Employee Recognition Programs – Avoiding the Pitfalls

For most organizations, employees represent their biggest investment. Retaining a well-trained, knowledgeable staff assures continuity, and saves time and money. The value of keeping employees feeling satisfied cannot be underestimated. For many HR professionals, Employee Recognition Programs are ROI Programs, designed to build job satisfaction and company loyalty. According to Donald Clifton in How Full Is Your Bucket, the number one reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated.

In addition to raising retention rates, Employee Recognition Programs and activities nurture a culture that applauds success and reinforces the behavior that reflects a company’s values.

While many of these programs seem easy to implement, it’s crucial to know which ones would work for your organization and how to prevent potential problems associated with each. Here are 6 ideas for Employee Recognition activities, along with the pitfalls to avoid.

1. “Thank you!” Post-It Notes

As children, we were taught to show our appreciation by saying, “Thank you.” For adults, the rules haven’t changed: a brief thank you can go a long way. Many managers use Post-It notes to express their appreciation. An employee doesn’t really need thanks for doing the job he was hired to do. However, if he goes “above and beyond,” recognition is due.

But there is danger in overdoing it. Too many “thank you’s” dilute their impact, sound meaningless, and may come across as inauthentic.

2. Employee-of-the-Month Program

Many businesses use Employee-of-the-Month incentive programs. We’ve all seen the typical posters: “Employee-of-the Month: Janet Sterling” with a photo and a brief description of Jane’s achievement. You go girl!

However, employee recognition programs often generate complaints of favoritism and charges of “teacher’s pet.” A clear set of criteria must be articulated and circulated at the onset of the program, along with an explanation of the judging process.    

3. Social Media Messaging

Many employers are using Facebook, Twitter, Snapshot and other forms of social media to recognize employees’ successes. Candid photos, brief phrases of praises, and spontaneous comments are surprises of acknowledgement to be openly shared with an employee’s social media world.

Yet mixing the professional with the private may not be a good idea. Some employees may see it as an invasion of their personal space. They might also be embarrassed by something in the photo or message circulated to their public.

4. Free Lunches

Many supervisors thank their team for a job well done by bringing in pizza, bagels, or heroes for the entire team. Being acknowledged and having the time for everyone to share the success together generates loyalty and satisfaction.

Yet today’s growing popularity of dietary restrictions may cause problems based on the wide variety of eating preferences among a group—vegans, carbo-watchers, dieters and those who are gluten-free and sugar-free. It’s hard to please everyone. There’s also a risk of “overkill.” When the free food appears too often, it becomes an expectation, not a reward. So when the expected freebie does not arrive, some feel disappointed and unappreciated.

5. Special “Perks”

Employees’ motivation can be heightened with specific “perks” or incentives that recognize their efforts. Some companies offer special parking privileges, arriving late or leaving early for a week, or gift certificates and discount coupons to local merchants. These unique offerings are often effective at a time of increased workload.

The caveat here is to be certain that the limitations of each perk are set, establishing ground rules for each incentive. This would include start-and-stop dates, methods of assessment, and the potential for full inclusion. The distribution of the “perk” should not be seen as arbitrary or unfair.

6. Personal Goals: Something to Cheer About

Employee Incentive Programs often recognize the fulfillment of a specific employee’s goals, usually for educational improvement and personal fitness. These programs recognize an employee’s individuality and personhood, encouraging him or her to strive for personal growth. Employees receive support and recognition from their team.

It’s often painful to admit to ourselves privately that we have not met a personal goal. Sharing these unmet goals publicly can be demoralizing, embarrassing and counter-productive. Personal Goals Programs can also be exclusive, as many employees may not want to make a public commitment at work.

Employee Recognition Programs can be effective ways to build longevity and loyalty, assuring a positive ROI. But never forget: genuine, spontaneous expressions of thanks  positively affect employee satisfaction and your company’s bottom line.



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