THE INC. LIFE

When Lots of Praise Backfires

Peers should be kind and thoughtful, but should they hand out virtual tacos?

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BY Suzanne Lucas - 15 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

With some office environments being completely toxic, it should feel like a relief to land in one where everyone is kind to each other. But it can go south as well. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

The Wall Street Journal took on the growing trend of having people give positive feedback to their peers. It sounds fabulous--who wouldn't want more praise? And Slack (full disclosure: Inc. writers and editors communicate via Slack), even allows you to send virtual tacos to co-workers. While, frankly, I'd prefer real tacos, that's the next best thing.

But there is a downside. For instance, knowing who is giving the praise. The WSJ writes:

In most cases, bosses and other co-workers using HeyTaco, Growbot or similar tools can see who's praising whom; leaderboards show who's getting the most shout-outs; and often points are tallied that can be traded in for rewards like gift cards or time off.

While this can be good for managers when performance appraisal time rolls around, it can cause problems as well. For instance, let's talk about bullying.

We all know that bullying in the office is a real thing. You'd think that handing out praise would lessen the chances, but bullies are smarter than that. And if you have a bully with a clique, it can be particularly devastating to the victim. If the mean group decides they don't like Steve, Steve starts to get no praise. When the manager looks at the stats for the day, she thinks, "huh, no one cares for Steve's work. He must not be doing a great job."

Of course, a great manager can see through this, but a great manager doesn't need a chart of how many people are thanking other people for their work.

Another problem is that praise can become insincere. If you have five tacos to hand out per day, do you start to feel pressure to hand them all out? Does this mean you're looking closely to find the good in your co-workers, or does it just mean you're trying to meet a quota so the boss won't pull you in and ask why you're not a team player?

Alfie Kohn, who writes about human behavior and parenting, doesn't think this is such an awesome idea. The WSJ quotes him as follows:

At best, this is the sort of silly, unnecessary gimmick that leads you to roll your eyes. At worst it's the latest example in treating workers like pets by giving them a verbal doggy biscuit for jumping through hoops.

Giving praise at work is good. Having co-workers give praise is good. But it's not a substitute for attentive management. And too much praise becomes meaningless. If everyone gets a "great job!" after every meeting, when some actually does an outstanding job, you've run out of meaningful praise.

So, should you have these add-ons to your company communication system? Maybe. As long as you're not naive about what they do and why you're doing it. Handing out tacos should be fun, but it's not a substitute for good feedback.