Your "Feel-Nothing" Employees Need Recognition

“Fish don’t applaud.”
Bob Hope (when asked why he didn’t retire and go fishing)

As I discussed last week, when employees report having a “good day” at work, they almost always mean it was a “productive” day. The problem is … a large portion of the work force seldom reports having “good days.”

In psychological terms, they’re “disengaged.” In laymen’s terms, they’re just “putting in their time” or “getting by.” That’s dangerous, and that’s expensive. That’s why I say, “The know-nothings are less of a problem than the feel-nothings.”

However, as I also mentioned last week, when employees feel that you really CARE, they tend to be a lot more productive. It’s a win-win for everybody.

As noted in the “1999 Briefings Publishing Group,” there are at least three benefits a company gets when the employees feel you care.

* A contagious attitude. When employees know you appreciate them, they pass that positive attitude onto their customers.

* Improved performance. When a supervisor supports and recognizes her employees, she brings out the hidden talents in a so-called “average” worker.

* Higher motivation. For most workers, the biggest productivity motivator is consistent appreciation for work well done. Most workers even rise to the level of your expectations.

But I would add a fourth benefit to the list … and that’s safety. And that’s an extremely important benefit in many industries such as the construction industry. In the “International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics,” Volume II, number 3, the researchers noted that when workers believe their employer cares about their well-being and satisfaction, they exhibit safe behaviors.

In “Over The Top,” Zig Ziglar summarizes all of this by writing, “Remember how your favorite teacher made you feel like you were the most important person in the class, and the impact that had on your grades, versus the ones who didn’t want to be bothered with you? The same concept holds true in business — the employee who feels his employer appreciates him is far more likely to do a better job.”

So that’s the first of the three principles in helping employees have a “good day” at work. You’ve got to CARE about them. I talked about that in great detail last week. The other two principles are FAIR and DARE. Let’s explore those.


We all have an innate sense as to what’s fair and what isn’t.

Bob found that out when he was reading the paper one night. He noticed a story about a beautiful actress who was engaged to a football player known for his stupidity and coarse behavior. Bob said to his wife Marlene, “It’s not fair. In fact, I’ll never understand why the biggest jerks get the most attractive women.”

Marlene smiled at Bob and replied, “Why thank you dear.”

Sometimes things aren’t fair at work, and a lack of fairness can make it almost impossible to have a good day at work. You know what I’m talking about. You work, and work, and work, and somebody else in the same position as you does just enough to get by. And yet you’re paid the same amount. It’s not fair.

You see it when the best employee, or the hardest working employee, is given more work, while the slackers are allowed to slack off. And after a while, if things don’t change, the best employee becomes the worst.

Take, for example, a team of five people. Only one person exhibits much initiative, is open to new learning, and is excited about more responsibility. The other four team members just do their jobs, but that’s about it.

To make matters worse, the employee with more initiative may even bring more knowledge and experience to her job than the others have. Of course, the others could easily learn what she knows, but they don’t bother to do so … unless they’re forced.

So what happens when the boss is rushed and needs something done? Without thinking about it, he unconsciously begins to give more and more work to his one outstanding employee. Over time, she gets so overloaded, she cannot perform well, and she grows increasingly unhappy with the disproportion between her workload and the others’ workload.

As consultant Don Kennedy says, “Ultimately, her attitude sours, her work diminishes, even her original legendary reliability dissolves. The best employee becomes the worst. The best-turned-worst leaves in disgust or is fired. She has been victimized by her own superior performance.”

Ironically, the employees who display little initiative and hide from new responsibilities have the easiest time of it. They even have the highest probability of job security. The outstanding person attracts more responsibilities than she can handle, and that jeopardizes her job.

It’s not fair. And managers have to be careful of not letting this happen. But too many managers fail to see how they’re burning out their good employees, and they fail to see why they should confront their under-performing employees.

Of course, these types of managers have all kinds of excuses for not confronting their under-performing employees. These managers think, “These particular employees have been here a long time … No one else has ever confronted them … They’re not that bad … or … They need the job.” As author Dr. Terry Paulson asks, “What is your excuse for not caring enough to hold all your people accountable?”

Often times, good guys make bad bosses. They make exceptions for their bad employees at the expense of their good employees. And then they wonder why none of their people respect or appreciate them.

To create a FAIR work place, to help your people have more good days at work, take the time to have some serious conversations with people who need to be held accountable.

As I’ve said, there are three principles in helping employees have more good days at work. I’ve talked about the first two: CARE and FAIR. Finally there’s…


All employees need the right level of challenge to be at their best. If the challenge at work is too low, there’s no pride in the job. It’s like dropping a coin in a cup that is three inches from your hand. If you miss, you feel real dumb. And for all the coins you drop in the cup, you feel like “it’s no big deal.” And so when the challenge is low, the worst that happen to you is humiliation, while the best that can happen is nothing.

However, if you toss coins into a cup that is farther away, you’ll miss some of the time. But there’s no shame involved. You probably feel a bit challenged. You want to do better … and know you could do better … if you were given a bit more time to practice.

The same principle applies to your job or anybody’s job. If you have JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT of challenge, you’ll probably say you’re having a “good day” at work. If there’s too little or too much challenge, your internal motivation dries up. And when lots of employees feel that, you start to hear people say, “Another day, another dollar.”

Once people are given the right amount of challenge, you’ve got to hold THEM responsible for meeting that challenge. You can’t take the responsibility off their backs and put it on yours.

The ancient Romans knew about that. They practiced on-site, on-the-spot ownership. After building an arch, the engineer in charge of the project was expected to stand beneath the arch as the scaffolding was removed. If the arch didn’t hold, he was the first to know about it.

Likewise, effective managers keep responsibility and ownership where it belongs … on the employees. If you as a manager keep running in to lift the weights off your employees, you may be seen as a “hero” manager. After all, you keep on bailing your people out. The problem with that is two-fold. Your employees never build any muscle of their own, and they become more and more dependent on you.

In “Lessons From The Best Managers” Paul Thornton says smart managers invite employees to discuss their problems and possible solutions with them. BUT, smart managers do not allow their employees to leave their problems with them.

As a reminder of this principle, one of the chief engineers at the Hamilton Standard Division of United Technologies had this quote on his wall: “At no time during our discussion will your problem become mine. If that happens, then you don’t have problem, and I cannot help anyone who doesn’t have a problem.”

Action:  Whether you like it or not, fellow co-workers will always talk about how FAIR you are. What do you think they’re saying? How could you find out? And what changes, if any, do you need to make to be seen as more FAIR?