How to Engage Employees with a Recognition Program that Works

cartoon of the employee of the month getting to be the first on the elevator; other employees are disgruntled

Any employee engagement training program worth its salt will make the point that recognition for extra effort and results is a critical piece of employees’ satisfaction with their job. 

The “Employee of the Month” above can hardly feel that the reward was worth the work it took to achieve the title. And look at her colleagues…they are not spurred to greater effort for such a meager and irrelevant reward. Recognition programs that are not clearly connected to desired behaviors and outcomes, not fairly managed, and not worth striving for in employees’ eyes can do more damage than good.

To improve employee engagement, you need to do it right. Employee reward and recognition programs should drive the specific behaviors that impact business results and should promote employee engagement in terms of discretionary effort, advocacy and loyalty.

Based upon decades designing and delivering employee engagement training programs, here are our recommendations for establishing and implementing a recognition program that employees will support and value:

  1. Find out what employees want. 
    Get employee input on what kind of rewards and recognition they would find motivating and encouraging. When they help design the program and the rewards to be offered, they are more likely to look forward to being recognized themselves.

  2. Make the process flexible and easy. 
    Some recognition programs are so complex and difficult to implement, they quickly fail; the behaviors to be rewarded are vague and the forms to fill out are lengthy. Behaviors should be simple to observe and the nomination process easy to implement.

  3. Base it (at least some of it) on peer-to-peer recognition. 
    It should not just be managers in charge. The program will be much more widespread and popular if it encourages peers to select worthy colleagues for recognition.

  4. Choose rewards that appeal. 
    Gift cards are overused and, according to many, do not produce results. Instead, how about access to new development opportunities? Or perhaps the chance to attend a high-level leadership meeting? What employee would not seek to enhance their tool set or have a chance to meet some executives and observe how decisions are made at the corporate level?

  5. Tout the program at every opportunity. 
    Give the recognition program the publicity it deserves. Leadership should promote it; managers should support it; employees should welcome and brag about it. Beyond encouraging and rewarding desired behaviors, it can be a great recruiting tool.

Be smart about the recognition program you put in place. A good one will go far to increase employee engagement by ensuring that employees will be recognized if they contribute to the organization's success. A poorly designed and implemented one will do just the opposite.

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