Should Employee Appreciation Be Entirely Performance-Based?

One of the most frequent questions asked when I’m consulting a business is: Should you show appreciation to someone who isn’t performing well? Tension exists in the world of recognition, employee engagement, and appreciation. There are differences of opinion on the relationship between an employee’s performance and when, or how, you recognize them. Should you recognize an employee if they aren’t doing well in all areas of performance?

Is appreciation independent of performance?

To address the issue, we need to keep two foundational principles in mind:

  1. The purpose of work is to provide goods or services to customers in a profitable manner.
  2. People are more than “production units”, even at work.

Both sides of the argument have valid points. Wise supervisors don’t communicate recognition without considering employee performance. For example, why would you reward an employee who doesn’t show up to work regularly or on time? There are some “bottom line” behaviors that need to be in place, showing up is one of them. Conversely, if employees are only recognized when they produce results “above and beyond” the norm, they begin to feel that they are only valued as a super achiever.

Coaching Them Up!

When referring to newer team members, a helpful mental image is that of a youth sports coach. When a child is learning a sport, good coaches don’t berate or punish them if they cannot perform some of the higher-level skills. Rather, coaches encourage and support “good effort” on behaviors that approximate what they are looking for. They try to shape the athlete’s performance closer and closer to the desired goal. If the focus is solely on what a new team member isn’t doing well, the player can get discouraged and give up.

Coaches encourage “good effort” on behaviors that approximate what they are looking for.

Click To Tweet

The same is true with employees who are growing into their position (or even learning what “work” is really about). Supervisors should focus on and encourage those actions that are moving in the right direction. Then when appropriate, give gentle corrective instruction on critical skills that are still lagging.

Finally, appreciation can be communicated for characteristics that aren’t necessarily related to productivity. I personally enjoy working with cheerful people more than grumps, or warm, friendly colleagues in contrast to cool and indifferent ones. So I can express appreciation to a colleague for those qualities even if they are not the highest producer on the team.



Dr. Paul White, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, and speaker who makes "work relationships work". He is co-author of "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace" and "Rising Above a Toxic Workplace." To discover your language of appreciation and the specific actions that uniquely encourage you and your team members, check out the "MBA Inventory." For more information, go to .

  • SRobbie

    Recognition is very tricky as it can create bad feelings and jealously around the office. A deliberate, well thought recognition program will help with this challenge. I also recommend understanding how people like to be recognized; in private or in public. Also what do they really value/appreciate…books, gift cards, time off, food, etc. Recognition is great but it is much more complicated than one might imagine.

  • There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

  • Connect

    Newsletter Subscription

    Do you like our posts? If so, you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receiveThe ExchangeGain Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!
  • Contact Us

    Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.