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If Your People Aren't Productive, The Problem Might Be The Person In The Mirror


Most of us believe that it's worth our time to shore up weak skills, even at the expense of strengthening areas that are energizing and allow us make unique, valuable contributions.

A big reason this mindset is so prevalent is that we desperately want to avoid criticism from colleagues, clients, and (especially) managers.

Not many people meet even constructive critiques with smiles, but is working to avoid criticism a better motivator of employee productivity than striving to earn praise? Which is more powerful in engaging your colleagues to do their best?

Mean People Suck

In their book, How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life, authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton argue that positivity will improve productivity far more than negativity.

In surveying over 4 million employees worldwide they found that people who receive regular praise:

  • increase engagement among their colleagues
  • are more likely to stay with their organization
  • receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers

The authors even go so far as to state: "Where employee productivity is concerned, it would be better for organizations if people who are overly negative stayed home. [Rampant negativity] costs the U.S. economy between $250 and $300 billion each year in lost productivity alone."

More often than not, criticism and negativity don't stay where they're put; they spread out and infect others, be they colleagues or customers.

Don't Worry, Be Happy

employee productivityMaybe you agree already. You know in your gut that positive interactions improve productivity more than negative ones.

You don't want to create a workplace where people dread walking in the door and customers are driven away, but you need to correct people when they make mistakes or coach them to improve their performance. How can you criticize when necessary without being negative?

You can't. Instead, here's what you do:

1. Increase the praise to criticism ratio.

Just to remain neutral in the eyes of employees, research has shown that you need about five positive interactions to every negative one.

To actually start boosting employee productivity, that ratio must improve to about 13:1. Think that might be overdoing it? Don't worry. Rath and Clifton found that 65% of workers received no recognition over the previous year while not even one person felt they had received "too much."

2. Be timely with recognition.

Patting someone on the back for something they completed three months ago won't produce much bang for your buck. You aren't likely to motivate employees to repeat the feat with late feedback.

Let people know when they've made a difference and they're likely to try even harder next time. People enjoy recognition and will work to get it- make sure it arrives on time. 

3. Make praise relevant and genuine.

Worse than a lack of recognition is vague, indiscriminate praise. If you're not sure who did what, you might credit the wrong people and sow seeds of resentment among coworkers.

Employees notice when you're paying attention and greatly appreciate when you understand the value they bring to the team. Understand how each person likes to be recognized (public vs. private, written vs. verbal, etc.) and tailor your praise appropriately.

Powerful Results, No Cost

The lesson is this: people work to garner positive acknowledgment from their managers, whose opinions greatly impact their self-esteem and productivity. Conversely, repeated negative attention destroys employee engagement- quickly.

If you follow these guidelines, you will be amazed at the hidden capacity that is unleashed (as will your manager). You might even be singled out for special recognition. Best of all, it won't cost a dime.

Where could you use more positive energy to improve productivity in your work? What problems is too little positivity causing for you? How do you imagine things could improve by using praise more often?

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