In Praise of Praise: The Benefits of Applauding Coworkers

Posted December 13, 2013 by Lindsay Bosch in On the Ladder


It was a chocolate bar.  Not even a full bar, in truth, but a mini one.  I don’t think I’m a cheap date, but I was kind of shocked by how secretly pleased I was at the gesture.  The chocolate bar was from a coworker, a small recognition for help wrangling accounting into submission at the fiscal year close.

The gesture led me to consider the office politics of peer recognition.  Google “employee recognition” and there are endless resources for employers seeking to motivate their employees through incentives of praise, or money or public acknowledgement.  This makes sense, employers recognize their employees as part of the deal; it’s a savvy management strategy to increase job satisfaction and ultimately, productivity. Recognizing our peers and coworkers, calling out their achievements, is a bit of a harder sell.  We are often put in competitive relationships with our coworkers, and it can seem there is no clear benefit in taking time out of our day to sing the praises of others.

A 2002 study published in Psychology and Politics: A Social Identity Perspective, participants were asked to read a script containing either strongly negative or strongly positive statements on a variety of neutral subjects.  A second group of participants was then asked to assess their response to the speaker.  Across the board, subjects who read positive statements were personally rated more highly by the listeners, while subjects who read negative statements received lower personal ratings.   The negative aspects of this study are regularly cited as workplace culture tips. We’re reminded not to gossip and never to badmouth an old employer in an interview, as it makes us look bad.  It seems less emphasis has been made on the positive aspect of the study. The good things you say about others become associated with you and your work.  Praise someone’s ingenuity, people think of you in context of problem solving.  Thank someone for being a team player, and you become associated with good teamwork.  If you are not moved simply by altruism, consider praising others as a strategic tool in building your professional relationships.

Here area few places to start:

  • Copy the Higher Ups: When sending a thank you email to a coworker, go ahead and CC that person’s boss or direct supervisor.  It’s a quick way to spread the word that a colleague has gone above and beyond, and lets that person gain points without tooting their own horn.
  • Write a LinkedIn Recommendation: The typical linked in recommendation structure tends to be reciprocal. (You recommend me and I’ll recommend you.) Make the choice to write an unsolicited recommendation for a coworker that has shown particular merit. This gesture assists your colleagues in building their professional story online, and raises your own SEO within LinkedIn.
  • Capitalize on Internal Awards – Many companies offer programs that allow their employees to nominate one another for recognition.  Call HR and ask about such programs at your company. The incentives vary ($25 gift card, cash bonus, name on the board out front) but stepping up to make a nomination enhances your profile as well as that of the award recipient.  In addition, directors may want to provide more overall perks or benefits to those departments where it is perceived that high-performance work is being accomplished
  • Nominate your colleagues for professional recognition within a national association.  Your colleagues may have accomplishments under their belt that should be recognized on the national level.  A rising tide raises all boats, and recognizing our colleagues achievements within an industry-wide professional association reflects well on the profession overall. Such an award raises the profile of your company and your department’s outstanding achievements to a national level. The press, recognition and high profile of such an award may enhance your own resume in the long run.

About the Author

Lindsay Bosch

Lindsay Bosch is an arts and nonprofit manager who has worked in cultural institutions for over decade including the American Library Association, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Film Festival. Lindsay is interested in the self-driven (and often self taught) trajectory of women’s careers in nonprofits and writes about issues related to leadership, branding and work culture. Lindsay holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Media from Northwestern Univ. and a Masters in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the coauthor of the art history textbook Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture and the Image of Women.