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It’s no surprise that creating the right kind of positive, encouraging office environment has a lasting effect on employee motivation. The best way to paint the picture of the effect that a performance-based environment has on employee motivation is to tell a story.

Several years ago, I was challenged in working with a highly successful, but very rigid professional services firm. The organization was reputable with tenured leaders who were committed to a performance-focused mission. If you’re wondering exactly what I mean by this, check out my latest blog post where I discuss the difference between humanity-based and performance-based leaders.

But they had a big problem – their people were always unhappy. 

manager led recognition in the workplace

Working in a performance-based environment

Let’s start back at the beginning. The first time I visited the office, no one greeted me and the team I was working with was skeptical of me. I wondered (out loud), “why are we working together?” I soon learned that the company was just starting to struggle with employee turnover, particularly with new employees. As our initial conversation continued, I was able to understand a small scope of the managerial problem they were having.

The majority of their managers and top-level leaders had been loyal to the company from the start of their career but for many, that meant adopting a managerial style based on the initial culture which was solely performance-based.

The environment felt cold because everyone was too focused on the bottom line to see the big picture that really included employees’ health and well-being, work-life balance, and motivation to go above and beyond. 

Discover how to improve manager participation in your employee recognition  platform with these five steps »

Focusing on results alone leads to less-desirable outcomes

All of those factors were being affected by the pressure from managers to be there at 8 a.m., not leave until after 6 p.m., and be available outside of work at the drop of the hat. At this organization, employees stayed in the same position for years because promotions were few and far between.

They did not have the support or infrastructure from their managers for career development, and managers lacked the compassion their employees craved in and outside of the office. At the time, the company had not connected the dots between the consistently rigid manager behavior and the sudden increase in turnover.

They thought that if they brought candy to meetings and hosted more happy hours, it would solve the problem. 

Some perks are a nice-to-have in the office and can help employees feel appreciated in the moment, but candy isn’t going to help bridge the employee engagement gap alone. (Check out my colleague’s blog on implementing employee perks that make a difference in employees’ everyday lives).

And even though candy is sweet and after work drinks are something that almost everyone appreciates after a long week, employees still had to drag themselves in (on time of course) the next day to work for a boss that did not create the environment where they felt appreciated, respected, or supported.  

Ideally, my situation could have improved even more if managers listened to employees and altered work hours, or provided more flexibility to help improve the work culture. That being said, employee recognition is a great first step to take to build a culture of appreciation and motivation.

We know reinforcing and recognizing desirable behavior in the workplace is a key piece to moving the needle on employee engagement and improving employee motivation. So, how do you reinforce positive behaviors for the managers in your organization?


Focusing on what employees crave in the workplace

As author Gregg Lederman discusses in his book CRAVE: You Can Enhance Employee Motivation in 10 Minutes by Friday™,” in order to improve employee motivation employers must give employees the three things they crave in the workplace.

The three things employees crave in the workplace:

Respect: Help me feel respected for the work I do.

Purpose: Show me how what I do has purpose, makes a difference, and is relevant to the organization.

Relationships: Help me build stronger connections with people, especially my immediate manager/supervisor.

When managers set aside 10 minutes each week to recognize employees for desirable behavior, employees get what they crave. 

That then leads to improved employee engagement, work culture and customer experiences. And this ultimately leads to your organization’s ability to achieve its desired business results – along with attracting and retaining top talent.

manager led recognition in the workplace

Focusing on meaningful, strategic recognition

The project with this client was a challenge that proved to me that improving employee perks alone is not enough to impact retention. Managers need to have the tools and mindset to utilize recognition strategically to influence the culture and improve employee engagement.

Create guidelines and suggestions, and educate managers about how and when to use these specific awards. Don’t worry about overuse unless it actually becomes an issue!

We know life for leaders is busy, so we've make it really easy for managers to remember to recognize by switching on manager alerts in our employee recognition and reward platform.


Managers receive gentle reminders whenever it's a direct report's work anniversary and birthday, or if they haven't sent any recognition that week. Best of all, they get an alert whenever someone on their team is recognized by someone else in the business – so they get visibility of the people they're impacting.

The alerts are designed to help make busy managers' lives easier, and to help them nurture a culture of continuous recognition at their organizations. 

To truly improve employee retention in an organization, your people need to feel valued, connected to your purpose, mission and values, and feel like their work is being recognized.

But rather than simply checking a box, employee recognition should be done the right way – where it’s meaningful and strategic. Managers should lead the way when it comes to how they interact with the organization’s platforms (like an employee engagement platform) and set the example for how strategic recognition should be done.

Ryann Redmond

Ryann Redmond is an Employee Engagement Consultant at Reward Gateway and has been working with business leaders to make their environments a better place to work for more than five years. She is a self-proclaimed coffee snob and mom of two boys… hence the coffee.

Employee Engagement Consultant

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