Does Recognition Get You In A State?


 Does Recognition Get You In A State?

A number of studies have come out recently on the phenomenon of ‘recognition:’ how people react when, for example, they are recognized by a stranger or a work colleague in general. This study is focused on understanding if recognition at work - from manager or peers - makes our mood better; if so, whether it is because we feel superior to others or like part of a team-like environment.

This recent study was actually looking at what effect recognition has on mood and emotions. It found that recognition does make us feel good but not for the reasons many assume: it's not because we are being superior to others (though this might be one reason). It is because we feel like part of a group, like being in a team. As the study says, this also could be because of what it means to be part of a group and not just an individual: “Just as feeling like a member of a group provides the benefits afforded by belonging to such an entity, so does not feeling like one.”

In this study, researchers looked at how people reacted when they were recognized in various ways by their manager or coworkers and how it made them feel. The study was conducted at Cornell University and involved 48 participants. The research itself is one of the features in an article in Harvard Business Review called The Mood Effects Of Recognition.

The participants were split into four groups for the study. Three of these groups were subjected to different conditions, each with their own sub-groups. The first group - which served as the control group - had to complete some tasks that identified their abilities and then were given a series of questions about past events. Another group was asked to do these things but also had recordings made of them as though they were being interviewed for a job promotion. They also had to write an essay about how they would approach a challenge at work (or a personal challenge).

The third group was asked to complete the tasks and had to write an essay but they also were given a gift of a mug, pen or key ring at the end of this. The fourth group was asked to do all these things as well but they also were recognized by their manager. For example, they were asked how they thought their manager perceived them and how good a job they felt like they were doing at that time. They also had to answer questions on whether recognition at work can be satisfying or whether it makes us feel more vulnerable.

The group that was given the mug, pen and key ring was found to be more open to what their manager said about them (though not more satisfied) and a bit more reliant on him or her. They felt less vulnerable as well when they were being interviewed and were also better at accurately identifying how their manager thought of them. They were also found to report much greater feelings of being satisfied with their work in general.

The group that received the gift but no recognition was found to be somewhat satisfied with the interview process and ability, but not happier at work overall. This may be because they are worried that if they get the job then they will have to lose some of their ‘individual’ identity.

The group that was not given gifts but was recognized by their manager was found to be open to the feedback, dependent on their manager and, like those who received gifts, even more satisfied with their work overall.

The takeaway from this study is that recognition does have an effect on mood: it can make people feel more satisfied with their work and generally happier; but you have to be careful with how you do it. You don’t want to give gifts in a way that makes them dependent on you or insecure; you want them to feel open to criticism or not see themselves as different from other individuals.

The other thing to remember is that people react differently to recognition, even when it is about the same situation. This is why you must always watch for signs and be sensitive to those who aren’t responding in the way you think they should: because if you are not careful, the effect of recognition on mood can be a negative one. For example, it can make them feel further vulnerable or dependent on someone else. In any case, there is no getting away from the fact that recognition at work does make us feel good - and as this study shows - good in ways we might not even realize until we look at it closely.

Title: It’s All About Me: The Impact of Self-Enhancing Biases in Intergroup Relations Among Young Adults

Date Written: March/April, 2003

Author: Martin G. Watts and Murray S. M. DeBurgdorf

The authors were interested in the effect of group membership on attitudes toward individuals and groups (including how we react to the fact that someone is out of our own group). They conducted a study that involved 557 undergraduate students at Simon Fraser University who filled into a self-report measure with approximately 700 questions regarding their personal history, close friendships, and past relationships.

The participants were asked to estimate their own level of identification with a number of different groups, such as race, class, gender and ethnicity. They were also asked to answer questions about whether they had ever felt like a group member or not. These questions are designed to measure differences in response patterns between people who do and don’t feel like group members.

The study found that those who did not feel like members of the groups they were identified with had more negative stereotypes about their own group than those who did identify with this group (including gender). However, people who felt like they did not belong to a certain group were not more negative about this group in general. These dissimilar patterns of response showed that as well as feeling more negative about their own group, those who did not feel like members of other groups also had greater difficulty with intergroup relationships.

This study shows that if you don’t feel like a member of a certain group then you may be less likely to recognize the value and individuality of others in the same way. This suggests that while ignoring or denying the fact that someone is different from you can have negative consequences, so too can focusing on these differences without ever seeing beyond them.

Title: Social Support, Sense of Belonging, and Psychological Well-Being in a College Sample

Date Written: November, 1998

Authors: Edward S. Neubaum, Robert B. McCrae and Wendy L. Nelson

The researchers here asked 675 undergraduate students from a Midwestern University about their social support from friends, family members and partners at the beginning of their studies as well as four months later (the point at which many college students begin thinking about graduation). They were also asked to rate their sense of belonging and how happy they are with life in general.

Conclusion: Feeling like we belong to a group is one of the best predictors of general happiness and satisfaction with life that we have. In other words, if you have no group identity then you are more likely to be unhappy. This probably goes for about everyone: whether it’s your own group identity (being a member of the same race as your parents for example) or an external group identity (being a member of the same workplace as your friends).

The study shows that being part of a group makes us happier even when this involvement is mostly social in nature - we don’t necessarily need to be involved with something at work or even religious if we don’t want to be.

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