Question: Hi, I’m fed up of bosses who take compliant/rule abiding employees for granted…any tips on how to get some recognition?

Thank-you for this excellent question. It’s a very well-known and accepted fact that recognition is absolutely key to employee engagement (just google the subject and you’ll find all the statistics you need!) so rather than talk about the importance of receiving recognition at work, let’s instead explore what kind of recognition you want, (what would make you feel good), why you want this recognition (what you think it will give you), and why you aren’t currently getting it.

First a quick reality check: I’m guessing that being compliant with policy and procedure is part of your job description, so gaining recognition purely for being compliant might be a little unrealistic, however I am guessing from your question that this is actually about others in your team or department not following procedure…either flying under the radar of your boss, or in fact getting more attention because of their rule breaking. I totally understand how frustrating this can be (I’ve been there myself) so what can you do?

Focus on YOU

A good place to start is to focus on YOU, and you alone. Many people fall into a time and energy trap of being unhappy with their boss or their team or both. While it’s useful to vent sometimes, it’s also a waste of your very precious time, as it won’t change the situation, and often ends up magnifying feelings of unhappiness. Your boss is responsible for their own actions, your colleagues for theirs, and you for yours. This isn’t what most people want to hear, but it is the ultimate truth. Whatever the situation, you have power. If your boss is a nightmare, you have the power to communicate with them, report them, speak to an ombudsperson, or if it comes to the crunch,  move job. I’m not saying it’s fair, or easy, or fun, but the bottom line is your quality of life is the most important thing you have. So many people get trapped in thinking they have no personal power, and live unhappily in situations which can definitely be changed. Surely life is too short for that?

For the purposes of this article I’ll assume you are choosing to stay within the role, so let’s look at what you can do to get clear.

Ask yourself – why do I want recognition ? What will it give me?

I learnt this one the very hard way! First, we are conditioned to be good. As a child, if you are “good” (a.k.a follow rules, eat your dinner, tidy your room etc.) it’s likely you’ll get rewarded with sweets, treats or praise. We are conditioned to follow rules, so as soon as we hit the working world and following rules or protocol is seen as a basic expectation, we begin to miss what we used to get for being “good”. In the working world, praise and higher material rewards come when you “exceed expectations” – when you produce or provide something that is better than good. So, are you hoping to gain praise for being good ? If so you might be disappointed. Also, being “good” is not just about rewards, it goes deeper than that, into approval and ultimately into confidence and self-worth. It’s so easy to lose sight of this. If you rely on outside influences to boost your self-esteem, then you are putting the keys to your happiness in someone else’s pocket. If you rely on your work for self-esteem, you are laying your own opinion of yourself at the feet of your boss, or your company. This is both dangerous, and fundamentally flawed. Why ? Because your skills aren’t you. They are a facet of you and your experience, but they are not all of you. If you draw all of your self-worth from your performance at work you are basically trusting your emotional well-being to judgments being made by people who don’t really know the real you, don’t love you for who you are.

It’s human nature to want to be loved, which in the working world equates to wanting approval. So providing you aren’t entwining your work with your worth, let’s move on to the next step of your quest for recognition, which is defining what you want.

What type of recognition do you want from your boss?

If you want something (anything in fact!), an important place to start is to understand a) what you actually want, and b)what you are willing and able to give in return. Looking at the examples below, what kind of recognition would make you feel good? Now ask yourself, what am I doing in my role that warrants the level of recognition I desire?

Here are some examples of recognition:

  • A pay-rise
  • Detailed feedback
  • A comment in passing or via email
  • Recommending you or your work to others, possibly senior to your boss
  • Provision of additional responsibilities, to allow your to develop further in your role

And some examples of what you give in return:

  • Request and undertake additional responsibilities
  • Go beyond expectations e.g. improve processes
  • Build excellent relationships
  • Take time to support and acknowledge others
  • Provide feedback to your colleagues

Once you know what you want, and what you can do in return, write these down in pairs – e.g. I want a pay-rise, and what I have done/am doing/will do in order to get this are x,y,z.

You are going to use this for the next step.

The three reasons you’re not getting recognised at work, and what to do about it

There are a number of reasons you may not be receiving recognition, and there are actions you can take within your power:

1) Your boss doesn’t know you want it: There are anonymous surveys in some companies – and that’s the thing – they are anonymous. Bosses (much like everyone else) are not mind readers. Their attention is split all over the place; pleasing their own boss and (if they’re good) their team, politics, performance, paperwork, compliance, strategy, competition, profile building, hiring and firing, and dealing with the many other elements of working with a team of people. Ideally you’ll have some structured feedback sessions with your boss, if not, exercise your power by requesting one (If they don’t oblige, take it higher up the ladder). During a feedback session exercise your power again by asking for what you want. If you tell them what you want or are hoping for, then at the least it’s on their radar, and documented for future conversations. If your boss doesn’t take notes, take them yourself. Explain what you are planning on doing/have done for them/ the company, and what you would like and feel you deserve in terms of recognition. Alternatively you can also ask them what they need / what you can do that would set you apart and earn you that recognition. Opening a dialogue is everything.

2) You haven’t asked for it – or you haven’t asked clearly enough –If you don’t know what you want you can’t be specific in your feedback / communications with your boss about what you’re looking for and why you deserve it. As per the step above, before you go in to a feedback session get clear on a) what you want and b) what you are able and willing to give/have already given in return

3) You haven’t earned it –This is where you and your boss opinions may differ, so it’s worth reviewing your recent scores/feedback to see if you have a gap in understanding. If there is anything at all that is unclear to you, this will need to be unpacked at the feedback session in detail, and recorded along with any actions that (you agree with) your boss feels you could take to remedy the situation. In addition, do remember that your boss will apply their own personal standards to everyone who works for them. If your boss is someone who is very self-critical or hard on themselves, they are very likely to be applying equally tough standards to your work. If they are scatty, or stressy, it’s possible they don’t have a real grasp of what you’re doing day to day. In theory, there are things like guidelines for appraising work quality, and role descriptions etc. in place to minimise this single perspective form of appraisal. In reality, just like you, your boss will carry their values with them into everything they do. This is a much more sensitive conversation, and should be approached indirectly, with great tact. You’ll need to be willing to support your boss to see the good (or stress or scattiness) in their own performance, in order for them to gain more awareness of the good work you are doing.

In summary:

  • Check your expectations
  • Exercise your personal power
  • Enjoy the changes!

I hope this has given you some food for thought, and I welcome your comments and feedback!