Employee Recognition: 10 Smart Ways to Recognize Employee Contributions

by Guest Poster

Every manager worth her salt knows that she needs to recognize the contributions made by her employees to keep them motivated and engaged, and to ensure that there is a positive and innovative organizational climate overall. Believing this to be true, wouldn’t it seem simple, then, for her to provide some sort of systematic recognition of her employees in order to make them feel valued and more positive about themselves and their abilities to contribute to the organization’s mission and goals? Well it isn’t!

First off, developing a comprehensive system of employee recognition... takes quite a bit more time than you would think it would, because you can’t employ a scatter-gun approach – there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the problem that is going to make all employees feel suitably recognized, and that is why so many employee recognition systems fall short of the mark and fail miserably, actually creating more dissatisfaction among employees. You end up with a group of jealous and complaining employees that are grumbling amongst themselves about favoritism and unfairness. This is enough to make any prudent manager hesitant to provide any type of employee recognition!

In order to make an employee recognition program effective, you have to decide what it is that you want to achieve by doing it in the first place. Are you trying to boost morale? Increase attendance? Foster teamwork? All of these things, and more, can be addressed through the types of employee recognition you provide. Then you need to create your goals and action plans so that you will be recognizing those exact behaviors, actions, and accomplishments that you want to see happening in your organization. If you establish employee recognitions that reinforce the qualities and behaviors you are seeking, the employees will soon come to demonstrate them for you. See how this all holds together?

Here’s an example: If you want to increase attendance, in your next weekly staff meeting, hand out a simple tri-fold letter to all employees who have had perfect attendance that week. The top part of the letter is a nicely worded note thanking them for their attendance and relating that attendance to the accomplishment of your company’s mission and goals, and stating that this will be noted in their personnel file, and that they will be entered in a monthly drawing for a gift certificate. Have them return to you the middle portion for the personnel file, and the bottom portion they will drop into the drawing box as they leave the staff meeting. This will cause some buzz! Attendance will be up next week! It is relatively easy to get free gift certificates from local businesses who will hand them out in exchange for the free advertising they receive. If not, that is why you are getting paid a managerial salary!

Another critical matter that derails employee recognition programs... is the perception of of fairness and consistency. Each person who makes the same, or similar, contribution has to have an equal likelihood of receiving recognition for his efforts. And if you have some regularly-given award, such as for meeting a production or sales quota, then you must establish the criteria that make a person eligible for that recognition and ensure that everyone who meets it is duly recognized. To do anything less is patently unfair. To recognize only your highest performer only creates dissatisfaction among all the other employees who contributed to your organization meeting its goals in that production period, especially if the criteria were unclear or the recognition was based solely on supervisory recommendation. This is why “Employee Of The Month” programs, though popular with management, are perceived as unfair and discriminatory by the employees – the intentions of the programs might, indeed, have been positive, but due to unclear criteria and lack of recognition of all those who made equal or similar contributions, they are perceived as nothing more than popularity contests by the employees.

Specificity and timing of employee recognition... are also critical to effective employee recognition, otherwise attempts at recognition can come off looking downright foolish. While everyone likes to hear “you did a nice job yesterday,” it is much more effective to hear something along the lines of, “your presentation yesterday to the Atlas clients, and the way you highlighted the sales figures so that they could see that we were out-performing our competition two-to-one was excellent, John, and was integral in winning us their contract,” is much more meaningful verbal recognition. This is something an employee will play over and over again in his mind as his heart swells with pride at a job well-done – all from some simple, meaningful words of recognition from you. And you must remember that every employee is different in what they find rewarding and how they would like to be recognized – some like the big crowd scenario of a staff meeting, while others prefer recognition in private. How are you to guess? Don’t – ask!

Now that you’ve seen the ways that official employee recognition programs can either hurt or help your workplace, here are the top ten ways to show employee appreciation:

1. If there is money available in the coffers, give it!

This could be in the form of bonuses or gift certificates. Everyone appreciates such tangible rewards.

2. Provide opportunity for growth on the job...

3. Remember your manners

Say “Thank you” for a job well done and to recognize their effort and contributions to your organization, even if things don’t always go as planned. And don’t forget to say “Please” when handing out assignments, as well. Not only does this make for a more pleasant working environment, but it also shows your employees that you value them as people.

4. Offer flexible scheduling

This can be especially rewarding to a workforce that spans multi-generations, as the younger workers are willing to work split schedules and evening hours, young mothers may have child-care considerations to cover and older workers may be caring for elderly parents. This is especially seen as a reward around the holidays, if you can post a calendar and let workers negotiate amongst themselves to cover all necessary shifts, only stepping in to resolve conflicts, if needed.

5. Present each of your workers...

...with a small gift occasionally – knowing each of your workers well enough to be able to present them with such a small token, based upon their personal interests, and the act of presenting it personally as a reward for their dedication and sacrifice to the mission and goals of the organization, can be a very meaningful reward. This is best done in private, as it often gets quite emotional.

6. Create fun seasonal traditions

Create fun seasonal traditions and be certain to include traditions from the religious calendars of all your employees, not just those of the Christian faith. These types of parties can be quite festive and can broaden cultural horizons, as well, thereby making your work unit more cohesive as they come to a greater understanding of one another by sharing foods and customs.

7. Go out to lunch once a month

Maybe to celebrate the birthdays of all employees born that month, and let the birthday folks choose the restaurant. Getting out of the work setting and talking about anything other than work issues will help you all get to know each other as “real” people.

8. Write up an article about your employee for the company newsletter

Include information about their latest contribution to your mission and goals, but also include personal details about them and their interests, so that everyone can come to know them and how wonderful and valuable they are as a person.

9. Change the balance of the employee’s work....

...so that they have more of the type of work that they enjoy doing and less of the work that they don’t like or are less skilled at performing.

10. Provide a status symbol

Whatever that is in your organization – such as an engraved plaque honoring their achievement, a framed certificate to hang on the wall, a larger work area or office, more or better equipment to use on the job, etc.

Final thoughts

As you can see, employee recognition can be a minefield:done incorrectly, it can do more harm to your organization than good. But if you take the time to really figure out what you want to reward, and then structure your reward system so that you will be encouraging those very mindsets and behaviors, you will be able to develop a system that can be satisfactory to management and employees, alike. And if you add to that the types of extemporaneous recognition as listed above, you will be well on your way to maintaining a happy, motivated and highly engaged workforce.

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