This is How Companies Sabotage Their Employee Recognition Process

March 2 was Employee Appreciation Day and while many companies do a great job of recognizing their employees, others are ineffective and their employee recognition programs backfire. Instead of putting a little more effort and creativity into their recognition process, these companies retreat to older programs that aren’t successful in rewarding, recognizing or motivating employees.

According to Brandon Hall Group’s rewards and recognition research, the majority of organizations implement their rewards and recognition program to improve employee engagement (78 percent), show appreciation (77 percent) and improve culture (70 percent). However, many companies don’t follow up with employees afterwards to see if the program is creating the desired result. What do their employees think about the rewards and recognition program, and how is that program influencing their perceptions about their employer?

When was the last time you audited your program? (You DO have one, right?) Are you sure it’s as effective as you need it to be? Or, are you unintentionally sabotaging yourself with rewards your employees don’t care about and recognition that is hollow?

The first step is to avoid these common problems with employee recognition programs:

1. Not taking time to create a worthwhile program

The starting point of many organizational recognition problems is poor planning. Some action-oriented companies tend to take a ready-fire-aim approach to planning. However, where a systematic plan is highly desirable for individual and team recognition, it is essential for organizational recognition. Start with the end in mind of what you are trying to accomplish and work backwards from there.

2. Sending mixed or confusing messages

Without realizing it, management often sends a baffling array of mixed messages when they are not clear what behaviors and actions they want to recognize and reward. It ends up confusing employees rather than guiding them. When performance expectations are unclear, employees waste a tremendous amount of energy trying to figure them out. The result often ends up being various individuals and groups, which are supposed to work together, end up working at cross-purposes.

3. Using subjective recognition

Too often, we give recognition based on subjective impressions, which are notoriously inaccurate. Subjective recognition is uneven at best, and wrong and unfair at its worst. It is important to use carefully defined objective criteria that aligns with organizational goals. Checklists can be helpful to identify behaviors and results that are worthy of recognition.

4. Not being timely with recognition

Delay is the enemy of effective recognition. One of the challenges of organizational recognition is how to keep it streamlined and non-bureaucratic so that people can receive timely recognition. If every form of recognition needs management approval, many—if not most—recognition opportunities will be missed. Avoid recognition decisions that have multiple levels of approvals and always allow some forms of recognition that require no levels of approval at all. As great as it is to receive recognition from management, peer recognition is often stronger. Create ways to allow peers to call out their co-workers with only one department manager or human resources manager to approve it before you broadcast it to the company.

5. Giving rewards that are not rewarding

I have seen many instances in which the awards given in a recognition or incentive program or contest created more problems than they solved. Deciding what employees most value without checking with them is a sure way to increase your risk of missing the motivational mark.

6. Using inappropriate recognition

Sometimes recognition is too small or too large. Telling someone in the hallway that they did a “nice job” at the completion of a two-year project is as inappropriate as giving an employee-of-the-month a cruise.

7. Acting as if one size fits all

Another basic mistake companies make is to provide—out of a false sense of fairness—the exact same recognition or reward to every employee. Few things are as unfair as the equal treatment of employees who do not do equal work.

8. Losing relevance and freshness

Managers and organizations often make the mistake of expecting a recognition program or activity to remain effective seemingly forever. Even the best programs need to be reevaluated and renewed from time to time—preferably sooner rather than later. As a general rule of thumb, the shelf life of a typical recognition program today is closer to 12 months than 12 years. Find out what’s working and what’s not—and adjust the program accordingly.

9. Using entitlement recognition

Employee recognition should be special, not routine. Too often recognition becomes part of the landscape. When recognition is routinely expected, it loses its value and its authenticity.

While employee recognition is not rocket science, it is something that you must handle with care and sincerity. Otherwise, it will have the exact opposite effect that you want it to have. I once worked at a company where we did a total rebranding effort that lasted several months. Workdays easily dragged on for 14 to 18 hours for a handful of us as we rushed to make our deadline. We successfully pulled it off and, in the end, some (but not all) of us got a congratulatory certificate of achievement and a small three-figured bonus. The branding team was not pleased with this reward.

For ideas on how to recognize employees, check out my recent post here. There are ideas you can use all year long along with many that don’t cost much, if anything, at all.

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