love this, thanks for putting this together” when I finish a special project, but I have a coworker whose reaction to me doing well is clapping her hands together and going “GOOD JOB!” like I’m some toddler who just said her first word, or a child who got an A on her spelling test. I know she means well but her delivery can feel downright infantilizing sometimes.

    1. Windchime*

      I think you’ve stated it perfectly. I am all for being polite and saying “thank you” when someone does something for me, even if it’s something they do every day. It’s the overly-enthusiastic praise that bugs me, as if I just went potty for the first time ever. Please, save that for the day that the 2-year implementation goes live without a hitch. I don’t need praise and hand-clapping for checking in my code.

  13. MindoverMoneyChick (formerly_Chris)*

    I totally get what AAM is saying about excessive praise lowing its value. Way back in my graduate school days I had an internship and the manager who was in charge of the internship program was always telling us what a great job we were doing and that he hears great things about us. It was overly effusive and worse it was very generic, it absolutely did lose all meaning and in fact usually resulted in eye roles when his back was turned.

    The lesson I took from it was to make sure my praise was honest and specific (not that the OP sounds like they are being generic, it’s just another example of how to undermine the value of praise). I did tend to err on not giving enough praise though. That’s one of the things I really wish I could do over as a manager.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think you have to look at your people, too. For example, if you know that their last boss was a bear of a human being, then you might want to adjust things up a notch for a while.
      However, if you have a group that is slacking because that is what they are used to doing, then a different technique is necessary.

      My bias is that I have never seen a boss praise too much. And I can count on one hand the number of bosses I have had that even knew the words thank you. I had a boss that would write TY on something. It took me months to figure out that meant thank you. There are some things that should not be abbreviated.

  14. Meg Murry*

    I noticed OP mentioned that she has frequent 1:1s and team meetings where she will praise people. In addition to watching to make sure she isn’t over-praising, I would also suggest OP make sure she isn’t eating up a lot of valuable time with her praising. If I’m asked to stop my work mid-day in order to attend a group meeting and then a huge chunk of the meeting is “Thanks Bob for doing [X thing that is just part of his job]. Thank you Sue for doing [Y]. Good job Teapot team for shipping that order last week.” – now the praise is watered down, AND sitting there listening to you dole it out is preventing me from getting back to doing my job. Doubly so if the praise is “thank you for staying late to finish project X last week” and the whole time everyone is silently fuming “we wouldn’t have to stay late if you would just let us out of this stupid meeting and go back to doing our work!” or if you are praising the appearance of hard work (“Jane stayed late 4 nights last week”) vs actually getting stuff done (“Sue shipped 10% more teapots than anyone else with the lowest error rate, all without working overtime – good job on being efficient Sue”).

    Team meetings and 1:1s can be a good thing, especially if you are providing specific feedback about what went well and how that can be used in the future – but they can also be a huge time suck if they aren’t being used effectively, or if you are making a lot of “Attaboy” announcements that could easily have been made via email. For instance, save “We got the ABC contract, good work Teapot team” for email and instead spend a few minutes during the team meeting discussing what went right to allow the group to get the ABC contract, and then the rest of the meeting discussing what the ABC contract will do to overall workload and how to actually get the work donw.

    1. olives*

      My last job was the worst about that first bit – we had a literal gong that got sounded every week for every new deal that got signed, plus people would contribute thanks and praise to be shared with the whole office (200-300 people in a 1500+ person company) that congratulated people on their “heroic” efforts in doing something that was quite literally a part of their job description. My managers would also come by my office to thank me for something that took me about twenty minutes, and again was very much a part of my job.

      It was over the top, to say the least, and largely had the effect that I didn’t have much sense of how well I was doing at the company.

  15. CrazyCatLady*

    I feel like I may be doing this to a new coworker. As much as I hate this term, she is a ROCKSTAR compared to her predecessor. In 2 months, she has done more work than her predecessor did in 5 years and I find myself praising her very often. (It’s usually very specific praise – like “you did such a great job on XYZ because ABC” instead of “you are doing a great job” – but I’m not sure if that makes it any less annoying.)

    1. newreader*

      I have been that rockstar where the predecessor was so bad and the bar was so low that I looked phenomenal in comparison, without even trying. Some of the people I worked for told me quite often how much they appreciated my work and how much better and easier things were. My suggestion is to pay attention to how your employee reacts to the praise. It can be a great ego boost to know you’re helping to make things better, but hopefully you can tell from her reaction when she’s heard it enough. And where she’s new, it’s good that you are giving her specific feedback as to how and why her efforts are beneficial.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Ask her if you are annoying or supportive. She may like that fact that she gets feedback on what she has done right. OTH, she may get tired of the cheers at her six month mark, no way to know. I assume that you guys will get used to each other and your cheering will just naturally go down to a tamer level.

      My predecessors were not so hot. My boss complimented me a lot in the beginning. Now, she just takes a minute every few months to express some type of appreciation. She had a rocky road before I came there, it’s hard to get rid of all the PTSD in a short period of time. It’s not smooth sailing now, either, but it’s far better than it was.

  16. Carrie in Scotland*

    At least OP (whatever you faults may or may not have), you are doing it first hand. When I was covering for my sick manager for 3 months all I got was second hand praise, i.e Rory told me that Paris said I was doing a good job.

  17. Samantha*

    This makes me think of my two year old’s really enthusiastic “Good job, Mama!” for things like finishing my meal or putting my shoes on, lol!

  18. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    Thanks, Alison, for posting my question! I appreciate your input and that of the commenters.

    Seems like I’ll shift the framing of my thanks into feedback and speak more as to why that item was helpful. I do this 1:1 but I’ll link and label better. Most of this time is theirs for their development, and the last bit is 2way feedback. These are biweekly.

    Team meetings are housekeeping, org updates, and the usual team stuff, with a brief recap of accomplishments since last meeting. This is monthly.

    I’ll back off of overly praising for BAU work (even though I am blessed with rockstars) and instead shift focus on how their work contributes to the bottom line.

    Additionally, for transparency, I share the feedback we receive from partners and VPs – our success is based on their work. My success is based on them being successful, and we’re in it together.

  19. stephanie*

    I once had an ice queen for a boss (everyone thought that about her, not just me). In the year that I worked for her, she flippantly said “thank you” a million times– normally without even so much as eye contact. But she never, ever, gave me any feedback about my work unless she had something negative to say. She never said “great job,” “good work,” or anything. Since that job, I don’t believe the words “thank you” mean much of anything unless you know why you’re thanked.

  20. Amber Rose*

    I’m kind of surprised by these responses. Is “thank you” that uncommon in most places? When I do a thing for my boss I usually get some variation on “great, thanks”. Not like specific “this thing you did is so awesome” but with the same framing as when I say to someone “can you hand me that stapler? Thanks.”

    It’s just one of those things isn’t it? I don’t need to be thanked for doing my job but it’s nice to hear anyway. Please and thank you, the basics of cordial communication. Like verbal punctuation.

    1. Meg Murry*

      I think it’s the difference between the automatic “here’s that info you asked for” “Thanks!” or “thanks for getting that report out quickly” vs making a special point to say “Good job on ABC XYZ last week” either in a 1:1 meeting or in a group meeting.

      But yes, I say “thanks” all the time, and so do my coworkers. For little things like holding open a door for me, or for big things like rearranging their schedules to bust out a crazy amount of work in a short time. But the second one is worthy of a special mention of a thanks or going out of my way to mention it in email or make sure their bosses know about it while the first is just a tossed off casual politeness.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m assuming that “great, thanks” isn’t the kind of thing the OP is talking about — if it is, though, I totally agree that that’s normal.

      1. Amber Rose*

        For sure! But some of the comments seem to be suggesting you should never thank anyone unless they’ve done something amazing. Seems extreme to me.

    3. Windchime*

      Yeah, I don’t think we are talking about the normal “please” and “thank you”. Those are just a part of being a polite person in a polite society. But if someone said, “Oh my gosh, THANK YOU for handing me the stapler, you are SUCH a lifesaver!! What would we do without you?!?”, then that’s going overboard and loses it’s value very quickly.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      It could be just me, but when I started working 30 something years ago, you never heard anyone say thanks for any reason. As time went on I found a few jobs where bosses and workers said thanks. Now I see we discuss it on the internet. I think this is progress here.

      I have heard it all:
      You don’t thank people for doing their jobs. (esp. waitresses and other service people)
      Saying thanks is a show of weakness. Never say thanks.
      They get a paycheck they do not need thanks.
      They are doing what they are supposed to do. (No matter what the action is, they are supposed to be doing that action. Employees save a burning building. No need to thank them, they are doing what they are supposed to do.)

      (You can substitute the word praise for the word thanks. These ideas were in regard to both praise and thanks.)

      I could go on. I am happy to see we have progressed to a point where we wonder if there is a thing as too much thanks.

  21. hnl123*

    One thing that I found annoying at a previous job, is when my managers would notice and thank me for some of the more routine, “duh” things in my job. But at the same time, when I did go “above and beyond” or was really helpful, or came through for something/someone, they didn’t notice…? It made me feel annoyed because it made me feel like they only appreciated and noticed the things which were minor, and would not lead to a promotion/raise. It made me feel like that’s all they saw me for.
    So I would make sure you’re not over-praising and over-thanking everyday, routine tasks at the cost of forgetting to praise/appreciate when they DO put in the extra effort.

  22. Court*

    My bosses make a habit of saying a simple “Thank you” at the end of every conversation. I look at it as “thanks for taking on this other task” or “thanks for taking time out of your workday to meet with me about this.” I love it. I’ve found it really makes me want to work harder for them because I know they appreciate it.

    I think it would be excessive if you’re going to your administrative assistant and saying “Thanks for answering the phone when it started ringing. Great job!” because that’s what he/she is supposed to do. Otherwise, I know people appreciate hearing that their work is valued, and saying a quick “Thank you” in a conversation can go a long way in achieving that.

  23. Ultraviolet*

    I’m a little worried this experience is just totally idiosyncratic, but I’ll share in case it resonates: I used to have a job where a supervisor would thank me for basic parts of the work, and it really felt like it was denying my “ownership” of the project. (I mean, as a higher-up she was certainly closer to literally owning the project than I was, but in my role I had a lot of creative input and influence over the direction of the work–the kinds of things that are pretty hard to do well without feeling some investment in it yourself.) When this supervisor thanked me, it made me feel like she thought of me as having a lesser role than I really did. Maybe the context here is so different from OP’s case that it couldn’t possibly be similar, but maybe it’s a helpful perspective.

    Overall I really agree with Alison’s advice to give feedback instead of thanks. And the more specific it is, the less risk there is of undermining it by being too effusive.

  24. Lyn*

    I disagree. I work as an admin at a community college – I’ve been there six years. The full-time instructors I work with are all super people. They thank me and brag on me all the time. It doesn’t make me feel as though they have low expectations of me, are condescending, go overboard, and/or think that I need constant reinforcement, or see me as something far from a peer. I love every single one of them and love my job!

  25. TCO*

    OP, I’d look into the concept of “appreciation languages.” It sounds like words (verbal or written) are your preferred way to show appreciation. If your team members have different “languages” (for instance, they would find it more meaningful if you took a task off of their plate or gave them a bonus day off) your praise might be missing the mark, leading to their unexpected reactions. Don’t be afraid to ask each person how they like to be thanked and recognized.

    1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      Thank you! I haven’t heard of appreciation languages, but this could be very helpful. I have not only a difference in personal style than some of my team, but a much different cultural background (two. really, as I have two Asian cultures represented within the structure. Appreciation languages may help me not only bridge the gaps, but help me frame the conversations.

  26. newlyhr*

    I had this problem as a new manager and had difficulty understanding why it was a problem. I appreciate how someone in the office finally sat me down and gave similar advice—feedback, not praise. That helped a lot.

  27. Angel Serrat*

    There’s this woman in my department who would constantly saying to me “Thank you for all you do for us.” Uh, I’m doing my job. She’s not even my supervisor. In fact, we both report to the same individual. But, here’s the thing. I’m the only one with a more revenue-driven role in our department at a mental health agency. Yes, my role is heavily administrative. She goes by my desk and with a worried look on her face points out that as I’m just too busy and I work so hard, etc. At 3 minutes past Five, she’ll urge me to “go home”. She even suggested I’d be the supervisor! Yeah, with no clinical background! Oh, and I’m the only one she greet with a “Good morning, beautiful!” That’s really nice. But I feel singled out by her. My other coworkers do thank me when I do something for them, right on the spot and it doesn’t feel patronizing. She’s a really sweet lady, but I really don’t need the little pep talks. This has been going on since she started as a temp, not even fully on-board with the agency!

  28. Praise should be professional*

    I am here for a reason. I have recently finally promoted someone to be a peer. In a nutshell, I now have someone who is managing a team I’ve had to “temporarily manage” in addition to my own teams for the past several years. I’m excited to have someone upon whom I can most definitely rely and someone who will motivate and inspire a team that desperately needs it. However, ever since this person moved into their new role they have been – in my eyes – extremely condescending.

    One of the ways it comes across is in that he treats me, who was nary a week ago his boss, as though he’s far more experienced and qualified and therefore should be my mentor. He has over 20 years of age on me, to be sure. However, I am a person who has been in the workforce for more than 75% of her lifetime and have served as the nucleus for our company for the past several years (much longer than he’s been here). I did not win my role. It was not bestowed upon me. It was well earned.

    In addition to this, his praise is getting unruly. He throws out praise that is directed at, say, my team and claims it’s for his team. These are two separate departments that do completely different work, so it’s clear who is receiving praise. To me, that’s not just cognitive dissonance, it’s disrespectful to his team. They know the praise wasn’t for them, so why try to pass it off as if it were. That’s disingenuous. He showers praise down and it’s often somewhat specific, but it’s commonly for doing your job. Or for me doing MY job – which is even more insulting as he hasn’t a clue what I do. Sure, he may feel that I was stingy with my praise when I was juggling their team, but I feel praise should be genuine. I gave praise when it was warranted and I gave it in earnest.

    I feel badly for this team, because they went from an extreme of having me – the introvert who is overly honest – to this extreme extrovert who praises their every sniff and sneeze. It feels so condescending and I have no idea how to approach it. If anything, I will keep my nose out of how he handles his team, but I want to say something so he stops speaking to me that way.

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