Employee Recognition: Does your Company Get a Gold Star?

Valentine’s Day isn’t my favorite holiday.  Why do we need a special day to tell people we love them?  Shouldn’t we be doing that “early and often”?

The same should be true for managers around employee recognition. Even if you have a special day set aside for employee appreciation, I hope you have other ways of expressing your gratitude for the good things your employees do.

Why is this important? Isn’t a paycheck enough?  You might be lucky enough to have people who love what they do and would work for the sheer enjoyment of it, but most managers still have concerns about retaining their high performers and engaging their employee base to keep them on the path to improved performance.  Recognition programs can be a vital tool in promoting positive energy and engagement in the workplace.

First, let’s be clear about the goal of recognition programs; we’re not necessarily looking for an immediate change to a company’s bottom line, although sustained recognition programs certainly can encourage behaviors that impact a company’s success.  Contests that reward retail clerks for signing up new customers for the company’s credit programs may help the bottom line, but also seek to focus the clerk’s attention on the credit program.  The program goal is to promote specific behaviors and create performance habits.  By acknowledging positive behavior – attention to detail, top performance, and adherence to company values – you not only recognize the employee’s efforts but encourage others to adjust their behavior so that they might receive recognition as well.

Isn’t recognition costly?  It doesn’t have to be.  We have given people a single red balloon or a card documenting their good deed and signed by a colleague or supervisor.  Sometimes we bring in pizza for a department that set a new performance record or have a barbecue for the whole company if we achieve a specific goal.  We have also presented a check for $2500 to an employee who was recognized for a special award.  Good managers will work at matching the reward to the business strategy they are promoting, and this can help determine the value of the reward.  Kenexa sponsored a webinar presentation by Ann Bares of the Altura Consulting Group that discussed how to align reward strategy with business strategy that discusses this in more detail.

What does a good recognition program look like?  There are many ways to recognize people, and you may wish to have multiple options.   Some people respond to cash, some to public acclaim, some to perks, special treatment, or time off.  There are lots of articles and research discussing the variety of things employees value. If you are designing a recognition program for a small group of people, you may want to consider what rewards would be most meaningful to them.  If you are creating a broader program, offering some choice of rewards or offering different rewards for different behaviors may help you find something that will be meaningful to a range of employees.

Some employees will require more than a recognition program to change their behavior, and not all recognition will be meaningful to all employees.  One thing is clear, however, we have never gotten a complaint from someone who felt they received too much recognition.  So, managers, don’t wait until next Valentine’s Day to find a way to reward your top performers.

Nancy Lane, Director of Human Resources, Red Book Solutions

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