Doing Employee Recognition the Right Way

The power of employee recognition in achieving organizational excellence is universally recognized in many types of organizations. Recognition drives productivity and reinforces and rewards positive behaviors and outcomes. The primary purpose of employee recognition is to foster engagement and to see tasks and accomplishments that garnered credit repeatedly done over time. It creates a clear picture of the right culture that leads to the attainment of goals.

Through the eyes of employees, recognition makes them see themselves as significant contributors to organizational objectives. It boosts their morale and improves their self-worth. As a result, they want to give more of themselves, their time, effort, and ideas.

Employee recognition is also beneficial to the organization as a whole.  Not only does it improve productivity, but it also increases loyalty that leads to higher retention. In healthcare, it contributes to improved patient care.

Most healthcare organizations already have an existing staff recognition program in place, from informal appreciation per department to institution-wide annual ceremonies. Most managers who work on employee engagement strategies would ask themselves, “Are these programs enough?” But the right question to ask themselves should actually be, “Are we giving recognition the right way?”

Doing the process right maximizes benefits and ensures that it does not become counter-beneficial. What makes a powerful employee recognition system?

  • It should be timely and immediate

The annual appreciation ceremonies are occasions to look forward to. They are fab and formal. The problem with annual tributes is that staff wait one whole year to be appreciated. That is quite a long wait.

Throughout the year, many staff may have performed excellently in their tasks, but the wait kills the fervor during the long haul. The recognition should be rendered as close to the accomplishments as possible so that the recognition reinforces the noteworthy actions and behaviors. Annual recognitions are good, but too infrequent and not reinforcing enough. The ceremonies need not be totally scraped out, but more timely and efficient strategies should also be in place. Teams can do it on a daily basis. Departments can do it weekly or bi-monthly basis.

  • All employees should be eligible for recognition.

Technically, all employees are eligible for recognition if only they perform well enough, but recognition based on annual performance reviews creates a pyramid where performers belonging to the elite upper part of the triangle are the only ones excited. The bulk of the workforce gets excited over the food, the attire and the party, all of which are fleeting and does very little for organizational benefit.

Furthermore, this type of recognition creates a rift between achievers and underperformers wherein the latter, knowing that appreciation would never come their way, further shies away from making significant contributions. Remember that the mediocre are the bulk. Now you have a few motivated achievers and many average- to below-average performers. This is not good at all.

What you need is a system that enables smaller unit, task-based recognition so that every team or department could appreciate even minor accomplishments. This system penetrates the area of the mediocre and consequently inverts the pyramid. In time, you’ll have many achievers making both big and small wins.

  • Your recognition system should be objective, and feel objective enough

Performance appraisals are designed to be mostly objective, but to most employees, they are either inefficient or inaccurate. Recognition should provide specific information about the behaviors or tasks being rewarded. The criteria for eligibility should be communicated crystal clear so that employees can perform accordingly.

The consistency and regularity of checking, follow-up, and recording of positive behaviors and actions are a must for recognition systems to be highly beneficial. Employees feel that appraisals are accurate if their daily or weekly accomplishments are noted and appreciated, and then properly recorded over time. Much like report cards in school, remember how you felt an injustice overload when you gave it all in exams and projects only to get a below average grade on your report card? You would not want that happening in your organization.

Consider having a form of digitalized recognition system that could be done on a daily basis and which managers could easily track. Not only does this strategy provide real-time feedback, but it could also keep an accurate recording of accomplishments that could make the selection of awardees more objective.

  • Incentivize also informally, randomly with an element of surprise

It is good to give incentives not only in the form of monetary rewards such as a raise, but also through simple tokens, customized thank you notes specifying the task or behavior appreciated, or rewards that are random with an element of surprise. Recognition need not be expensive and formal all the time. Consider rewards done through drawing lots from a box filled with pieces of paper that have employee preferences previously discussed written on them. For example, in a meeting, a manager asks employees which simple rewards they want, and the manager brings out a list of approved items that were earlier suggested by staff: from as simple as a chocolate bar, to as posh as perfumes or as practical as a gift certificate.

Employee recognition is a powerful tool that improves organizational performance. Having programs that award positive behaviors and actions is not enough. They should be done in a manner that equally maximizes benefit for both the employer and all of the employees.