Can a leader give too much recognition?
Yes -- too much or the wrong type of recognition and attempts at positive reinforcement can backfire. Showing sincerity and making sure that the effort is worthy is essential. Next, it is imperative to know how individuals want to be rewarded most. What may be a reward or great recognition for one person, may be an aversion or distasteful experience for another.
We measure ten key "Driver & Rewards Needs". One of these is "Fame & Feedback" and I have two quick stories that depicts the impact of rewards backfiring. We had a client who rewarded a nursing manager as the "leader of the year" and picked her up in a limo, celebrated at a big party-like event in the parking lot with all employees present, and she was the honoree. Well, she scored under 5% (on a scale of up to 100%) on her need for Fame & Feedback. She told me that if they ever did anything like that again that she would resign immediately. She was mortified. She said it was the worst day of her life.
At a university, one director who I had coached who herself had a low score on Fame & Feedback, rewarded a new employee with a balloon bouquet as thanks for bringing in a new corporate client. She was trying to acknowledge that others frequently have a higher need for recognition than she had so her intent was admirable. Well, with this gentleman, she was wrong. She sent the bouquet without having his data -- later to find out that his score on Fame & Feedback was even lower than hers. (Of course we laughed after that story but this did re-affirm the point.)
Interestingly, with this same scale when people have high scores (needs), we have coached people who have left jobs because they didn't get sufficient thanks or appreciation for their contributions. They didn't get the respect or visibility they so needed. (Even though it doesn’t cost the business a cent.)
FYI, the other Drivers & Reward facets we measure include: Business & Finance (money), Artistic Endeavors, Companionship & Affiliation, Amusement & Hedonism, Humanitarian Efforts, Power & Competition, Scientific Reasoning, and Safety & Security. So the question is on all of these for each person: is it a driver, non-interest or aversion or unimportant to you? Managers typically err by rewarding what they personally value most which may or may not match what the employee really wants and needs. While the intention may be sincere, rewards can and do backfire.