Most men don’t dare say so, but a random high five, pat on the back, or Attaboy just isn’t enough.
Very few people, regardless of gender, do their best work when the only reward is a paycheck. I’d hazard a guess that NO ONE does their best work under those circumstances, but even though I’ve never seen an example of it in over 30 years of business management, I’ll concede that it might happen.
Yet, managers seem to think that their female employees just naturally need the “extra strokes” and “positive feedback,” but men, if they ask for fair credit or honest appreciation, are “just whining.”
I’ve formed a personal theory that men in business leadership are caught in a never-ending, no win cycle; they reached their position by stoically doing their job without more than the random high five, pat on the back, or “Attaboy,” and, although that was frustrating, even maddening, they now equate their ability to endure and succeed without meaningful appreciation with “what a man’s got to do to get ahead.”
For every story I could tell of a man who “toughed it out” and “just did his job” I can tell you three of more of men who left because they got fed up with being expected to stay fired up in a job where management scoffed if they asked for recognition. And I could come up with another three or more of men who stayed, but were just going through the motions, doing what they had to do to keep from losing the job they’d learned to hate.
Of course, lack of respect or meaningful appreciation isn’t strictly a “guy thing.” I’ve seen these tactics used with female employees too, but most of the women I’ve observed don’t buy into the “you’re just whining” guilt trip. And I’ve observed many female leaders who came up the ladder in a male-dominated work culture, who have the same attitude. To them, asking for thanks, praise, recognition, or appreciation is a weakness — if you aren’t being praised it’s because you aren’t working hard enough. Stop whining and try harder. But the shaming of anyone “needy” enough to ask for positive reinforcement seems to be most prevalent between men.
Of course, in its worst manifestation this shaming is used to keep men from asking for a promotion, or a raise. It’s used to intimidate and demean so that men are afraid of asking for anything, and ashamed of being afraid. But even when it isn’t used as manipulation, it’s still demotivating and devaluating. And the resulting shame and frustration spills over to affect every aspect of a man’s life.
So what does it take to give “meaningful appreciation?” It takes connection, even intimacy. And maybe that’s why men are uncomfortable giving or asking for it. Because for decades we have shamed men for needing emotional connectivity at the same time we’ve criticized them for not being able to give it. So they feel safe with the random high five, pat on the back, or “Attaboy,” but cringe at the idea of looking another man in the eye, maybe even touching his shoulder, and telling him sincerely and in detail how much his work, his loyalty, and his dependability are appreciated.
I get it, but we have to change it. Because business is too fragile to put it in the hands of people who are frustrated, who are playing the stoic, who are just “doing what a man’s got to do to get ahead.” For a business to become resilient, robust, or whatever your preferred buzzword is for “able to roll with the punches, bounce back from the beatings, and turn in a profit in any economy,” that business must attract, reward, and appreciate the best people in every position at every level. And that is not going to happen when men are afraid of being shamed for giving or needing the kind of recognition that only a true emotional connection can provide.