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How to Succeed at Employee Recognition

"Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company."

employee recognition well doneIt is clear that employees crave recognition when their work exceeds their job requirements and their employer's expectations. Time and again we see employee survey results that reflect lower overall job satisfaction because the employees feel their organization does not do a good job recognizing and acknowledging their efforts. However, it can be challenging to establish a fair and effective employee recognition program.

If you are planning to introduce a new employee recognition program or to ramp up your current program, here are several objectives that you should strive to meet:
  1. Link the recognition to the specific behavior or action you want to encourage. This means catching employees performing in a manner you want to acknowledge and recognize - such as handling a particularly difficult customer request or meeting a challenging timeline. You can offer more generalized appreciation through activities such as company picnics or birthday celebrations but these tend to be more useful for morale and team building, rather than prompting employees to go above and beyond the call of duty in the performance of their work.

  2. Ensure that the recognition occurs in a timely manner. Employee recognition is most valuable when tied closely to the desired behavior or action. It can be counterproductive and even insulting to "save up" individual recognition for acknowledgment at quarterly or annual events.

  3. Include both formal and informal forms of employee recognition in your program. A formal reward and recognition program is based on a planned and agreed-upon program of incentives, whereas informal recognition is more spontaneous and flexible. Both types of recognition are critical.

  4. On a similar point, incorporate employee recognition as part of your organization's daily management practices rather than relying entirely on recognition events. Senior management should encourage - and model - employee recognition throughout the organization.

  5. Make it personal when recognizing employees. Whether you are giving someone a spontaneous personal word of thanks in a private setting or participating in a formal presentation of rewards, don't forget the value of anecdotes and emotion when conveying genuine thanks.

  6. Match the provider to the occasion. For the most part, personal recognition is most meaningful when given by an employee's direct supervisor while public recognition tends to mean more when provided by someone at a higher level in the organization.

  7. Use both tangible and intangible forms of recognition. Tangible recognition can take the form of gift cards or other monetary rewards, whereas intangible rewards can include symbolic recognition, extra time off, the opportunity to take on additional projects or a larger or more desirable space in which to work.

  8. Customize employee recognition to the recipient. Recognition is much more meaningful when the form it takes is highly valued by the employee. One employee may value rewards that relate to his or her job, like additional training or more specialized tools, while another employee may desire rewards that relate to his or her personal interests or that can be shared with others.

There are two key themes running through these recommendations - the first is the need to establish an employee recognition program in your organization and the second is the equally important need to offer flexibility and variety in the types of rewards provided, the setting where recognition occurs and the frequency with which employees are recognized. Now learn what NOT to do.


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