Recognition Programs: Getting the most bang for your buck

Over the last 30 years corporate recognition has changed considerably but, not always for the better. As our world has evolved into the technological age, the personal touch of face to face and phone call interactions have given way to texting and email. While most corporations see the need for some type of recognition program, which is proven to aid retention, companies typically gasp at the cost. With minimal understanding of how to run an effective program, many organizations are reaching out to marketing or recognition companies to tell them how to do it.

One company may propose a points program, while another may propose a company intranet personalized website, where peers and manager can log in and virtually recognize anyone within the organization. While both ideas have merit, are they truly helping the bottom line when it comes to employee retention and job satisfaction? Statistics indicate that both ideas have only a minimal effect at best.

Point programs promise to solve the headaches associated with administering a program by securing a recognition company who will develop an online system of keeping track of employees who win points. Once an employee has secured enough points to choose their reward, they go online and choose anything from an ashtray to a vacuum cleaner. The argument for this type of recognition is that the employee will have something they can use that is practical and the employer is not encumbered with the duty of having to select an award item and present it. While there are a small percentage of employees that prefer choosing their own award, the majority of recipients feel foolish picking out their own recognition item and feel underappreciated when having to do so.

Truly effective recognition programs and understanding the basic human need to be recognized as an individual, has been pushed aside in the name of efficiency and cost effectiveness. Some of the complaints I have heard over the years from recipients of such programs are:

So I guess this makes it easy for my manager to avoid going out of their way to present anything to me.

Pretty chintzy, man! I get points for a job well done and my wife gets a new vacuum.

Streamlined award programs administered through an outside organization has produced multiple comments like the following from recipients:

I got my award in the mail for 10 years of service and then the brass plate with my name on it came the next day with instructions on how to place the plate on the award base myself. Imagine that! It went straight into the trash. So much for recognizing me for 10 years of hard work!

Megan M. Brio, Author and Lecturer on Human Resources makes a valid point in a 2013 Forbes article:

You have to mean it when you give employees recognition. This is my chief worry about automated recognition systems –they remove the human touch so important to effective recognition. Can we find a smart balance? Can we make social HRTech software work?

Don’t get me wrong; monetary rewards certainly have their place. Profit sharing, gift cards and cash can be motivating but there is no substitute for the honor of receiving an award selected by your peers or manager. Something branded and personalized speaks to the value of the individual and their key role in the success of the company. Again, Megan M. Brio, makes a good argument:

People are motivated by more than money. People crave positive feedback, recognition they put in extra effort, acknowledgement of leaders and peers, the glow that comes with knowing an achievement has been seen, appreciated and celebrated. I love this place. But I’m also realistic as I look at ways leaders can recruit and truly nurture current and future talent.

Financial reward is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the equivalent of recognition. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s a short-term solution. Neither is constant praise for average work. Recognition is a key tool in employee retention programs for a reason: people need more than constructive feedback and positive affirmation. They need recognition of extra effort. They need to “feel” it. This will never go away as a basic human need.

There is no substitute for a beautiful, personalized award presented to the recipient in front of his/her coworkers. Mankind’s need for meaningful recognition is age old and does not change with technology. There are examples dating as far back as 460 B.C. In the ancient account of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai; Mordecai exposed a diabolical plot to kill King Xerxes to the king’s guard. Mordecai’s recognition came in the form of receiving a royal robe and crest, which, was placed on his head. He was then paraded throughout the city on one of the King’s horses and a representative of the king proclaimed before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’ Whether in ancient times or today, there is no substitute for meaningful recognition.

As a result of impersonal recognition programs, more businesses and corporations are seeing a greater loss of retention. Many employees are moving on to greener pastures and organizations who understand the need for personable recognition are gaining valuable employees.

February 29, 2016 by Nora LaMar
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