Q: My entry-level job is okay, but dealing with management is a challenge. A manager will invariably come by during the day and say, "Nice job today!" or, "It's so great having such a dedicated team member!"

At first, I enjoyed being noticed for my contributions, but I am getting a little weary. It's almost like they all took a class in "employee positive reinforcement," and the compliments seem forced and hollow. I want to holler, "If I'm so great, show me the money!" Do I just have to grit my teeth and deal, or is there some other way to handle it?


Maybe your managers saw the recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management that found "respectful treatment of all employees at all levels" is the most important factor in employee satisfaction, or the tech industry survey by Appirio concluding that employees most appreciate a thank-you for a job well done.

Positive reinforcement is great when responding to actual performance. But a barrage of unearned attaboys and girls suggests management may be clueless or trying to distract you from, say, stagnant compensation or a lack of direction.

True appreciation means investing in an employee's development with correction as well as praise. You might have to solicit that investment: "What are some areas you think I could focus on improving?" or, "How would you recommend I refine my widget evaluation skills?"


And not to pile on to the plethora of platitudes, but things could be worse. See below.

Q: I was hired as an administrative assistant for a small business, but I am actually my boss' personal secretary, handling medical forms for her in-laws or dealing with her car insurance.

I told her I did not feel comfortable dealing with these and other private matters.

Her response was, "I should be the one who shouldn't feel comfortable. I have no reason to trust you, but I am giving you this assignment, anyway. If you don't want to do it, then I guess you should find somewhere else to work."

She also calls me incompetent. I come home every day on the verge of tears. There's no HR department. My co-workers tell me to keep going, but how can I, when everything I do is incorrect? I am looking for a new job.
A: I'd like to know your co-workers' rationale for sticking it out in this meat grinder. Clearly, your company loves misery.

In any case, your boss is right: She shouldn't get comfortable. And you are wrong when you say everything you do is incorrect. Seeking another job is exactly the right thing to do.