Is it possible to be addicted to praise? More important, could the addiction affect your career?

The answer to both is yes.

The problem with praise, incentive plans, and other bribes.

One of the most interesting books I've read in the past decade is Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes.

It discuses the long-term affect that being over-rewarded can have on a person's ability to be happy. To give you a basic no-frills summary, here's what I took away from the book.

  • Incentives (like praise) are external motivators. They are bribes designed to get us to behave a certain way.
  • As a culture, we've been conditioning ourselves over the past 50-plus years to seek these bribes in the form of grades, stickers, trophies, and, yes, praise. It's called "extrinsic motivation."
  • Over time, a person can become obsessed with seeking extrinsic motivation. In the extreme, he won't want to do anything until he knows the reward for doing it.
  • Being extrinsically motivated can create a barrier to success. Those affected become held hostage by the need for bribes.
  • Eventually, a person can lose his ability to be intrinsically motivated--motivated to do things simply for the satisfaction of accomplishment.

Without intrinsic motivation, your career may suffer.

Now, consider how the above could affect your career.

Companies promote and give raises to people who create value beyond what they were hired to do. Thus, if you want a promotion, you need to be self-motivated to exceed expectations and create a greater level value than what you are currently paid for.

And if you need constant praise and incentives just to do your job, what happens when you don't get it? Will you become unhappy and disengaged? How might your frustration affect your ability to do your job well enough to keep it?

Parents and teachers pay you with praise. Companies pay you with cash.

The grades, stickers, trophies, praise, and other incentives we got as kids were payment for a desired behavior. Employers don't pay that way. They give us money for doing the job they hired us to do. It shouldn't really surprise us some managers don't see giving out praise, awards, and other incentives as part of their job. This is especially true of older-generation management (i.e., Baby Boomers) who weren't raised with the same incentives. It's just one of the reasons they're firing Millennials today.

QUIZ: Are you addicted to praise?

Ask yourself the following questions--and be honest!

When someone at work gets publicly recognized for his efforts, do you get really jealous? Are you in a bad mood the rest of the day and don't feel like working because you can't stop thinking, "I work just as hard as that person does. I deserve to be recognized too"?

When your boss provides constructive criticism on some work you've done, do you immediately get defensive and shut down? Inside, are you screaming: "Doesn't she know how hard I'm trying? Why can't she at least recognize I'm making an effort?"

When it comes to your career progression, do you think, "I'm not doing any more work than what is expected of me"? Do you ever say to yourself, "I don't get the proper recognition for what I already do. So, if they want more out of me, they'll have to pay me more first"?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you may be dependent upon praise.

Does that mean your career is definitely in trouble?

Not necessarily.

Smart companies are branding their incentive strategy.

Now that unemployment is dropping, recruiting and retaining good workers is getting tougher, forcing companies to rethink their strategy with employees. Step back and take a look at some of the smart employers out there who have recognized and embraced the talent population's need for praise and perks. They know productivity and employee retention increase when staff is kept happy. Thus, they create workplaces that are fun and corporate cultures that offer an abundance of praise and recognition.

You should know these same companies also get away with paying lower salaries than other companies.

Why? Because they can. Once you earn a reputation of being a "great place to work," you can get people to take lower salaries. It isn't just about the money. When you have to spend 8 hours a day at the job, you care about how happy the environment will make you. Savvy employers with great employment brands know that.

If you're addicted to praise, you have two options.

If you're addicted to praise, there are two things you can do.

1) Seek employment with companies that will gladly feed the addiction.

2) Get help breaking your addiction to praise by learning to be intrinsically motivated in your career.

Or, why not do both? If you can learn how to build a career that impresses the only person who truly matters--you--then you can find satisfaction in your work without needing praise or perks to motivate you. Then, you can happily find a job at a company that's known as a great employer, take advantage of all the benefits, and still not worry that you might feel trapped by their incentives.

It's your turn--tell me your stories.

I'd love to hear from readers what they've experienced with respect to praise addiction. Do you need the compliments to motivate you? What about the perks? Hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn and tell me more.

Published on: Jan 7, 2016