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Two of my direct reports, let's say Alice and Bob (names and genders changed), are at the center of a morale issue related to envy. Recently, Alice has been struggling to get work done, despite generally being a strong team member, so I've tried to praise her enthusiastically in team meetings when she's gotten things done. This generally seems to have been working and she's been getting things back on track.

However, Bob has noticed this, and mentioned to me in our weekly private tagup that he was feeling a little unappreciated, given that he's been producing even more effectively (and is, in general, a more valuable asset to the team). Bob is a bit of a cynical guy, and giving him the same sort of praise in the next meeting is just going to make him roll his eyes and get frustrated. Is there any way I can make Bob feel appreciated that will be interpreted as genuine rather than as a pro forma gesture?

Edit:

Unfortunately, I can't give immediate financial feedback. Bob generally gets raises commensurate with his superior performance during the annual review process. However, it's my experience that yearly raises/bonuses (which is all we do here) don't do as much to increase morale as ones directly tied to specific actions. My inability to convince upper management of that is another story.

  • Too late now, but why is Alice the underperformer? – jmoreno Sep 19 '15 at 18:04
  • Everyone likes to be appreciated, and even though appreciating someone can be a bit of a pain (like having to spend time asking for how to do it ;), it is worth it in the long run as an appreciated employee is less of a problem employee..they will complain less, have your back more, and remain motivated by feeling like their efforts are acknowledged. @HLGEM provides some great suggestions on how to do that! The only note of caution I would say is recognition can be a slippery slope. Lack of punishment is sometimes equivalent to high praise..so keep it sustainable, don't overshoot... – A.S Sep 21 '15 at 12:43
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    @jmorc No. Between zero and two of each have been changed, I simply said that upfront to try to detach people from irrelevant group stereotypes. I wanted to ask the question with simply A and B, but that felt a little stilted. I went with the standard placeholder name/gender scheme I've seen in academic contexts. – OneMoreUsername Sep 21 '15 at 19:25
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Actually there are lots of things you can do. First he did ask directly for more praise, so delivering it may not seem as cynical to him as you think. Just make sure you praise him for something specific not just general rah-rah praise.

  • Mention him favorably in an email especially one that is going to higher management (you could blind cc him if he would not normally get the emails)

  • Mention his name and contribution in conversation with a senior member of management where he can hear it.

  • If you have an employee awards program, submit him for an award.

  • Give him a pay raise or bonus.

  • Give him a really interesting and challenging new assignment. And when you do make sure you tell it that he got the assignment because of his excellent work on ...

  • Promote him.

  • Give him something he would really like such as dual monitors that other people don't get.

  • If he has been working extra hours, make sure to tell him to take some time off unofficially.

  • Take him out to lunch.

  • Send him to a professional conference in a cool location.

  • Implement one of his ideas.

  • Privately compliment his work in your one on ones.

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    +1: Just make sure you praise him for something specific. Without specificity at this point it will feel hollow and empty. That will reduce the value of any praise hereafter. Send him to a professional conference in a cool location. - Make sure first that this individual wants to go :) – Joel Etherton Sep 18 '15 at 20:01
  • @JoelEtherton that advice goes for everyone in life, too. "You're doing great!" is well intentioned but ultimately meaningless. "Great job on project X, it benefited from your leadership and making it happen" means a lot more to nearly everyone. Great answer! – enderland Sep 18 '15 at 20:07
  • +1 for mentioning a challenging assignment and implementing his ideas. You might put him publicly in charge of a project with good company visibility. Maybe you could start with a brainstorming session to come up with projects that might benefit the company (and hope that he has a good one). – Francine DeGrood Taylor Sep 18 '15 at 20:11
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Recently, Alice has been struggling to get work done, despite generally being a strong team member

Have you talked to Alice privately? Praising her in front of the team could help, but only if the cause of poor performance is one of a small number of things (feeling under-appreciated, insecure, generally demoralized, etc). Getting to the root of the problem first should help you understand how to boost performance.

Bob has noticed this, and mentioned to me in our weekly private tagup that he was feeling a little unappreciated, given that he's been producing even more effectively

By praising "passable" behavior in front of the team, you've lowered standards for everyone.

Is there any way I can make Bob feel appreciated that will be interpreted as genuine rather than as a pro forma gesture?

Raise standards of performance back to what they were. In team meetings, focus on the achievements of the team, not the individual. In private meetings, focus on where you want the team member to be, and the next steps to get there. And don't gloss over a backwards slide -- acknowledge you've noticed a change, reassure them you want to help improve their performance, and ask how you can help.

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