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How to praise your employees

If you run a SME, praising your employees may be far down the list of your priorities. However, recognising the work that your staff do for you is key to improving happiness at work. This leads to increased job satisfaction, improved performance and reduced staff turnover. If you want to improve your business, praising your employees is a good way to start.

Start with workplace culture

Your workplace culture will have a huge impact on how praise is received by your employees. Actions speak louder than words, and how you act around your employees can create an appreciative culture that staff want to stick around for, or an environment that everyone is ready to escape from. Unregulated emotive behaviour, such as shouting, personal criticisms, or insults sets the tone for your company (and your staff). 

You could also think about how often you’re talking to staff on your team. If you tend to approach them when something is wrong, or needs improving, then it might be that they’re more used to hearing criticisms from you rather than praise. Equally, if praise is delivered conditionally - for example, when someone agrees to work late, then recognition can start to feel like coercion. 

Start praising individuals

Although you might be good at praising your team, you might feel less confident in praising individuals. Praising individual employees is really important, because it illustrates that you recognise the individual work that they have done, rather than just recognising the effort of a group of people.

Recognise ‘we-strengths’ and ‘me-strengths’

A we-stregnth is something that an employee can do that elevates the entire team. This might be someone’s skill in leading a meeting, or someone who uses humour to keep people engaged. A me-strength is something that an employee really enjoys doing, work which feels immersive, that the person doesn’t want to put down at the end of the day.

The difference between a we-strength and a me-strength is that we-strengths require that recognition; a me-strength is enjoyable without it. For example, say an employee was able to keep a difficult client calm during a crisis. That’s a we-strength; it benefits the entire team, and keeps the company running smoothly. This is a great opportunity for praise.

Alternatively, consider an employee that enjoys being immersed in a difficult problem. This is a me-strength; it’s a task which gives the employee energy and is a reward in itself. Although praise can be given here, it’s much less important than employees who are working hard with something they don’t find energising or enjoyable.

Although the employee with the great we-strength of keeping clients calm in a crisis is going to be a great asset to your business, they’ll need some praise, and then some time with a me-strength, to get their energy and focus back up. If you want to find out more about we-strengths and me-strengths, here’s a great article to get you started

Praise the effort, not the ability

The language that you use to praise employees can also have an impact on their work ethic. You might be used to praising or appreciating your staff with comments about their ability, such as ‘You’re really good at problem solving.’ Research suggests that this encourages a fixed mindset, where a task is either achievable, or not worth attempting.

Instead of complimenting the ability of the individual, try praising the effort, ‘You worked really hard to get that problem resolved.’ This changes the focus to praising the work ethic. This can be much more motivational for employees when things get challenging; research suggests that this encourages resilience and a growth mindset.

Remind them of the impact

A final way to help you deliver praise is to remind the employee of the impact that their effort had. Employees like to feel that the work that they’re doing has a purpose, and reminding them of that can really take your praise to the next level. 

Think about the effect and the impact that their work has had on your business. If it’s improved relations with a client, or helped you to meet a deadline, remind the employee of that. This can be the difference between praise that an employee hears, and praise that they dismiss.

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