Employee Recognition and What Makes It Work
In an IT division meeting at a company where I was once a consultant, one of the managers excitedly announced that two employees had earned the recently implemented "Superstar Award." I cringed—not because two individuals were being recognized for their efforts, but because 187 others weren't.
Management had created this award as a way (so they hoped) of stemming the dropping morale among employees. “Let’s show them we’re paying attention and we care!” was their thought. So they created the award and they decided who deserved it. Bad idea. Singling out two individuals for special attention in this manner runs a risk of making all other employees feel that their efforts don't count. And enthusiastically announcing the award at a meeting at which so many other employees felt taken for granted is a blooper and a half.
The key to recognizing employees is to do it in a way that reinforces the actions and behaviors you most want to see people repeat. According to Susan M. Heathfield, a management and organization development consultant, an effective employee recognition system is simple, immediate, and powerfully reinforcing. Two of her several tips for effective recognition are that all employees must be eligible for it, and the recognition must supply the employer and employee with specific information about what behaviors or actions are being rewarded and recognized.
It’s important for managers to provide ongoing recognition by acknowledging employees and thanking them, ideally with a written note. A quick email is also fine, but a written note tells employees you were willing to take the time to put pen to paper. In fact, a simple thank-you can have a huge payoff. Numerous surveys have shown that being thanked is what employees crave the most. This type of recognition takes little time and costs nothing yet has a big impact.
In fact, Josh Bersin, writing in Forbes, said his human resources advisory services company’s research found that organizations that regularly thank employees far outperform those that don’t. He reports that companies scoring in the top 20 percent for building a “recognition-rich culture” had 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rates, a significant number.
The Bersin research emphasizes the importance of recognizing people based on specific results and behaviors. Furthermore, peer-to-peer recognition seems to mean a lot more to employees than top-down recognition because the top-down approach tends to be political, whereas your peers actually know what you’re doing day to day.
How do your recognition programs fit these criteria?