Recognition at work can prevent burnout

Jan 18, 2023

Let us paint a picture. Colleague A completed a task to great success. The team and manager celebrate A's win and the glow from that recognition lasts for days. On the other hand, Colleague B also completes a difficult task, but there are no "thanks", no "great job", only silence and tumbleweed. Which colleague is more likely to stay motivated for longer?

"The answer to that is obvious," you might huff. And indeed, it is. But when it comes to a complex environment like a workplace, this obvious truth is harder to grasp. Hours of work often go unnoticed, especially if they seem small compared to mammoth projects.

The consequences of that can be dire: workplaces with a lack of appreciation and recognition are more susceptible to burnout. Under-appreciated team members feel trapped in their job, find the stress to be more than they can handle, and even fall physically ill at the mere thought of going to work. And when team members aren't appreciated, they're more likely to quit. Big yikes.

How recognition at work can prevent burnout

Being proactive with recognising everyone's efforts—however big or small—goes a long way in staving off burnout at an organisational level. The benefits trickle down and through each team. Everyone becomes that much more motivated (and able!) to bring their best selves to work.

Social rewards increase intrinsic motivation

Financial rewards are one kettle of fish, but we'd like to talk about social rewards. According to cognitive psychology theories, social rewards invoke a positive sense of wellbeing. That, in turn, increases your intrinsic motivation, which is you wanting to do something for the inherent satisfaction, not any external rewards. And when you're high on intrinsic motivation, you're less likely to burn out!

When you expect to receive a social reward (like praise), and you don't get it, a negative sense of wellbeing can set in. This could be a flash of disappointment for some, or a prolonged sense of failure for others, because it really depends on the context. But our point still stands: where social rewards can increase wellbeing and motivation, not receiving it can decrease them. There's no neutral ground here, folks!

Using recognition to minimise work burnout

If what comes to mind now is praising every colleague en masse, we'll need to get a little more structured than that. A Deloitte study shows that performance and productivity are a whopping 14% higher in organisations with a structured employee recognition programme than those without.

So what can organisations do to make team members feel recognised and motivated?

Make recognition a priority during policy-making

According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, one contributor to job burnout is a lack of fairness. Setting up policies around recognition communicates respect, provides a shared sense of community, and leaves no room for loopholes or uneven playing fields. By doing so, we're more likely to enshrine intention into policy and establish clear guidelines. All of this makes it pretty transparent to colleagues that, hey, your workplace deeply cares about you and your wellbeing.

Understand individual employee expectations

Everyone's ambitions, learning methods and boundaries are different. What's a piece of cake for Colleague A might be an uphill task for Colleague B. And we're sure you'll agree that there's nothing worse than hearing "oh, that was a simple enough task" for something that took a lot of effort to succeed at.

By identifying these individual differences, you're better positioned to recognise team members the right way and for what they also think is valuable. You're also less likely to risk demotivating or belittling your team members unintentionally — and that's always a win!

Share stories while recognising someone

It's super important to recognise someone for a job well done. But you know what's even more special? Hearing someone talking through the details of the work while giving appreciation. Isn't it a great feeling, knowing that someone's observed how much effort you've put in and what hurdles you had to cross without having to explain it yourself? That's the kind of feeling you'll want to replicate for colleagues by being sincere and thorough.

Unlink recognition from possible causes of burnout

As important as it is to know what to recognise, it's just as crucial to know what not to encourage — in this case, possible causes of burnout. This might be a departure from the ordinary, because many companies laud team members for working extra shifts or going "above and beyond". However, praising such behaviour can make them seem like standards worth meeting, and not everyone can handle a few extra hours of overtime (or should, actually)!

Wellbeing + engagement = better recovery from stress

How we deal with stressors can dictate how we're affected by them physiologically, emotionally, or psychologically. Team members who are happy and engaged at work are more likely to bounce back from challenges and recover from burnout faster. And who are those team members? They're the ones who feel appreciated, cared for and recognised at work!

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