Why and how to make recognition contagious

by | Mar 4, 2020 | Blog | 2 comments

Business man and woman business couple fist bump hand together for team work

While the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak demands our attention, please keep in mind there are positive contagions out there that also deserve your awareness.

Emotions, feelings, and attitudes are contagious too, especially at work.

For example, one of my clients is thrilled with how quickly she and her team are creating an attitude of gratitude around recognition.

Before she started devoting time and attention to recognizing her team members, she admitted she had developed some bad habits. She said she either forgot to acknowledge people, or if she did, the recognition often felt rote. She’d email a quick “thank you” or say a cursory “thanks” as she walked down the hall.

As we talked about the value of recognition, both as a stand-alone action and as a way to live the company values, she recommitted herself to creating better habits.

She determined she wanted to recognize individuals for the high quality of their work, their support of other team members, and the ideas they volunteered. These behaviors most aligned with her goals for her group, as well as her company’s values.

From a recognition perspective, we discussed that individuals appreciate recognition most when the acknowledgement is timely, specific and sincere. It’s especially important for the comments to be personal, rather than generic.

Furthermore, the comments need to avoid these pitfalls. Make sure you’re not:

  • Using tentative language (“You seemed to be confident in your presentation.”)
  • Making back-handed compliments (“I was pleasantly surprised by how you handled that complaining customer.”)
  • Diluting the impact by including irrelevant remarks (“I’m so pleased with the progress the we’re making with adopting our new processes.”)

After making the commitment to recognize more, my client realized her employer had an easy-to-use recognition system in place with e-cards. This means she can simply send a personalized message to a staff member, acknowledging the individual and his or her good deed.

She also carved out time in her staff meetings for recognition.

With these two actions — sending personalized messages via e-cards and recognizing individuals in staff meetings — she noticed that she soon had company.

Within about three weeks, other team members started joining her in recognizing other teammates inside and outside their immediate group. Plus, her team members started recognizing her.

Yes, recognition is now spreading! Individuals are looking to catch others doing the right things and commending them.

The science behind these contagious actions is the “feel good” dopamine hit you get when you recognize others as well as take time to celebrate. The dopamine that goes through your brain’s reward network encourages you to repeat the behavior and causes the brain to rewire itself. That helps you change your behavior faster and build good habits to boot.

And if this team continues with these recognition habits, the habits should stay in place regardless of environment. For instance, if the team members start to work remotely more often, either to respond to the coronavirus or by choice, they should be able to maintain their attitude for gratitude.

And in times of extreme unease and uncertainty, these positive emotions help us cope and feel better about each other, work and life, which is a big boost.

What can you do to spread positivity?


  1. Margaret Jackson

    I recognize a team member of the month with a Kudo from each of the counties during the team member. Kudos are given to all team members who are recognized positively during the Press Ganey comments during the team meeting. I thank team members who go above and beyond which is tailored per the team members preference. I try to keep the tone in the office positive and upbeat. I always thank team members for letting me know of any issues and try to listen closely to what happened. I gave goody bags for Nurses Week and Therapy month for all their great work! I will have boxed lunches for all team members for the upcoming coming holiday lunch to keep everyone safe and to thank them.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    And bravo to you, Margaret, for all of your thoughtful actions, especially for nurses and other health care workers who are giving their all during the pandemic.

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