Brain Science Communication Community Development Emotional Intelligence Employee Engagement Extrinsic Vs. Intrinsic Motivation Leadership Management Positivity Productivity Workplace

7 secrets to using praise to motivate employees


What workplace doesn’t want more motivated employees?

After all, an employee who’s truly motivated is an employee who’s going to strive to put forth their best work day-in and day-out.

So how can managers increase motivation in their team members?

The answer might surprise you.

It has everything to do with praise.



Praise as Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation relies on incentives outside of ourselves for motivation. In other words, it’s behaviour that’s driven by external rewards. These rewards can be tangible (money, for instance) or they can be psychological (praise).

Think about a manager who informs his team that the first employee to develop a solution to one of the company’s outstanding problems will be rewarded with a considerable bonus. The team members rush to craft a remedy. They are operating based on a tangible extrinsic motivation (a very big bonus).

But science indicates that psychological extrinsic motivation (praise) might even be just as potent.  MRI scans have shown that receiving praise triggers the same regions of the brain as receiving a cash bonus, which means it can motivate people in a similar way.

Beyond that, it makes your employees feel good about their work, which can be a particularly strong motivator. And when employees are motivated, it leads to higher productivity in the workplace as well as a boost in morale and job satisfaction, both of which can lead to better retention rates.

Although all of us like to be recognised and receive praise for a job well done, managers in the workplace often underestimate how effective praise can be as a motivator. So, how can managers praise their team members more effectively to achieve the above results?

Here are 7 secrets to using praise as a motivator in the workplace:


Offer Praise—Even Amidst Failure

Praise your employees even when, despite their best efforts, things don’t go as planned.

It’s during these times that praising an employee for their effort has the most impact, as it will help them to stop dwelling on their failure and restore some of their self-confidence.

This allows them to get their head back in the game and double their efforts at making a comeback, whereas employees who are allowed to stay in a mindset of low morale might spend longer periods of time being unproductive or ineffective at their jobs.


Don’t Mix Praise with Criticism

Trying to mix praise with constructive criticism will greatly undermine your praise’s effectiveness.

This is because people have a strong bias towards remembering negative things, so in the long term your employees are far more likely to remember the criticism than the praise.

As a general rule, always make sure that your praise and criticism don’t go hand in hand and are completely separate from each other.


Praise the Process, Not the Ability

While it may seem encouraging to be told that you are good at something, Columbia University’s Dr. Heidi Halvorson says that this can leave people vulnerable to self-doubt.

“If being successful means you are ‘a natural,’ then it’s easy to conclude when you’re having a hard time that you just don’t have what it takes.” Instead, she says we should praise the things that are under our control.

“Praise the process, not the person. That way, when an employee runs into trouble later on, they’ll remember the process that helped them to succeed in the past, and put that knowledge to good use.”


Be Spontaneous

Many managers give out praise as part of a daily routine, but it doesn’t take long for people to realise this.

The result? The praise soon loses its meaning and no longer remains effective as a powerful motivator.

Instead, be spontaneous with your praise. While expected praise is good, unexpected praise is always far more effective.


Be Timely

“Praise while the iron’s hot,” writes USA Today business expert Stan Mack.

Immediate positive feedback motivates workers to keep up the good work and helps them stay on track.

Offering praise long after the fact, on the other hand, is not nearly as effective. For example, if you wait weeks to compliment an employee’s handling of a particularly difficult customer, she might wonder why her good work went unnoticed.


Be Specific

Instead of telling a team member that they did well, tell them what they did well and how it led to a good result.

For example, instead of: “You did a great job with this morning’s presentation, John,” try: “What a great presentation you delivered this morning, John. Your professional delivery kept everyone engaged and the research you used to support your arguments was well thought-out.”

When you’re specific in this manner, you make it clear what about the employee’s process was effective, allowing them to recreate it again and again in the future.


Strike a Balance

Although some employees will be more praiseworthy than others, only praising certain people in the workplace will leave others feeling neglected and demotivated.

Instead, try to praise all your employees at some point or another, even if it’s for some small achievement or just a job well done.

Doing so will make them feel appreciated and leave them wanting to do well in the future.



Unlike monetary incentive, which is limited by your organisation’s budget and the expectations of your employees, there is no cost to giving praise, and it is very powerful as a motivator.

It’s also a reinforcing process. The more praise you give your employees, the more motivated they will become, and the more praiseworthy achievements they will give you in the future.

The benefits go beyond that, of course. Increased motivation leads to higher productivity in the workplace as well as a boost in morale and job satisfaction, meaning your employees are more likely to remain loyal to your company and stick around.

Which of the praise strategies above will you implement in the workplace this week?

Sharing is caring!