Efforts vs. Results: Do employees know the difference?

I recently read an article  day that referenced an infographic featuring the following statistic:

Nearly half (49 percent) of employees in a survey revealed that they would leave their current job for a company that recognized employees for their efforts and their contributions.

Really.  Nearly HALF of all employees would leave their job.

I know I’m cynical, but that seems awfully high, especially in a volatile economy.  So I reframed that statement (because I’m in HR and I know what reframing is), and I started thinking about whether or not the average employee would define recognition-worthy effort the same way management would.  I came to the following conclusion…

I don’t think they would.

In my career, I’ve been a part of many a performance review process, helping managers and employees alike understand why we do them, how we do them, and what the different ratings mean.  And it never fails that there is a severe disconnect between what the employee sees a extra effort and what the manager would call DOING YOUR JOB.


Here’s a quick reminder for employees about the difference:


  • Showing up on time every day
  • Completing your work by the assigned deadline and in a quality manner
  • Being a decent human being to coworkers


  • Teaching others to do their jobs better
  • Identifying a more efficient way to do a task
  • Going above and beyond for a customer

Really, it’s about the difference between EFFORT and RESULTS.  Effort is good – managers want to see effort.  It’s an indicator that employees give a damn.  But guess what – results pay the bills, which means managers are more likely to recognize employees whose efforts yield results.  As an employee, I need to be aware of what will benefit the business and ensure my work is truly “value add.”  And I also need to communicate what I’m doing to my manager to ensure I’m aligned with his/her expectations.

Managers, you’re not off the hook for this one.  If your employees feel like you don’t notice their efforts, that’s on you.  It’s your job to give clear expectations for results and to provide meaningful feedback to your employees year-round. Too often managers are afraid to have a difficult conversation, telling employees “that was a a darn good try” all year…only to rate them lower in the annual review because nothing got done.  On the other hand, things come up that are out of the employee’s control that can keep their efforts from yielding the expected results.  So be a human being and acknowledge that.

Lack of recognition by managers is a real problem in many organizations, and it CAN lead to employees wanting to leave for a better job.  I also think misconstrued ideas of what recognition should look like leads to unrealistic employee expectations.

What do you think? Are employees being greatly unappreciated? Are managers being unfairly maligned for not rewarding employees for just showing up?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Efforts vs. Results: Do employees know the difference?

  1. I so disagree with this positioning.

    Don’t get me wrong results are critical. But the reality in our team-based, collaborative world – I can be the best – A#1 person in my job and still have to rely on someone or some other team for final results. Should I then be penalized because Frank and Suzy in sales suck? I don’t think so.

    I think the REASON we have managers is to discern when to reward effort and when to reward outcomes. If we only reward on outcome I don’t need a manager – I can look at the dashboard and see the outcome. That’s a binary thing. Yes/No.

    Engagement, satisfaction, whatever you call it… isn’t binary. It requires a human being to be a part of the equation and part of the assessment. If your managers are rewarding “showing up” – that’s a management problem that needs to be fixed not a problem with recognition of effort/outcome.

    Not recognizing effort is akin to only congratulating and providing ongoing support to a baby learning to walk when they finally do actually walk. We wouldn’t do that. We continually support the small, incremental efforts that lead to the outcome of walking.

    That is what we need to do with employees as well – reward incremental successes toward a goal.

  2. Paul – thanks for the comments! I actually don’t think we are as far apart in our views as it may seem. Managers ABSOLUTELY need to be able to recognize when things happen that are outside of an employee’s control, thereby rewarding incremental effort. I think I referenced that in the post, but it is a little buried…underneath the AWESOME graphic.

    What I chafe against is employees who want a sticker just for showing up. Or managers who don’t want to have a conversation with their employee about line of sight, how their jobs contribute, etc.

    Yes, engagement is a continuum. And ask anyone what they want from a job, they will probably tell you they want to make a difference. Managers should help employees learn how they make a difference. My point is that some effort isn’t really effort at all, and it’s important that both employees and managers can tell the difference between trying and taking up space.

  3. I think it is called… wait for it… communication. I know – I’m old school that way. But setting expectations, rewarding behaviors you value as a company, as a department and as a manager ensures more of those behaviors and more of those results.

    We are sympatico I believe.

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