Too good to reward? You might just have Streep Syndrome

Dakshana Bascaramurty

Globe and Mail

It’s not the distinction she was going for, but Meryl Streep was forced to accept it.

At this weekend’s Academy Awards, the star of Julie and Julia smiled through all the gentle ribbing about how she’s been nominated for an Oscar 16 times, which makes her the most-nominated actor in history. The problem: While co-stars, directors and critics can’t compliment her enough, she’s only nabbed the award twice – the last time for the 1982 film Sophie’s Choice.

Such snubbing isn’t exclusive to Hollywood – “Streep Syndrome” is common in the workplace, too.

Those who go through it are the go-getters, the ones who bat every assignment out of the park, the ones colleagues always want to work with, but who often find themselves overlooked when it’s time for monthly awards, promotions or end-of-year bonuses.

They’ve set such a standard of excellence that managers often don’t think of rewarding them.

While compliments from your colleagues and praise from your supervisor are nice, the incentive to work hard can fade quickly without the formal recognition of accolades or promotion. Career experts say employees must track their achievements and communicate them directly if they want tangible rewards, instead of being quietly disappointed every time they’re passed over.

While it can be difficult to keep up performance when there are no incentives, says Alan Kearns, founder of career coaching firm CareerJoy, you should “keep doing what you’re doing.”

“Don’t stop the behaviour because you’re not getting the benefits,” he says.

One of his clients, an actuarial consultant, had a strong base of happy clients and a high level of billable hours, but wasn’t being noticed. She wanted to become a principal of her firm, and launched a “visibility campaign” to reach this goal.

Mr. Kearns recommends keeping a log of all the work you do, the positive outcomes, and any e-mails of praise received from clients or colleagues. When performance-review time comes, present your boss with this package: a concrete record of your value to the company.

“You have tangible facts – not ‘I feel’ [or] ‘I’m disappointed,’ ” he says.

A reality is that many managers keep track of employee output, but not necessarily what they do day-to-day.

“If you’re not visible in the management team, you’re not going to get the accolades and you’re not going to be recognized for [your] efforts,” says Gary Agnew, a Calgary-based career coach with Cenera consulting firm.

He also suggests performance reviews as the best forum to sell yourself and point out why you deserve a reward. But keep it open, he says. Tight budgets may mean a raise is out of the question, so give your boss options on how he or she can reward you.

Colleen Clarke, a Toronto career specialist, says one of her clients who had worked three years on contract for a non-profit organization felt unappreciated in her office and started publishing the work she’d completed in a company newsletter to increase her visibility.

“That was a way of publicly declaring what she had done,” she says – and it got the attention of colleagues and clients.

If your supervisor is aware of your achievements, but you don’t get a chance for sit-downs with the real decision-makers at your office, Ms. Clarke suggests creative approaches to making your name known.

“If your company has an [annual general meeting], volunteer to be the person that introduces the president,” she says. “Visibility is what you really need. First, [you show them] you exist, and with a little chit-chat you can throw in something about your accomplishments.”

For the less bold, Ms. Clarke suggests sending your superiors weekly or bi-weekly updates on what you’re working on and what you’ve achieved. It creates a formal log, and also means your bosses have a record of who did what on group projects so colleagues can’t take credit for your accomplishments. You can promote yourself without crossing into boastful territory, she says.

Managers should be aware that withholding rewards or recognition could drive away high performers, experts add.

Kim Gardner, a reporter in Waynesville, N.C., immediately recognized what she was missing after leaving a great job in Florida for a new one with a community paper in North Carolina. While her previous employer had provided merit raises for her performance, as well as various awards, she says there’s a noticeable lack of recognition at her new gig.

She’s regularly praised for her writing by community members and fellow reporters, but she’s only once been recognized by her boss in her 2 1/2 years at the paper – in the form of a gift certificate for a coffee shop for producing the most number of stories one week.

“[Here,] it’s not about praise for the work that you do – it’s get it out, get it done,” she says.

Ms. Gardner says the absence of rewards has frustrated her, and she’s considered leaving the field completely for better pay and recognition elsewhere.

As for Ms. Streep, let’s not feel too sorry for her. After all, Forbes named her the third-highest-paid actress last year.

Surely $24-million a year softened the blow of that Oscar loss.