The Power of Positive Employee Recognition

How to Provide Effective Employee Recognition

By Susan M. Heathfield

Tips for Effective Employee Recognition

Prioritize employee recognition and you can ensure a positive, productive, innovative organizational climate.  Provide employee recognition to say “thank you” and to encourage more of the actions and thinking you believe will make your organization successful. People who feel appreciated are more positive about themselves and their ability to contribute.  People with positive self-esteem are potentially your best employees.  These beliefs about employee recognition are common among employers even if not commonly carried out.  Why then is employee recognition so closely guarded in many organizations?

Time is an often-stated reason and admittedly, employee recognition does take time.  Employers also start out with all of the best intentions when they seek to recognize employee performance.  They often find their efforts turn into an opportunity for employee complaining, jealousy, and dissatisfaction.  With these experiences, many employers are hesitant to provide employee recognition.

In my experience, employee recognition is scarce because of a combination of several factors.  People don’t know how to provide it effectively, so they have bad experiences when they do.  They assume “one size fits all” when they provide employee recognition.  Finally, employers think too narrowly about what people will find rewarding and recognizing.  These guidelines and ideas will help you effectively walk the slippery path of employee recognition and avoid potential problems when you recognize people in your work place.

Guidelines for Effective Employee Recognition

Decide what you want to achieve through your employee recognition efforts.  Many organizations use a scatter approach to employee recognition.  They put a lot of employee recognition out there and hope that some efforts will stick and create the results they want.  Or, they recognize so infrequently that employee recognition becomes a downer for the many when the infrequent few are recognized.

Instead, create goals and action plans that recognize the actions, behaviors, approaches, and accomplishments you want to foster and reward in your organization.  Establish employee recognition opportunities that emphasize and reinforce these sought-after qualities and behaviors.  If you need to increase attendance in your organization, hand out a three-part form, during your Monday morning staff meeting.  The written note thanks employees who have perfect attendance that week.  The employee keeps one part; save the second in the personnel file; place the third in a monthly drawing for gift certificates.

Fairness, clarity, and consistency are important. People need to see that each person who makes the same or a similar contribution has an equal likelihood of receiving recognition for her efforts.  I recommend that for regularly provided employee recognition, organizations establish criteria for what makes a person eligible for the employee recognition. Anyone who meets the criteria is then recognized.

As an example, if people are recognized for exceeding a production or sales expectation, anyone who goes over the goal gets the glory.  Recognizing only the highest performer will defeat or dissatisfy all of your other contributors, especially if the criteria are unclear or based on opinion.

For day-to-day employee recognition, you’ll want to set guidelines so leaders acknowledge equivalent and similar contributions.  Each employee who stays after work to contribute ideas in a departmental improvement brainstorming session gets to have lunch with the department head.

This guideline is why an “employee of the month-type program” is most often unsuccessful.  The criteria for results and the fairness of these criteria are not clear to people.  So, people complain about “brown-nosing points” and the boss’s “pet.”  These programs cause discontent and dissention when the organization’s intentions were positive.

As an additional example, it is important to recognize all people who contributed to a success equally. A CEO I know perpetually announced employee recognition for major projects at the company holiday celebration.  Without fail, he missed the names of several people who contributed to the success of the project.  With the opportunity for public recognition past, people invariably felt slighted by the post-banquet thanks.