The older you are and the longer you have worked in your job or organization, the less likely you are to recognize employees for a job well done. That's the finding of a doctoral study completed this spring by Bob Nelson, PhD, president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego.

The study found that age and age-related variables such as job tenure were the only highly significant demographic variable that distinguished a management group of frequent recognition users from a management group of infrequent recognition users. Older managers (age 50 and above) were less likely than younger managers (age 40 and below) to practice nonmonetary recognition — or even to feel that its use was important.

The research uncovered a number of common objections of older managers to the use of NMR:

  • “I don't know how to do it well” — Managers often don't think to discuss potential recognition strategies with their staffs to get their buy-in, or to seek feedback on their behaviors.

  • “I don't feel providing recognition is an important part of my job” — NMR is often optional, not an integral part of organizational, team, and individual goal setting.

  • “I don't have the time” — Ironic, since NMR in some of its best forms (personal or written praise, public recognition, etc.) requires very little time or energy.

  • “I don't want to leave anybody out” — While managers who don't use recognition cite this concern, those who do use it were found to be scrupulous about double-checking who and how they recognize employees.

  • “This organization doesn't support recognition efforts” — NMR can occur with or without tools, programs, even budget.

    This study also produced some surprises. For example, neither gender nor personality type was found to be significant in distinguishing high- from low-use managers. Other unexpected findings:

  • Resources don't really matter — Available budget had a minimal impact upon the degree to which a manager used or did not use NMR.

  • Employee feedback makes a difference — Employees provided the most notable reinforcement to high-use managers in this study, while low-use managers were rarely reinforced by their employees for using recognition.

  • Upper managers don't influence company behavior — The commonly held belief is that recognition starts at the top. The study found that high-use managers were effective at using NMR without ever having to receive it (or even learn it) from their managers.

Copies of the study are available for $50 at