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Employee Recognition Programs Gone Wrong

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Aug 4, 2014 12:19:00 PM

employee recognition programsMost business leaders will nod in agreement when you say that employee recognition is an important factor in engagement and retention.  But, not all of them are attuned to the emotional and social factors that make employee recognition so essential. This is obvious when you look at some of the mistakes they make in their approach to recognition.

Financially Focused

If you give an employee a bonus or gift card for doing exceptional work, there’s almost no chance she’ll turn it down, but it might not be the most effective form of recognition.  In fact, research shows that if an employee receives a cash bonus and a note, she quickly spends the cash, but keeps the note for a very long time.  Money comes and goes, but the satisfaction and pride that come from being appreciated lasts much longer. 

Ridged and Rote

Providing recognition on a certain day and time because that’s the day you provide employee recognition can be seen as insincere and meaningless.  It also diminishes the opportunity to spontaneously recognize excellent work in the moment.  Giving managers to tools to spot extraordinary effort and the power to applaud it while it is happening is a much better approach.


In order to be effective at encouraging desired behaviors, employee recognition must be specific.  It’s nice that Bob is the Employee of the Month, but what exactly did he do to achieve it?  Being clear about this helps others understand what they can do to be more like Bob.  It is also important to tie the recognition to the business need the employee advanced. 


Employee recognition programs can quickly turn into morale killers if they are perceived to be unfair.  If one group or team is constantly recognized while others aren’t, resentment can build quickly.  This happens frequently with sales teams often being the recipients of recognition because their efforts are easy to measure and have such a direct impact on revenue.  People in every area of the company should be recognized publically for remarkable achievements and effort.

If you want to be sure that your employees are engaged and willing to stick with your company for a long while, try to avoid employee recognition programs that fall into these traps.  Keep in mind that recognition is the activity, but appreciation is the emotion you are trying to convey.  Asking yourself, “Will this action result in an employee who feels appreciated?” will go a long way toward making sure your program is on the right track.

Post a comment below and tell us what characteristics of employee recognition programs you've seen that were either awesome or awful! 

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Employee Recognition

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