Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

One out of two employees say their good work goes unrecognized.


Employees today are ravenous for encouragement and positive feedback, but few feel they are receiving it. Our research shows that half of all employees feel that their immediate supervisor does a poor job of providing them with recognition for their good work.

One of the most well-documented psychological principles is that positive reinforcement increases the probability that a behavior will occur again in the future. Without positive feedback, employees become unhappy, unmotivated, and unproductive. It is also well documented that positive reinforcement is much more effective than punishment for shaping behavior, yet few supervisors effectively use this very powerful technique to manage their employees. Instead, it is much more common for them to criticize, scold, berate, belittle or ignore employees.

Supervisors fail to use praise and recognition when employees:

  • Make good decisions;

  • Take prudent business risks;

  • Make important contributions during meetings; or

  • Come up with innovative ideas.

Our research also shows that 6 out of 10 say they do not receive ongoing feedback about their job performance. One of the signs of a healthy organization is a climate of positive reinforcement. Supervisors in these organizations can be frequently heard saying:

  • Good point!

  • I'm glad you brought that up!

  • I really appreciate that!

  • Good job!

  • Well done!

  • Thank you!


  1. Train Supervisors How to Provide Positive Feedback

    Although the principles of positive feedback are very simple, many supervisors would benefit greatly from basic training on how to use the techniques. Here are a few of the basics.

    The positive feedback should occur as soon as possible after the behavior. Try to "catch people in the act" of doing good things and praise them immediately.

    The positive feedback should be of the proper magnitude to match the behavior. For example, public acknowledgement after a good point is made by an employee would be more appropriate than providing a large spot cash bonus.

    Behaviorists have shown that variable schedules of reinforcement are more effective than continuous schedules. For example, praising an employee periodically on an irregular basis is actually more effective than praising that person every time they do something well.

  2. Provide Feedback About Feedback

    One way to increase the amount of positive reinforcement that occurs in an organization is to reinforce the reinforcer. In other words, senior management should periodically reinforce supervisors when they provide positive feedback to their direct reports.

  3. Senior Management Must Serve as Role Models

    Positive reinforcement needs to start at the top. Senior management can set the tone by appropriately praising and recogniizing their direct reports. Doing so on a consistent basis will eventually spread the process throughout the organization.

  4. Make Positive Feedback Part of the Performance Review

    Process What gets measured gets done. Supervisors can be encouraged to provide positive feedback to their staff by making this part of how their performance is evaluated by their supervisor.

The simple technique of using positive feedback is very powerful. Try using more positive feedback today as you interact with your colleagues, subordinates, and family. Don't be surprised if you see immediate results.

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