My boss has told me, in no uncertain terms, that he does not and will not offer praise or positive reinforcement to anyone for simply doing what he considers to be their job.

He also will absolutely not give a perfect performance review under any circumstances, like a professor who as a matter of principle will not give a 100% score on a test.

I feel like I've stopped caring about my work because nobody else seems to care, as long as I manage to get enough done to stay out of trouble. It seems that according to him, my main purpose is to function sufficiently to keep him from having to get involved in anything. Thus, the feedback I get from him is either silence or negative.

I've talked to him before about needing more positive reinforcement, but his response was just that he's not going to praise me for simply doing my job.

My question is:

  • Is there anything I can do to fix this, or is this just not a good fit for me?
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    Bad bosses are rarely, if ever, "salvageable". – DA. Oct 16 '15 at 18:16
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    it sounds like you don't like how your boss runs things. To you, that makes them a bad boss for your needs. – DA. Oct 16 '15 at 18:18
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    Your boss probably thinks he's "tellin' it like it is" but really, he's displaying a-hole behavior. These people are rampant in organizations. Don't make your well-being/self-worth hinge on approval from people like this. Look to yourself and others for that. – teego1967 Oct 16 '15 at 18:47
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    You've heard the phrase "People join companies but quit managers," I assume. This is where it comes from. These managers are the equivalent of people who buy new cars, never spend any time or effort on maintenance, and then complain when they die at 60,000 miles. In the simplest terms, if he provides no constructive feedback, and he won't give 100% on employee reviews, then by his own math he's a failure as a manager. Take that for what you will. – Wesley Long Oct 16 '15 at 19:20
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    Where does one draw the line I wonder? You expect your boss to praise you for doing the things that are expected of you. Should he also praise you for being on time for work each morning? Successfully adhering to the company dress code? If you want praise, do something praise worthy. How often have you praised him on his leadership or direction? I don't know if he's a good manager or a bad manager because frankly we only have a very narrow version of a situation here, but the way I read this question I see an entitled employee who has trouble self-motivating. – Joel Etherton Oct 16 '15 at 19:24

There are two issues here.

My boss has told me, in no uncertain terms, that he does not and will not offer praise or positive reinforcement to anyone for simply doing what he considers to be their job.

First, this. It is clear you want more regular encouragement/feedback than you are getting. Even semi-decent managers will do this if you ask about it. So it's safe to say your manager is not even a mediocre manager.

Saying, "no, I won't" means your manager is pretty much a jerk and/or adopts really, really old school perspectives on motivation. Some people do this because they feel important (demeaning others, etc). Some people just are jerks.

If you have tried this conversation already and gotten rejected, some more options:

  • Be change you want to see. Start giving other people positive encouragement yourself. It can be nearly impossible to change a culture of negativity but.. it might be possible to start influencing.
  • Ask again, with specific examples. It sounds like your manager doesn't really "get" this, whether because he's a jerk or because it's hard for him. Some people don't give out praise/appreciation except when asked. It's possible, however unlikely, your manager doesn't understand what you want.
  • Document your own successes. Don't let your manager control your feeling of doing well at work.

You might also try something like, "Hey, I've been working at improving X since you talked about it - how do you think this has been going?" When requesting feedback, if you want anything meaningful make sure to ask about specific things. Don't go, "how am I doing?" because no one can answer that easily. Especially a bad manager (good managers probably have a way they are keeping an understanding of this on a regular basis).

Ask things which are specific. "Hey, I was wondering what you thought about how I facilitated that meeting - I was trying to do X, how did you think it went?" will give a much better conversation!

I do this, because I never get much feedback either from managers and I like it. So I seek it out.

Now it's possible and perhaps even likely your boss is just a jerk. In this case you will have to decide if finding alternative employment is better.

People normally don't leave companies, they leave bad managers.

He also will absolutely not give a perfect performance review under any circumstances, like a professor who as a matter of principle will not give a 100% score on a test.

This is the other question. Why does the perfect review matter? Most companies have some sort of plan for what ratings and how many of each they can give out, etc. At my company I will never get our highest rating unless I have a multi-location project with significant financial impact. Many roles in my company cannot achieve this given their job responsibilities, so matter how good I do my job, if I'm not in a position where I can get the highest rating.

If my boss wanted to give me the highest rating my boss would have to talk to several layers of management above - this is to standardize how ratings are assigned, etc. Your manager might have a similar bureaucratic mess to deal with if he wanted to.

You are right, it causes some level of demoralization. But... then I realize, is my value determined by what some stupid performance review system says? No, it's not - it's based on what I'm doing.

So I do things that I know matter, I do a good job, and whether my yearly review says "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations" - I don't care, because I'm doing the job not for my boss. I'm doing it because I'm motivated to do the best job I can.

If you are unable to do that in your current situation and have tried to work with your manager? Just quit. Or find a different job in your current organization.

Life's too short to go to a job that you dislike or feel demoralized over every day.

  • To address your question about why the perfect review matters - it doesn't in and of itself, though it's demoralizing to know that it's not even attainable. He specifically stated that it was his personal policy to never give anyone a perfect review. – Holly Oct 16 '15 at 20:10
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    @Holly, do you know any perfect employees? I don't. – cdkMoose Oct 16 '15 at 20:19
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    People normally don't leave companies, they leave bad managers is an extremely true affirmation ! – fedorqui Oct 16 '15 at 22:36
  • " At my company I will never get our highest rating unless I have a multi-location project with significant financial impact." - So? It's quite reasonable to reserve such projects for the employees which have a proven track record. However, that policy also means that employees can move up in the firm by establishing such a good track record. Getting a "best possible rating" on a smaller project is part of that track record, and not a goal by itself. – MSalters Oct 21 '15 at 11:22
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    @Holly - What is the definition of his "perfect review". Is it the kind where every review section is filled with glowing comments from peers and the highest rating in every category except for the one that determine's your raise; "Overall Rating" is "Meets Expectations". I've had that kind of manager, you don't want that type either. If your boss can find something you can improve at then at least you are getting some feedback to work with. When your boss can't come up with anything else that you can do to improve your overall average rating despite topping out all over; that's a problem. – Dunk Oct 23 '15 at 22:33

Does this situation sound salvageable?

Yes. The two obvious solutions that come to my mind are:

  1. You can salvage it by getting a new boss.
  2. You can salvage it by getting over whatever it is that makes you place so much importance on receiving praise.

Solution #1 has the advantage of being quicker and easier, solution #2 has the advantage of being much better for you, long term.

Related, Futurama quote/mp3:

Hermes: "What do we do if we break somebody's window?"
Dwight: "Pay for it?"
Hermes: "O hohoho, heavens no. We apologize. With nice cheap words."

Is there anything I can do to fix this, or is this just not a good fit for me?

As above, you'd benefit from analyzing why you care about getting praise/positive reinforcement from your boss. That's something that's essentially valueless, yet it seems like you prefer it to something of actual value, like money or career advancement, or getting in good with the boss.

Come to think of it, I've got a brilliant way to solve this problem. For a mere $4.99 a minute, you can call me for all the praise and positive reinforcement you're not getting from your boss. Seriously, think about it. You want the nice, cheap words, and I want the money. Sounds like a win-win proposition to me.

Are my expectations for at least SOME positive reinforcement completely off-base?

Yes. Your employer-employee relationship is one in which you give them your time and services, in exchange for their money. I'm certain that "positive reinforcement" was never offered as a part of that exchange. If it's that big a deal to you, there's always the option of negotiating for a guarantee of some positive reinforcement at your next position.


Does this situation sound salvageable?

Your situation might sound very obvious, but it isn't. Lack of enthusiasm at work leads to lack of work satisfaction, which is very dangerous for a professional in both his current job and future endeavours.

Is there anything I can do to fix this, or is this just not a good fit for me?

As you have already put that talking with your boss doesn't solve the issue, maybe you want to talk to his manager(if he has any) or the HR about your situation, and explain to them how it is affecting your enthusiasm at work. If they don't reply positively, or things didn't change; then I would advise you to get out of that place ASAP, and find yourself a new job.

Are my expectations for at least SOME positive reinforcement completely off-base?

Definitely not. Positive criticism, if deserved should be gifted. And in professional life, it is like a fuel for one to get going at work, and lack of it would cause lack of job satisfaction(and then depression).

  • You're right... I think after 4 years of this, I'm already at the "depression" stage. :( – Holly Oct 16 '15 at 18:35
  • 4 years? Seems like it's high time for a resignation. – Dawny33 Oct 16 '15 at 18:44

I feel this question is too open ended and yields nothing other than opinions. It's also hard to determine if any circumstances arise where you feel that you deserved to get praised but didn't.

At the end of the day we all do a "job" but that doesn't mean we're to get praised by it every day by our boss. If the boss continuously praised everyone, it would make it that much harder for him to be taken seriously especially if all he done was praised you for doing something you were paid to do. It also makes the act of disciplining much harder because if all he done was praised you and it would cause you to get angry unless he does this all the time which is unfair.

  • How does an employee feel motivated to do well when her only feedback for doing well is silence? – Holly Oct 16 '15 at 18:28
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    You can seek positive feedback from your peers... if you remember to also give thanks and praise when you think it's deserved. – keshlam Oct 16 '15 at 21:05
  • I tend to agree with this answer, but I guess some people cannot motivate themselves without praise. – Kilisi Oct 16 '15 at 22:50
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    @Kilisi, then those people need to grow up and learn to cope. – HLGEM Oct 20 '15 at 14:06
  • @HLGEM I agree in theory, but it takes all types of people to make the World go around, part of topnotch management is knowing how to motivate individuals. Rather than a blanket strategy for all. Just my thoughts anyway. – Kilisi Oct 21 '15 at 6:13

Without more specifics about behaviors you deem praiseworthy,it's hard to give a concrete answer, but here are some thoughts:

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is generally used to motivate/encourage positive changes in behavior, not to maintain the status quo. Your manager probably wants you to do more or better things to help improve the output/quality of the team. If you are just doing your job, are you meeting that goal?

Perfect Performance Review

I've been working for nearly 30 years, the last 10 in a leadership role. In that time I have seen many good and some great employees. I've also seen some pretty bad ones. I have never seen an employee who could not get better in some way, so I also will likely never give a perfect review. If someday I actually have an employee who deserves a perfect review, I may just retire, because my work life will be complete.

Now maybe your manager needs to express these ideas in a softer fashion, but I don't see anything wrong with the ideas he is expressing.

FWIW, I do praise my employees when they do something special, and it means something to them because I don't constantly praise them for "showing up".

Edit (since I didn't answer your specific questions at the end)

Does this situation sound salvageable?

Possibly, if you are willing to work on it, see next answer.

Is there anything I can do to fix this, or is this just not a good fit for me?

You need to understand what behavior your boss does deem praiseworthy and either work toward that or determine that his expectation is unacceptable to you and move on.

Are my expectations for at least SOME positive reinforcement completely off-base?

No they aren't, but this still goes back to identifying praiseworthy results and achieving them. Your manager sets the bar, it's up to you to reach it or decide it's not worth it to you.

  • I got a perfect review once, I complained to my boss about doing that because I knew it would come back to bite me later. The next year at the same company I had a different boss who was then upset that he couldn't give me as good a review as the last guy because, guess what, I am not perfect. That made me look worse than I was. – HLGEM Oct 20 '15 at 14:05
  • I'd like to double-down on the "what does your boss deem praiseworthy" comment. After graduating I hired on to a large project with about a half dozen other new grads. None of them could come near my programming proficiency. However, after year 3 (I think) one of them got promoted to level 3 before me. I asked my boss why and he mentioned how this guy did "design" on his last project. Well of course I did "design" on my projects also but I didn't emphasize it. Guess what I emphasized thereafter? Raises, promotions and praises was the result. Know what is important to your boss. – Dunk Oct 23 '15 at 22:54

First, nobody can demotivate you except yourself. You can choose to let his lack of praise bother you or you can choose not to. It is your reaction causing your problem. You can change your reaction.

I've worked for people like this (In 40 years, I have worked for just about every type of boss there is). With someone like this you have to understand that silence is high praise. If he is not complaining abut something you did, then he likes it. Take that as praise.

Next, use this a motivator to show him how much better you really are. Be so much better that he has to reward you or you get the reward elsewhere by getting a much better job. Letting your performance slip is cutting off your nose to spite your face. You want to show off accomplishments when you look for a new job as you almost certainly will. Living well (or in this case performing well) is your best revenge for a boss that doesn't care about you. Do great work and get a new job with a 60% pay raise because of how awesome you are and then go tell him that. I did that once and it felt great. try it, you will like it.

Instead of talking to him about praise which he dislikes, discuss what you need to do to get a raise or a promotion. Some bosses who don't praise, never give raises and some do give monetary rewards when they feel they are deserved. So find out where he sets the bar for those things. If he can't tell you where he draws the line, then get yourself some stellar accomplishments and get a new job. Remember, think of your current performance as auditioning for the a better job.

Never worry about getting a perfect annual review. I got one one year and the boss left the next year and my new boss was appalled that he had to explain to me that even though my performance was outstanding, it wasn't perfect and never had been, Luckily for him, he didn't know I had told the old boss the same thing when he gave me the perfect review. No one wants to have to maintain perfect performance either. We all make mistakes (although certainly some make fewer than others) and to have the expectation that you can never make a mistake without it downgrading your performance is an added stress. Perfect performance appraisals are not to be sought after. This isn't school where people get grades of 100%.


Start your own company and be the change that you wish to see in the world. If you value positive reinforcement, then do this with your employees. If there are others who feel as you do, they'll find your approach a refreshing change to the status quo and they'll follow you anywhere. You do have to believe in yourself though. Good luck.

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