Talk to the human in you not the designer in you.
Praise is about acceptance, and humans want to be accepted by nature (most of us, not you lone wolfs). In general we are pack animals. Acceptance of praise is about a warm fuzzy. The designer in me thinks it is not necessary, I used to be angry with myself for feeling better after receiving praise. After all the work was the same before and after the compliment right? But people don't work this way, and to maximize your potential as a designer is to understand how people work.
RE: Have I ever praised my employer for anything other than a paycheck? Absolutely! For may reasons. People in authority rarely get praise. You think they do, but more often than not they are getting the brunt of the problems, and if they are worth their salt, they are taking the hit square on the jaw and not passing the buck down hill. So they are getting beat up from above. From the people below them they rarely get thanks (other than for a paycheck) and often get complaints. So I always made it a point to give praise to my bosses when they did something over and above, like covering for one of my screw ups (which are frequent mind you) or fighting for a design beyond the expected. Also, to GIVE praise is a sign of the alpha. Typically giving praise to someone shows you are in a position to recognize their good and bad deeds. Giving praise to a superior shifts the conversation from one of authority to subordinate to a peer to peer level of recognition.
The key is to only use praise accurately so it has meaning. When employed to its fully, you can use praise as a critique. Praising a specific aspect of a project but nothing else lets people know the rest needs work. Praising one employee for a specific task publicly helps everyone understand the level of expectations. This is why when we give trophies to all the kids, it doesn't reinforce anything.
Don't think like a designer, BE a designer but think like a person. Things work out better
Check out the book "Why We Cooperate"