Does Employee Recognition Improve Productivity?

Employee recognition improves productivity if it is done correctly. If it is done poorly it may have the opposite effect intended and actually decrease employee productivity and morale. Most companies have some kind of employee recognition program, with over 80 percent reporting that they have made an effort to reward employees, according to the WorldAtWork non-profit management studies organization.

People are motivated by praise and rewards. The rewards do not have to be tangible to be appreciated. However, a formal recognition of a superior effort generally makes an employee feel he or she has moved from the ranks of the ordinary into someone who is worthy of notice. The same process can also be a demotivator when applied with inappropriate guidelines or steps.

Time in Service Award

Several employee programs may operate at the same time. The easiest to run and acknowledge is a simple length of service award. Employees are recognized for their service; usually at five-year intervals. A service pin, ring, or plaque is given, and sometimes a more formal gift is awarded. Because this applies to everyone equally it is a well-received recognition token that is universally enjoyed.

Sustained Superior Performance

Accident Free Pin by Black Forest LTD
Accident Free Pin by Black Forest LTD

Another type of employee recognition award is for sustained superior performance. This is often an “employee of the quarter” or “year” award. If there are no guidelines, specific behaviors, or accomplishments that the employees are aware of it can quickly become a game of favoritism and prejudicial decision-making. Without a clear sense of how someone can compete for the recognition, the employees may consider it going to the greatest “suck up” as opposed to someone who deserves it. It is fair for the company to change the criteria for the award, such as one year to give it for sustained performance in increasing productivity and the next for a person who has demonstrated the best awareness of the company’s safety programs. However, any criteria must be clearly communicated by the company and understood by the employees. A clear path to the award gives the employees a reason to compete for it.

Spot Award

Occasionally, employees may go far beyond the requirements of the job to do something truly spectacular. They might bring leadership or value to the community that reflects favorably upon the company’s name, Or, perhaps he or she provides a lifesaving activity to another within the company at the risk to their own. A grateful company who benefits from the activity often gives a spot award. The deed should be of enough sufficiency that the general employee is going to be wholeheartedly behind the recognition for it. The trend for these awards is that they become devalued over the years as the criteria become looser and looser. Employees begin to expect them as a matter of course as some view their own deeds through lens that are perhaps not as highly tuned as the company’s.

Peer to Peer Award

The peer-to-peer award is given by the employees’ co-workers, and is considered the most democratic award. It is generally reserved for those under management level. Each employee gets his or her say in whom they believe is the best employee for that period of time. The selected employee is given recognition that may include tangibles such as a cash gift, company stock, or extra time off. Other types of awards for peer-to-peer recognition that are low-cost but appreciated are special parking spots for a time period, and requesting that the employee consult with the training or human resources department to help them develop their ability to hire the best people.

Group Award

Many companies are moving away from individual awards to department or division awards in an effort to build teamwork. The same concerns about the clear communication of how the award process works, who is eligible for it, and specifically how it is won, are still important. Cost reduction, safety awareness, customer service, payroll management, and employee participation in the suggestions box are all types of ways to judge small units. Tying the employee recognition to how well one member influences another member to do his or her job can put hundreds of eyes looking at the bottom-line productivity instead of just a few manager eyeballs.

Company Should and Should Nots

No employer recognition program works unless and until the employees buy into it. They look for specifics that mean that a company is honestly trying to accomplish something instead of putting a thin veneer of “management-speak” over an important issue. As noted, clear-cut criteria that gives everyone an equal chance is critical to the success of any program. It is okay to have specifically defined award programs that affect only certain departments, such as sales, but leaving everyone else out in the cold on a permanent basis hurts the entire operation.

Define those who are responsible for the program and who will be making the final decision. Spread the program around with multiple people having authority over the outcome so that the employees know that it will not become a “favorites” decision. Keep the timing reasonable. The award should not be announced in December and then the benefits given in April because it fits the accountants’ needs best. Communicate the recognition in a meaningful way. A press release is the minimum expected on all awards. A permanent plaque wall or a trophy display case make a powerful statement about the value of the award. So does the involvement of the highest level management. In the military, even the lowest award is given to a member in front of the entire assembled ranks. It may not be possible to do this in a company, but there should be an effort to make everyone know who was awarded what, and why.

Listen to the employees of a company. They will tell if the employee recognition program is working or not. If they speak disrespectfully of the awards, it says everything the company needs to know about the need to retool the program.

Source: All recognition award pins shown in the pictures within this blog post belong to Black Forest.

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