“You need to show more appreciation” – that’s what everyone is saying it seems. There are many articles written on how to appreciate, and why to appreciate. And the evidence is clear – employees that are rewarded for good performance and feel appreciated perform better. So why don’t employers appreciate their people more? It might have to do with that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that tells you not to. Like it or not, there is something in everyone that makes giving appreciation difficult. But what causes that?

For one, it may be because appreciation shouldn’t always be given. There are times when praise will hurt more than help. But on the other hand, there are certainly times when appreciation is withheld for bad reasons. To help you determine if praise is warranted, here are a few scenarios for when, and when not, to give appreciation.

Bad reasons to give appreciation:

When it encourages the wrong behavior
It sounds obvious, but don’t reward people for doing things they shouldn’t do. New managers often fall into the “I want to be liked” trap – and for good reason – who doesn’t want to be liked? And the fastest way to be liked is to tell people what they want to hear. However, you would be doing a disservice to your team. Good leadership involves balancing appreciation and rewards for good work, with honest and helpful feedback. Could a project have gone better? Let them know. It will help them much more than phony praise.

To get something you want
This is a common – and dangerous – game. Appreciation should be deserved – plain and simple. If done as part of a larger plan, or you want something in return, you’re doing it wrong. The individual might find it nice, but often they’ll see right through it – especially if you’ve done it before. From that point on, all appreciation will be viewed with skepticism, not matter how well it’s meant. Instead of helping your business, false appreciation is a great way to hurt trust, curb communication, crush morale, and ironically, lower the feeling of being appreciated.

Sure, in some respects all appreciation is for your gain. It increases morale (which increases performance), it increases motivation (so people will work harder), and it often just makes you feel good to appreciate someone. But those outcomes all occur after the benefit is received from by the individual. Sadly many use appreciation as a short-term tool to get what they want – and that’s called manipulation.

Because they demand it
If your kids demand a cookie – or your dog demands her special after dinner Peanut M&M’s – do you give it to them? If yes, does that satisfy them? Or do they ask for more? Employees shouldn’t decide when or how they are appreciated – they earn it by doing a good job and going beyond expectations. If you give it to them when they tell you they want it, it defeats the purpose. However, be careful you aren’t reading honest cries for fair rewards as demands for praise. They sound similar but are very different things.

Bad reasons to not give appreciation:

“They don’t appreciate me”
Yep. Sometimes the boss doesn’t get the appreciation he or she deserves. That’s true. But don’t let that prevent you from treating your employees right. Instead, take the high ground and do it anyway. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Maybe, just maybe, it might yield some appreciation in return.

“It will just wear off”
Does appreciation wear off? Yes, yes it does. In a week from now, that thank you gave someone will likely be largely forgotten. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have impact. All of us can look back and remember a time when someone did something meaningful for us. Part of the goal of rewards is to let individuals know that what they did was good – and to motivate them to do it again. If they understand that, appreciation “wearing off” doesn’t matter. Plus, what’s the harm to just do it anyway? Showing appreciation shouldn’t be expensive, and there are no limits to how it’s done. As long as it’s deserved, why not risk “over appreciation”?

We appreciate too much / It loses its meaning
Appreciation can lose it’s meaning – if it’s done the same way all the time. When someone says “Thanks” at the end of an email, do you feel like that’s a special reward? Probably not. The trick is to switch it up. Even a simple “thanks” can take on a different meaning if you change the context. There is a difference between a quick parting “thanks” and taking a special trip to the person’s office, saying “thanks”, and then detailing how what they did was helpful to you or went above and beyond. They will remember it.

“They get appreciated in their paycheck”
You pay your employees? Great! So does the company across the street. Income goes far beyond the paycheck these days – especially with Millennials. Actually, assuming financial needs are met, most would rather have some unique praise than a little extra money. Why not capitalize on that? It means that you can give your employees motivation to work hard, and do more – without spending more money. Seems like a win-win.