4 ways to create an impactful employee recognition program
Engagement 6 minute read

4 ways to create an impactful employee recognition program

Rise | August 3, 2017

When it comes to employee morale and job satisfaction, it often boils down to one thing – do they work for a great manager? Do employees feel recognized and appreciated for the work they perform? A great manager can make their team members feel valued, listened to, and create an environment where people feel like they are working for a greater purpose. So, if employee engagement is often as easy as hiring great managers, why are so many people unsatisfied with their job?

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labour reveal that the number one reason people leave an organization is that they “don’t feel appreciated” by their manager. After all, it’s intuitive to think that most organizations are trying to hire great managers, no?

Of course, not all managers are created equal. Some people excel in leadership positions, and others downright stink. However, most managers WANT to be great but aren’t empowered or given adequate resources by their executive team to create the conditions of a positive workplace.

An employee recognition program is a topic that most HR executives have to think about (or should be!). A program should be created with purpose (e.g. aligned with core values, clear targets, reinforce certain behaviours), but recognition doesn’t need to be rocket science!

Below are 4 things to consider when structuring a new (or tweaking an existing) employee recognition and reward program. By empowering your managers with tools that allow them to do these things better, it will help you achieve your recognition goals (e.g. increased morale, a boost in productivity, and a stronger desire to stay with your company).

Managers regularly interact with their team members and have a direct line of sight into your workplace. Empower them to make it great!

1. Timeliness

Imagine you were away for a weekend and came home to see that your 14-year-old son or daughter had mowed the lawn, folded the laundry and cleaned the bathroom. In all likelihood, the first thing to come out of your mouth would sound something like this: “Jordan, get down here! Thank you SO much for all of your help this weekend! I’m taking you out for ice cream!”

You would react with immediate positive reinforcement. This creates a sense of joy and pride in Jordan and increases the chances of him/her going above and beyond the next time the opportunity presents itself.

Now, let’s use this same scenario but instead of reacting with praise and offering a little treat as a thank-you, you say nothing. Jordan is wondering why the hard work went unnoticed and starts to build resentment. Chances are less likely that he/she will go the extra mile the next time opportunity knocks.

It’s not that you didn’t appreciate it; perhaps you were really busy and had been planning to say “thanks”. Two weeks later, you finally get a moment to breathe and take the opportunity to express your gratitude. Jordan appreciates that you said something, but the magic is lost.

Recognition needs to be as close to the behaviour as possible.

When someone goes above and beyond, managers should be empowered to say “thanks” and do a little something on the spot as a token of appreciation. This sounds obvious but I’m consistently amazed by how many organizations wait months, or even until their end of year event to recognize people who go above and beyond.

Want people to keep kicking butt for you? Empower your managers with the ability to immediately recognize team members with a little something when they knock it out of the park for you.

2. Value $$

If someone stays late on a Friday to complete a project, it would be strange to hand over the keys to a new car to recognize their efforts. On the flip side, if one of your team members found a way to save your company thousands (or more), or landed a massive account, you shouldn’t be handing them a coffee card. Yet, time and time again, I hear stories like this (not the part about the car!).

Know that the value of the recognition should match the effort / $$ saved / $$ earned, etc.

If needed, set some parameters in your employee recognition program for managers so that they know what you believe warrants a little thank-you (e.g. coffee card) versus something more substantial (e.g. a dinner for two or a shopping spree). Failing to adequately recognize a team member for their efforts can come off as petty, which can leave a strong team member with a bad taste and a sense that their efforts aren’t appreciated.

Do this a few times and that valued employee may start sniffing around for their next job opportunity!

3. Choice of recognition

I love coffee. However, one of my colleagues doesn’t drink coffee at all (how can he be trusted?). So, generally (see “Value” above) when someone gives me a coffee card as a thank-you I appreciate it. As a daily coffee drinker, it will go to good use.

However, there have been multiple occasions when my colleague has received a coffee card as a token of appreciation and he basically considered it thoughtless trash. I was present for these displays of, what appeared to be, selfish behaviour. A common question surrounding this topic is, “shouldn’t they be thankful for the gesture, regardless of what it is?” The answer is, it doesn’t matter.

Recognition is not one size fits all.

Everyone has different likes, desires, interests, past-times and passions. If we do not recognize people’s efforts with something that holds value to that individual then it ceases to hold any value at all. In fact, it can have the reverse effect. When recognizing a team member for going above and beyond they should get a choice of what the item of recognition will be. Make special note in your employee recognition program of what each employee enjoys. That way you'll be ready when the moment comes.

4. Public recognition

When someone gets thanked they feel good. When it’s done in front of colleagues, or the entire company, it can feel great! Would you like to see your team members sense of work-pride skyrocket?

Public recognition will add tremendous value without any additional spending.

Below are a few ideas:

  • An informal presentation in front of close colleagues
  • Email your staff member and cc the executive team letting them know how much you appreciate their effort
  • A team huddle at the end of the week where managers can single people out
  • Give praise on the microphone at the company BBQ or town hall meeting

Be mindful of whom you are recognizing and how comfortable they are being singled out in public. If someone is extremely shy, you may want to take a different approach (e.g. in front of a small team or behind a closed door with the executive team).

Building public employee recognition into your culture will pay dividends.

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