Why Some Employee Recognition Programs Backfire

The main reason for providing an employee recognition program is to reap the benefits in morale and greater productivity resulting from a program that is clearly defined and in which the employees feel they can earn recognition for exceptional work.

However, some employee recognition programs backfire and result in lowered morale and no increase, or even a decrease, in productivity. What are some of the facts that cause these programs to backfire?

Some of the problems that can result in failed employee recognition programs are inherent in the designs of those programs. One of the most common reasons that few employees are recognized is because the nomination form is too long, too complex or requires extraordinary backup.

If a peer award requires the nominating peer to document in great detail everything an employee did for an entire year, few if any employees will take the time to nominate anyone. The recognition nomination should require backup but that backup information should be reasonable easy to obtain and something that is readily available. The forms should be simple and easy to fill out and very clear as to what documentation is required to ensure consideration of the employee nominated.

Some employee recognition programs are not based on definable, measurable criteria. In these programs, the employees soon begin to feel that the ones who get the recognition are just the bosses’ pets.

Personality, perception and other non-measurable criteria should play a very small part in a recognition program, if any part at all. Quibbling between employees and shunning of employees recognized can be the result of these poorly designed programs.

Another problem with some employee recognition programs is the lack of different levels of recognition. Once an employee achieves a recognition award, there should always be another award to work toward. Even if the employee obtains the highest award the company offers, there should still be incentives to maintain that high level of performance.

Whether this is handled through a pay-for-performance compensation increase process, bonus program or another means, it is crucial to prevent recognized employees from slipping to lower performance levels once they have obtained a recognition award.

Having nominations considered by an unbiased team of peers or management, or a blend of both level of employees, is vital to making an employee recognition program a success.

One method of ensuring impartiality is to remove the names of the nominees and have only the facts available for consideration. Having a nomination review team that is not dedicated to ensuring the right employees receive the recognition is another mistake made in development of these programs.

Having too few employee recognition awards or too many is another mistake to be avoided. Awards should be rare enough to be sought after, but common enough that every employee believes they will earn recognition for exceptional work performance. The higher level awards should be quite difficult to obtain to remain truly meaningful.

To enjoy the benefits of an employee recognition program, begin from the very design of the program to ensure the program will be effective. Avoid a program backfire causing dissention and strife, lower productivity and lower morale.

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