What to do if you’re feeling unrecognized at work 

Has someone at work ever complimented you on a job well done, gone out of their way to make sure you were acknowledged, or given you specific and genuine positive feedback?

If so, I’m willing to guess it felt really good to be seen, heard, and valued.

Recognition at work is the acknowledgement of a person’s behavior, effort, or results that support the company’s values and goals. It shows employees that the work they do is valued and appreciated. It can also increase confidence and motivation to strive for great results. 

But what if you aren’t feeling recognized? 

Unfortunately feeling under recognized in the workplace is quite common. As a peer counselor I’ve seen this lack of recognition stem from a strained relationship with a supervisor, a negative work environment, a general mis-alignment in values, and so much more. The net result is that the employee feels unheard and undervalued. 

Recognizing what language you and your team members speak can help enhance communication and promote clarity and alignment.

If you’re feeling this way at work it can help to take a step back and evaluate what you need to feel valued. While we can’t always change other people’s behavior, we can reflect on what we need to thrive and move toward this goal with more clarity.

The five recognition languages

Recently, I was inspired by a presentation that Katie Dill, the VP of Design at Lyft, gave at the Leadership in Design event. She says there are five different types, or languages, of recognition. Each person has a primary and a secondary language. Although we accept recognition in all five languages, our primary language connects to us on a deeper level, makes us feel truly valued and heard. 

Recognizing what language you and your team members speak can help enhance communication and promote clarity and alignment.

  • Encouraging Words is the support and reassurance given verbally or in writing. People with this primary language appreciate a personal “thank you” email after completion of a project, or cheering words before a big presentation.

  • Tangible Rewards include both the monetary compensation, such as salary increase or bonus, as well as other tangible manifestations of appreciation such as extra vacation days or a team lunch out. 

  • Focused Time involves getting personal and uninterrupted time with the manager, be it a scheduled 1:1 meeting, informal check-in or dedicated time during a team meeting.

  • Further Autonomy can showcase in being entrusted with a big task without any supervision, or being given freedom to decide what project to take on next. Notice that extra words of encouragement can be perceived annoying rather than rewarding by someone with this primary language.

  • Visible Impact manifests in an opportunity to see the effect of a person’s work on their audience, such as hearing the words of appreciation from the customers directly, or discussing their personal contribution to the company.

To read more from Katie about the five recognition languages from a manager’s perspective check out this article.

What can you do if you’ve experienced lack of recognition at work?

This can feel really tough, but know you’re not alone. The tips below can help you reflect on why you might be feeling this way, and help you identify gaps that may need to be filled. 

  1. Reflect on your “Recognition Language.” What language, or languages, resonates with you? This can help you better understand what you need to feel valued. 

  2. Notice the moments when you feel you don’t get the appreciation you expect. What need is not being met? Is there no recognition, or is it just given to you in a different language than you were envisioning? 

  3. Articulate the type of recognition you need. Remember a time when you felt truly recognized for your work. What kind of appreciation did you receive? What kind of recognition would you give to someone else to acknowledge their great work?

Once you know what’s important to you, it may be helpful to share these insights with your manager. This might feel intimidating at first, but if you acknowledge your good intentions and express your concerns openly, you may find surprising new common ground! Remember you and your manager are likely working towards the same goal—keeping you motivated and invested in your work. 

Need a little extra support? 

If you’ve experienced lack of recognition, or unsure how to communicate it to your team, you’re not alone. Text 510-674-1414 to get in touch with a trained peer counselor immediately and confidentially to chat through the situation and explore ways forward. Support is just a text away.

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