The psychology of employee recognition has always caught my interest – maybe because I’m so motivated by it myself! I speak to this in great detail in my book relative to how I saw it running throughout my employment in corporate America and how I used it myself in professional ministry to manipulate people to work harder.  That said, I am increasingly aware of the amount of time and money that’s spent on this subject today and how we as employees are being manipulated by our employers by this need we have.

Recognition vs pay is a topic that gets a lot of press throughout corporate America and in businesses large and small all across this land. Businesses have learned that there are ways to improve employee morale and job satisfaction without actually having to pay anyone anything. Finding ways to recognize people for their accomplishments has reportedly become a $77 billion business – that’s about the profit General motors will achieve in 10 really good years.

As with most psychological issues, they begin in our past.  Ever since we were little children jumping up and down on the swimming pool diving board screaming to our parent to “look at me, look at me”, we have been in a perpetual hunt for that affirmation from somewhere in our lives.  For some reason, even though we are no longer children, it’s still a tremendous driver that someone notice our diving skills!!

We are so needy for recognition we are willing to be paid less to work someplace where we get more of it. In fact, a great deal of research suggests that recognition is actually more important to most of us than money! Think of it. We need money to survive. We use money to buy food, shelter, and clothing. We need to pay the heat bill, send our kids to college and pay for our health care. Why on earth would we trade what we need to materially survive for praise and recognition?

Answer? We need praise and recognition to emotionally survive. Praise and recognition feeds our psyche the same way French fries feed our physical selves. Ironically, it is almost exactly the same because French fries are of almost no use to a healthy metabolism – almost guaranteed to leave us hungry for more after we eat a bag – and they may leave us feeling guilty that we can’t break our addiction to them.

Similarly, praise and recognition are only bandages for our wounded, shame filled souls that are desperate for any morsel of acknowledgment from someone. Our souls need to know that someone has seen us and appreciates us. If we are not seen or appreciated we become angry, depressed, despondent, and resentful of those who are getting noticed. As your employer knows, it can turn the entire workplace sour.

The thing is, your employer knows this and is manipulating your need for praise to get you to work harder for less money. Your employer needs to find a way to cut costs and find a way to get its employees to sacrifice more and the more important you think you are to your organization (through recognition), the more likely you are to sacrifice. As I mention in my book, your church can function the same way.

Our goal should be to unmask this hidden driver (shame) that generates this need for recognition within us so that we can’t be manipulated by our employer, our family members, our churches, or any other institution or individual who may be attempting to get us to do what we would rather not by playing on our need for recognition.  The first step toward victory is to acknowledge its happening when it’s happening.  From there, perhaps we can begin to not bracket those feelings and attempt to find food that truly nourishes.