Acknowledgement is the spice of life. I mean – it’s not like we work for the sheer pleasure of working (unless you’re one of the lucky few). For most of us, job satisfaction is built on two things:

  1. The Paycheck; and
  2. The Praise.

Of course, there are those who’ll argue that they only do it for the money. But the ones that I’ve met: not so happy about life. Which suggests (to me, at least) that even if you do it for the money, the praise helps. Besides, even if you are in it only for the money, “praise” usually gets translated into “bonus” and “promotion with pay jump”. So it’s important.

The Problem With Praise

One of my favourite parts of corporate life is the lunch hour. And here’s an observation: whatever we might say about team-playing, when a team is larger than five or six people, it inevitably splits up for lunch. It’s mostly practical: much easier to find a table for four than it is to find a table for 12. But there are also group dynamics at play. Because larger teams tend to get unruly quite quickly, the person in charge generally needs to maintain a stricter (and therefore, more distant) role. So you end up splitting along superior/subordinate lines.

And in the subordinate group, the lunch conversation is almost guaranteed to turn into a mass whinge about:

  1. The lack of (appropriate) Paycheck; and
  2. The lack of (appropriate) Praise*.
    *Although “praise” isn’t quite the phrase used. It’s more “I have so much work to do and those demands are actually unreasonable” (the subtext: “you’re not acknowledging what I’m doing – and worse, you’re implying I’m not doing enough, you bastard.”)

Sadly, I don’t think that there’s a real remedy for the paycheck issue. That, unfortunately, is an expectation gap that is only bridged when the subordinate is no longer a subordinate*; at which point, the Universe takes revenge by giving him/her subordinates that feel sub-paid.
*here’s the post where I talked about it: Why Executives Deserve To Get Paid The Big Bucks.

The acknowledgement side of things is a little different though. It’s relatively free, and relatively “easy” to do. So where is the problem?

Allow me to pose this as a hypothetical

Meet Sean.

He just got married to Lauren. They’re in the process of moving into the new house that they bought in an unpleasant up-and-coming neighbourhood. It’s a bit distant for work – but Lauren really wanted somewhere that was close to her parents. Sean managed to get the mortgage because of the newly-improved payslip that arrived with his promotion to management.

Sean has also just taken on his second project in his new role. The first one went alright, but there are some loose-ends that still need tying up. The actual work on the second project is being done by four people that Sean is supervising. One of them is a fair bit older than Sean, and has actually been a bit obstructive and undermining. The other three are fine, but do tend to take longer than normal coffee breaks, and spend a fair amount of time circulating chain mail.

Here is what is on Sean’s mind:

  1. The bloody convenyancer still hasn’t bloody conveyed the bloody title deed.
  2. Oh man. I really don’t like calling him to find out what’s happening. Should I be angry? Or perhaps it’s better to be nice to get him to do it faster? I don’t want him holding the whole thing up out of spite.
  3. F**k –  I wish I didn’t have to sit in traffic later. Maybe I should work late. But then Lau will be annoyed. 
  4. Feeling a bit claustrophobic about this marriage vibe. What if I made a mistake? Geezlike – for LIFE.
  5. I really need to try impress with this job. What if they fire me and then I can’t make the mortgage payments?
  6. I need a holiday.
  7. I hate admin. WOW, this is boring. 
  8. Who’s this chasing me? Oh, it’s just Jamo. Seriously, that guy has too much time. So many whatsapps in a day!
  9. I wonder if I should have just been a teacher. That would be awesome. School holidays.
  10. Speaking of whatsapp, I really must call the parents.
  11. I’m hungry.
  12. Damn but this old guy is annoying. Why can’t he just DO WHAT HE’S MEANT TO?! I should speak to Jamo. He’ll have some ideas, I’m sure. What with all that free time.
  13. What I actually want to do is take that lit cigarette and burn it straight into that old man’s eyeball.
  14. Those three. I swear. I catch them one more time reading an email about kittens and I’ll scream.
  15. *PANIC* I’m not getting to my own work!
And here’s what Sean isn’t thinking at all:
  1. I really should let them know that they’re doing a good job, the dears.

The trouble is that the stress of the day-to-day tend to make everyone a bit negative. And when we’re not being negative, we’re being distracted by things that are not at all work-related.

In that environment, don’t you think that expecting your good work to be noticed, and your flaws to be overlooked, is a recipe for bitterness? Because it’s far more likely, in the grand scheme of probabilities, to happen the other way round.

A Solution

In the spirit of understanding a manager’s distraction, we should be injecting some positivity into his/her work day. You know – like a gentle reminder of what’s been done in order to provide perspective and balance.

What I’m really getting at: I think that it’s important to claim credit where credit is owed.

And jokes aside, it’s a fairly common trait amongst the otherwise-distracted to only pay attention when a situation is impacting (or will impact) them negatively. And seeing as we’re all otherwise-distracted most of the time, expecting superiors/managers/whatever to be above that is irrational.

The trick is to point out what you’ve done in a way that attracts attention, but doesn’t attract you the reputation of being an attention-grabbing whore.

Even if you are.

And I’d totally respect that. But still – I’m told that people find it annoying.

Some Suggestions On How To Do It

  1. Be both jokingly obnoxious and jokingly self-deprecating from the start. This is, without doubt, the best way. It doesn’t just allow you to acknowledge your flaws and emphasise your successes – people expect you to do it. And they laugh. On the downside, you inevitably end up being offensive. So be mentally prepared to eat bad-tasting pie and apologise with great depths of sincerity from time to time.
  2. If you’re not funny, use the seriousness to your advantage, and arrange progress meetings. This sounds too serious for most. But if you’re a naturally serious person, then you might just get away with it. Of course, you might get the reputation of being an annoying prat. But if you’re that serious, I hate to say it (not really), you’re already an annoying prat. So might as well embrace it and force grudging respect from the Powers That Be above you.
  3. Be awesomely intelligent, attractive and sweet-natured. You tend to get the credit without having to ask for it – although I realise this option is not for everyone.
  4. If you’re a nervous individual, ask for help. When management are part of the growth process, they’re immediately more inclined to watch what you’re doing. And your success becomes their success…
  5. But if you think that this is all distasteful and, frankly, arrogant… Then I congratulate you on your piety. And I’d point out that you clearly don’t need any credit or acknowledgement, because, like, you have your piety.

Let me re-emphasise the credit-where-it’s-due part: this is for people that are actually getting work done. If you’re avoiding work, then you should also avoid drawing attention to yourself. The real masters at that art, of course, are able to steal credit from the doers that aren’t claiming the credit for themselves – but that’s for another post.

The point is: if you feel under-appreciated – then I think you have some room to change that.

HOWEVER, some caveats for those who take this too far: