Make your mama proud: How recognition taps into our deeper needs

The other day I asked our CFO what kinds of recognition makes him feel the best. His answer surprised me:

“The best thing you can do is to let my mother know I’m doing a good job.”

Maybe this just means that my CFO really loves his mother, but I think that there are deeper reasons for this, and that they’re very closely tied to the way that recognition and employee engagement work.

The Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley recently released a study that showed that college students find far greater happiness from gaining the respect of their peers than from socioeconomic gain. It is “sociometric” standing that makes individuals happiest and Cameron Anderson, the principle researcher, posits that “It’s possible that being respected, having influence, and being socially integrated just never gets old.”

Respect, influence and social integration have a great deal in common with the traits we look for to determine employee engagement. Engaged employees feel that their opinions matter to their leaders and their company. They are confident that their hard work can have a meaningful impact on the health of their organization. They feel that they have the tools to be innovative and to make progress in their workplace. And they feel that their work is meaningful and integral to the company. Employee engagement, then, may rest on similar sociometric bases to general happiness.

So where does my CFO’s response come into this? When he said he wants to make his mother proud, he communicated that there are fundamental relationships in his life from which he derives respect, and therefore happiness. We have these fundamental relationships in the workplace, too. When we work hard for a leader or a colleague who we respect, we may do so to gain their respect in return. And when we send recognition to our colleagues, we may just be showing the kind of mutual respect that motivates them.

How do you harness these fundamental relationships to make your employees feel happier and more engaged? Or, more importantly, how do you make your mother proud?

Respect Matters More Than Money For Happiness in Life


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