5 Tips for Effective Employee Recognition

Reward, recognize, award, and thank employees successfully

Warehouse worker high fiving colleague on forklift truck
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Employee recognition reinforces and rewards the most important outcomes that people create for your business. Employees gain a better understanding of how you would like to see them contributing in the workplace.

Recognition programs can help to motivate employees in a way that encourages positive approaches to their jobs and their tasks at hand. When developing such a program, make sure to follow some simple standards to gain the most benefit for your firm.

Make everyone eligible

You need to make all employees eligible for the recognition. You should never exclude any employee or group of employees. This is especially important to consider when different employees have entirely different responsibilities. Depending on the nature of your firm's business, you may need to create multiple recognition programs for different departments or different types of jobs.

Define criteria clearly

The recognition must supply the employer and employee with specific information about what behaviors or actions are being rewarded and recognized. The more clearly you design and communicate the criteria for eligibility for the award, the easier it is for employees to perform accordingly. Since this is the performance you most want to see from employees, it's a plus for the employer if many employees attain eligibility. 

Equal opportunity

Anyone who performs at the level or standard stated in the criteria receives the reward. Or, in an occasionally used approach when the affordability of the reward by the employer is a concern, every employee who meets the criteria has his or her name added to a drawing. You must communicate on the front end the fact that one name or three or however many employees you plan to reward will be selected randomly from among the employees who met the eligibility criteria. 

Be timely

The recognition should occur as close to the performance of the actions as possible, so the recognition reinforces the behavior the employer wants to encourage. Monthly recognition might be too infrequent and not reinforcing. Annual recognition, plaques, and gifts reinforce the performance you'd like to see even less effectively. Depending on the nature of your business, rewards can be as frequent as daily.

An element of surprise also is beneficial. If you frequently reward employees with a free lunch, gradually the lunch becomes a given or an entitlement and is no longer rewarding.

Set objective standards

You don't want to design a process in which managers select the people to receive recognition based on subjective criteria. Employees will see this type of process forever as managerial favoritism, or they will talk about the recognition in words such as, "Oh, it's your turn to get recognized this month." This is why processes that single out an individual, such as Employee of the Month, are rarely effective. When recognition is based on objective figures—such as sales totals—it will be much more meaningful and effective.

Supervisors must also apply the criteria consistently, so you may find the need to provide some organizational oversight.