I’ve been sitting here munching on lunch, looking out the window, and thinking about how dreary the weather is. Don’t get me wrong; autumn is my favorite time of year, even when it’s raining, though it tends to make me a bit reflective. I guess that’s why, when I worked as an HR Director, it’s when I looked back at the year and thought about the programs I’d like to tweak, as well as the programs I wanted to plan for the coming year.
One of the best programs I implemented—and one I had a lot of fun with—was an employee recognition plan. It was a multi-tiered program that recognized short-term as well as long-term employee achievement. It also had a peer recognition element that, well, frankly, got a bit out of hand after awhile, but more about that some other time.
Recognition programs award employees for past behavior rather than drive future behavior and, as a general rule, have no predetermined goals or performance levels that employees are required to achieve. Also, they’re usually budgeted at the organizational level instead of being budgeted by individual departments and focus more on recognizing behavior that supports the organization’s overall objectives.
If you have one, or if you’ve decided to set up your own recognition program, kudos to you! If you don’t have one in place and no plans to set one up, read on to learn more about recognition programs. Or, even if you already have one, keep reading to find a tidbit or two that might help you improve your existing program.
Before you start planning your program, think about why you want to have a recognition plan in the first place. Is it to encourage a positive culture within the organization and improve the work environment? If so, you’ve hit the nail right on the head of the first item on WorldatWorks’ list of recognition plan objectives. Next up on the list is reinforcing desired behaviors, followed by formalizing organizational appreciation and last, but by no means least, is increasing retention.
Creating a culture where employees feel valued is, as Martha Stewart might say, a good thing. I think it’s pretty safe to say that valued employees are generally happy employees and happy employees tend to be more engaged, higher level performers. For that to happen, though, recognition should be tied to specific behaviors valued by the organization. It helps if you have a documented recognition program that not only reminds everyone that recognizing achievement is important but also provides a guideline for employee behavior.
Whether your organization has a formal recognition program probably isn’t going to be the deciding factor for an employee contemplating a job hop, but it doesn’t hurt and it can be one of the elements in a job offer that entices a candidate or two to join up.
Types of recognition
WorldatWork cites four basic types of recognition, including: spot awards, managerial recognition, nominations, and organization-wide. Not to be confused with nondiscretionary bonus plans, recognition programs usually have criteria that is somewhat more general and allows more leeway for managers to determine qualifying behavior.
Spot awards can be fun. One of the best things about spot awards is that they are presented soon after the achievement, allowing the recipient, and everyone else, immediate line of sight from behavior to reward. These awards can be for individuals or teams. They don’t have to have a large dollar value but should be appropriate to the achievement. For example, a team award could be a group lunch at a local restaurant or a team happy hour at the local pub. Individual awards could be a store or restaurant gift certificate or movie passes, maybe even a move gift card that provides enough for popcorn.
Managerial recognition is just what it says, managers recognizing employees for outstanding performance or maybe for achieving a job-related certification. The dollar value for these is often a little higher than a spot award but doesn’t have to break the bank. A certificate, plaque, or trophy can be a good option, especially if it comes with a gift certificate for dinner-for-two at a swanky eatery. Two airline tickets can be a nice reward for an employee’s accomplishment but can be a bit of a double-edged sword. For example, if the employee can easily afford the rest of the trip expenses it can be received positively. But, if the employee can’t afford all the extras for the trip, then award something that won’t result in out-of-pocket costs for the employee instead.
Peer-to-peer recognition is considered a ‘nomination award’ since one employee nominates another for the award. Use caution, though, and require supervisory approval of each award—in advance. A review committee might be a better option for the approval process. It takes the pressure off the supervisor to approve all nominations or be considered a spoilsport. Yes, employees do talk and, if a nominator prematurely spills the beans to the nominee and then there is no award, employee morale can take a nosedive.
Everybody likes organization-wide recognition because it often comes in the form of a year-end bonus. Keep it discretionary, though, or plan on recalculating overtime pay for hourly employees.
Forms of recognition
WorldatWork specifies four forms of recognition including: cash, tangible award, symbolic award, and verbal recognition. We discussed some of these above but let’s take a closer look.
Cash awards don’t have to be, well, cash. For instance, they can be equity in the company or stock appreciation rights. Tangible awards represent a cash value to the recipient. For example, the airline tickets mentioned above or merchandise from the company store. Symbolic awards can include certificates, plaques, trophies, keepsakes, or company logo items. Sometimes, verbal recognition is the most appreciated by employees and it doesn’t really ‘cost’ the company anything. Everyone likes to receive sincerely expressed appreciation for a job well done.
A couple of things to consider
Recognition is a great employee motivator but can backfire if employees can’t pay their bills. If you’re not paying employees adequately (market price is a good rule of thumb) for their positions, chances are their personal financial needs are not being met and they may not be able to appreciate a recognition award. Some may even become resentful of the program.
Formally recognizing employees for positive behavior provides a great opportunity to get everyone together for a feel good moment. Even folks who don’t receive an award—this time—can look forward to the possibility of being recognized another day.
Recognition. It’s a win-win for employees and the organizations that practice it.