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I am a team / technical lead in the cybersecurity team where I work. Our current company has a peer recognition system where anyone can nominate anyone else for contributions above and beyond expectations. These are seen by upper management (think VP and CISO level) I am well respected in my role and management has recognized me on several occasions in the past 2 years since I was promoted to lead role.

Last week, I was doing security pen testing on newly deployed applications, and I felt several developers responsible for these applications really went the extra mile to support my teams' work to enhance company IT security. They were on call but such efforts were not within the on call duties and their support went beyond what I was expecting. Activities included manual and automated testing, application live time monitoring, and log monitoring. I truly appreciated their contribution and wanted to make sure their initiative and dedication was recognized.

I submitted a nomination for several individuals, specifically stating how I felt they went beyond the expectations of their role, contributed to my team's efforts, and really is a great team player. I complimented their personal initiative, and ability to step up without formally being asked.

Today, I got feedback from one developer and their reaction was one of discomfort , rather than appreciation as I would have expected. The person felt I was a little overboard with my recognition and how they felt it was only helping out a colleague.

Did I commit a faux pas here?

How could I have mitigated discomfort to a coworker in this situation?

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    @SolarMike what's DDDD? I've not heard the term before and google doesn't suggest anything that makes sense. – Erik Feb 23 at 6:33
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    Oh, if it was meant to be a placeholder then probably xxxx would've worked better. There's so many acronyms going around for various conditions that people "suffer from" that I thought this was just a new one I wasn't familiar with yet. – Erik Feb 23 at 6:42
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    To be honest, to me "They were on call but such efforts were not within the on call duties and their support went beyond what I was expecting." sounds a bit hyperbolic and over the top given the task you mention, which sound like 'normal' work to me. In other words, your colleague might think you're hyping things up, which makes them feel uncomfortable as it feels like you're lying about their work. – Mark Rotteveel Feb 23 at 11:48
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    Maybe they also feel that this raises expectations for the future to a level they're uncomfortable with. – Barmar Feb 23 at 14:49
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    @Solar Mike: Define normal, please. Not everyone likes public recognition (private recognition, in the form of money, is generally acceptable :-)). Many people don't like being singled out for praise that they don't feel they deserve, as here, when the recognition is for just doing their job. – jamesqf Feb 23 at 16:47
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Today, I got feedback from one developer and their reaction was one of discomfort , rather than appreciation as I would have expected. The person felt I was a little overboard with my recognition and how they felt it was only helping out a colleague.

Did I commit a faux paus here?

You may have, but you really didn't do anything wrong.

People have different personality types and different upbringings. It's really difficult to know how each person will react. It's also possible that this particular developer had been told to prioritize their own work before helping out other departments.

Now you can shoot a little wider when you want to recognize that particular person, you can recognize their entire team or their department instead. Some people have fewer problems receiving an acknowledgment when it's offered to their team. But maybe you should check with that developer to see if even that would be acceptable to them.

As to the rest of the people you want to recognize, or may want to recognize in the future, keep on doing what you're doing. I don't think you should let the opinion of one person change your behavior for everyone.

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    Good answer, here's an additional point one might consider in this situation: Maybe an individual or a whole team might feel a bit belittled or patronized when called out for the extra mile by someone that might not be their direct superior. (In terms of: 'Who the heck does he think he is..') – iLuvLogix Feb 23 at 9:58
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    Whilst praising the wider team, could you also praise the individuals privately? – Ralph Bolton Feb 23 at 10:58
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    On the other side of things, some people may be offended if you try to recognise them by simultaneously recognising a bunch of other people who weren't involved at all. That rather cheapens the recognition. – NotThatGuy Feb 23 at 13:41
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    And let's not forget the one guy you forgot to mention..... – boatcoder Feb 24 at 16:13
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    At my first job, I thought only stuff that was hard for me to do was worth getting praise for. Yet, some of the "simple" stuff I did really helped another department. It took a while for me to realize that it isn't about how hard I had to work, but how much benefit someone else got. This might be the case with that person. Can't offer any suggestions on how to change that person. – David R Feb 24 at 21:58
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I have several diagnosed "conditions", including impostor syndrome. And I can tell you that I really hate being given recognition, because I think that I don't deserve it. I don't give my efforts that much value, and I seriously think I can do way better but I don't. Still, I get compliments for what I think is a mediocre work.

I'm telling you this because maybe that person is feeling the same. He's receiving too much recognition for something that, in his mind, isn't that big of a deal. Also, lack of self esteem or paranoia can make people interpret situations in a negative way. Instead of thinking "I got recognition because they think I did good", it's "I got recognition out of pity", or "to help me out", or "so they can look like they care"...

Maybe that person really has a condition, or is just awkward, or maybe you did too much. If I were you I'd seek feedback from the others. If he's the only negative feedback, then it's not your fault, and you should keep doing what you're doing. If more than one gave a negative feedback, then you might have done something wrong.

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    I feel it additionally is also a matter of standards. A colleague and I set higher standards for our output than other people in the same roles do and we feel a bit uneasy when we get praised for what we feel is nothing special. – Erik Feb 23 at 15:52
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    I agree with @Doliprane here, the person probably thought what he did was minor in the grand scheme of things and what he did wasn't worth being lauded about. – level_zebra Feb 23 at 16:50
  • Trust issues can also factor into that. "they felt it was only helping out a colleague" may be telling here: perhaps the praised person has problem accepting the praise as being honest. That happens to some people. – Frax Feb 25 at 11:20
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I don't think you committed a faux pas, the peer recognition is an established means of recognition in the company and you used it for that.

As the others have mentioned different people have different preferences of being recognized.
If you want to avoid making people feel uncomfortable the easiest way is to ask them how they would like to be recognized, other options include a private email to the manager(s), a call out in the next team meeting, or actual silence. Even the peer recognition itself could potentially be circulated within a small group (manager and recipient) or a wider one.

Institutionalized such preferences can be put into person user manuals and help everyone recognize everyone else the way that's most appreciated with minimal overhead.

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  • Such an institutionalized "recognition system" (as described by the OP) is designed to help the company thrive as much as it is designed to promote teamwork and pride in one's work. They need to know who not to lay off in a crisis situtuation, even if it makes that person uncomfortable. – employee-X Feb 25 at 16:58
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Being pushed a little outside of our comfort zone in a positive way is not necessarily a bad thing. You used a corporate program to sincerely recognize your peers in an appropriate manner that supports the sort of company culture your management is trying to build. That’s not a faux pas.

I’m not comfortable accepting recognition for things I think are just what I am supposed to do, but that doesn’t mean it would be a good thing for me to never get individually recognized again unless I nominate myself. It helps if you take the focus off of your colleague and what they deserve and put the focus on yourself, and your appreciation for their help even if it wasn’t a big deal for them.

Just because it was easy and polite for someone to open that door for me when I was on crutches doesn’t mean I feel less grateful for the person that did it. Expressing our appreciation helps us keep from falling into the trap of feeling entitled, so I also appreciate when people let me express my appreciation for something they did even if it is a little uncomfortable for them. In return I promise to not get out the confetti and make a huge fuss.

Accepting (and giving) appreciation is something that gets easier with practice. As long as it’s part of a formal program and you aren’t singling anyone out by nominating them over and over or making a big fuss when you know it makes them uncomfortable, you should not hesitate to nominate someone along with their teammates. Just don’t expect them to thank you for doing it. Doing something for a colleague that they didn’t ask for doesn’t obligate them to appreciate it.

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To add to the excellent answer by Stephan Branczyk, if you know your intent was sincere, there is nothing to feel guilty about as long as you followed the established/documented norms in publishing such recognition.

Yes, people are different and they feel different about a particular situation. That's what makes teams and even this world such a "diverse" environment. And there's enough said about why diversity is important and good. Having said that, even with the best of intentions and judgement, it may not be possible to imagine every possible diverse reaction and further, to come up with an action which is 100% devoid of any misinterpretations or individual discomfort. It's perhaps touchy even to discuss examples here but I will try. There's well-established etiquette in every culture. Now, there can be a few who are not comfortable following it (without any malintent). Lets call them person A. Does that mean others should stop following it around A? Perhaps that can still be attempted when alone with A, but what if X, Y & Z are also present? How do we choose who to (not) offend? At the risk of sounding rude (which is again subjective around here), do we hold the door for X, Y & Z and leave it to shut in the face of A who is following them?

Cutting to the chase, yes, they may feel embarrassed with the unnecessary attention or undeserved recognition (both in their own opinion) but you did the thing that was right to do in that situation. In fact you also avoided the wrong thing of not recognising their efforts when it was actually due. Perhaps this is a far-fetched example but think of it. May be they have a skill that can help save lives and it is not well-known for some reasons (including their own discomfort at letting it known, because, well they think it is nothing really). May be now they will be employed in a suitable role which helps to, well, save lives. You get the drift.
In addition, trying to guess if someone feels uncomfortable and so not suitably recognising/rewarding them also makes the whole process a guesswork and at least partially disincentivises proactivity.

Why did I write this answer when I already liked another one? Well, may be at some time I was that person who was embarrassed with recognition and attention. May be I still am, but at least I realised that I should not find fault with well-meaning people who are just being nice and doing their job (and doing it well).

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    I was once called into the "small room" by my team leader. She said "You've been awarded a bonus of £200". $282 US, paid via payroll so subject to 20% tax etc. I said "What for?". Our team had been rolling out a new online system for expenses claims, replacing a paper form system. She said the project head had visited the office and heard me on the phone to a user and thought I was "so helpful". I said "But we are all helpful!" I found out the others had got £50. My manager said "I know. Keep the money but keep quiet about the amount". I felt uneasy but did what she said. – Michael Harvey Feb 23 at 20:56
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To give some perspective from the other side. I don't have any mental illness diagnosis, but I do hate such recognition programs. I don't like being singled out publicly and in particular not by such a recognition program, because that creates incentive to just push someone on the podest from time to time. So aside from getting unwanted public praise, I don't even know if it is meant that way. I do value personal 1-1 recognition of work, but only if people don't go above and beyond in their praise. Maybe I'd make an exception if I would work on the space program that sends deep-core drillers to an asteroid to save the world and I had hacked together the navigation program in no time or aced the landing as a pilot.

I simply have proper standards that I expect of myself - and in turn I expect proper treatment by the company. I.e. I'm doing my job and help out when needed - and expect that I can take a few freedoms when I need that. Such pushed public praise is just a distraction for me. And on the practical (and perhaps cynical for some) side, the company has a well established way to communicate my value to them - a raise or bonus. If they cannot do that, this is just a cheap way to try and get on my good side with minimal cost. It's also often introduced by management to support competition, and to me that is destructive to teams. It just introduces jealousy and supports egoistical narcissism - meaning some people will value getting praise over producing a good product. And those people who manage better to highlight their accomplishments to the right people will fare better in such a system.

Now I know that not everyone is like this, so I simply try to ignore such issues. But if I know a company has such a program, that's an orange flag for me, i.e. it counts against the company in my decision to accept a job or leave for another one. You might try to gauge the general sentiment of your colleagues. If there is a substantial amount of people who think like me, consider not using the program on them - or even lobby in their behalf on ending it. If it's just one or two you now encountered, just try to be less over the top when you pick them but keep going for everyone else like you do. Do make sure in 1-1s to communicate though that you still regard them as good as the others / before, and just scaling back a bit for them regarding the program, because it seems they don't care / feel negatively affected. You don't want to make the impression to punish them or disregard their efforts from now on.

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    I think it very much depends how public and “embarrassing” the recognition is. Getting praised in front of the crowd at the annual Christmas party would indeed feel awkward. At my former company we had a company-internal tool where you could send a short recognition message and bonus (at company expenses, think 25 – 150€) to colleagues. It had to be approved by your manager and the manager of the receiving person. Everyone loved it because it was easy, visible to relevant managers and you got a nice bit of money out of it. – Michael Feb 24 at 6:36
  • @Michael this approach at least also attaches some weight to it by providing monetary reward. Some of my other problems would be strengthened though (i.e. that it can lead to trying to game the system), but still interesting variant. – Frank Hopkins Feb 24 at 21:52
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Devil's Advocate- If you were being nice sincerely then the person receiving the compliment is taking it far too personal. But, if you rubbed this person wrong -for whatever reason- then he might not feel appreciated by his privacy being compromised to that degree.

But you then get offended to the point that you go around and bring him or her up in this rather large forum to talk about whatever he didn't want mentioned in the first place. At this particular moment in time I don't know if him or her understands you're talking about he or she on this internet site. But, I've been in situations like this before, and believe me one can easily feel offended by these things. And it's no secret online drama can occur by people taking things the wrong way due to sensitivity issues. It happens all the time. You're displaying actions consistent with the disregard of his or her opinion/privacy maybe.. and he was only trying to help.. that's all

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    Come on. The OP is not using his full name and he doesn't have a picture of himself in his avatar. If someone is really going to be upset about someone posting that question semi-anonymously on the internet, then they may be equally upset about not being able to control what the moon does or what the sun does. At some point, your feelings are your responsibilities, not anyone else's. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 23 at 20:56
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I think WORK CULTURE actually plays an important role here, and it probably needs to be called out a bit more than some of the answers here have touched on.

A typical work environment has some degree of diversity and mixture of personality types and therefore a sound/robust policy is always to try and be inclusive without accidentally excluding people.

When used appropriately, employee recognition helps to communicate to the staff in general that everyone's contribution is equally important and therefore recognized periodically. It then serves as a reminder that everyone should be working towards a common goal that in turn helps everyone do their job better.

Some of the detrimental aspects of employee recognition has already been pointed out, and there are also ways of mitigating these situations (e.g. private rather than public recognition, which fulfils some aspects of the employee recognition process). It seems like in a work environment that doesn't have a positive culture, employee recognition has the opposite effect to whatever the intent might be (whether it is openly communicated or implied).

So I would say that this is an opportunity to reflect on the current work culture, team environment and also individuals within the team to see if you can try to get to the bottom of the problem and prevent the same issues from occurring again in the future.

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