Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Do Employee Recognition Programs Work?

A good program needs to be viewed as something to aspire to, not a given; which diminishes the impact of an award.

Employee recognition programs are a time-honored tradition in the business world, but they are often “unrewarding.” They can come across as empty gestures, merely ploys to make employees feel appreciated. Here are a few areas where recognition programs seem to go wrong.

Employee of the month programs have long been embraced as a low-cost way of motivating employees. Each month they honor those who go above and beyond the call of duty. But as time wore on, people grew skeptical of this practice. One reason is because when small businesses attempt an employee of the month program, they discover that they simply didn’t have enough employees to justify it, resulting in too much repetition.

Another reason employee of the month programs fail is because they generally don’t follow the main rule of a good recognition program: they don’t identify what needs to be accomplished in order to receive the award. Employees work best if they have concrete goals that they can work toward. Plus, without quantifiable goals, managers often end up arbitrarily picking “favorites,” which coworkers recognize. This creates an environment of hostility and resentment, rather than motivation.

There are two goals with a recognition program: to make the employee feel appreciated and to highlight good work to so that other coworkers 'get the hint.'”

Another draw back of employee of the month programs is that they don’t reward of performance immediately. By waiting until a designated time of the month, it’s possible that the memory of the award-winning action will have faded, diminishing the impact of the award. The best recognition programs happen quickly after a job well done, think Pavlov’s dog. Once rewarded, an employee will want to continue to do a good job to keep getting that reward.

Though “cash is king,” cash incentives often don’t work. There are two goals with a recognition program: to make the employee feel appreciated, as well as, to highlight good work to so that other coworkers “get the hint.” A cash incentive can quickly become invisible, making the recognition invisible as well.

The focus should be on performance, rather than tenure at the job. Though tenure awards have their time and place, if your company has a lot of new hires, the focus quickly becomes about longevity rather than productivity and quality of work.

A good program needs to be viewed as something to aspire to, not a given; which diminishes the impact of an award.


KEYS TO GOOD EMPLOYEE RECOGNITION PROGRAMS:

  • Attainable and concrete goals
  • Multiple winners
  • Employee-specific rewards (i.e., what motivates a part-time student employee is not the same as what motivates long-term employee)
  • Use individual “surprises” rather than an awards banquet—it’ll keep the focus on a job well done
  • Employees on all levels should be recognized for their work, including supervisors and managers
  • Recognition programs should come from the managers who have a day-to-day interaction with the employee, the one who hires, fires, appraises and corrects them