According to a 2012 survey by Bersin & Associates, employee recognition programs were not as motivating as once thought. Most employees viewed traditional employee recognition programs as just another “top-down” management scheme. They saw it as a public judgment, by management, of a small handful of employees, without peer input or opinion. Unrewarded employees often feel the system is biased or unfair. In the end, rewarded employees feel manipulated or targeted (by management) and the whole process creates an “Us versus Them” environment which can be counterproductive.

By contrast, organizations giving regular or routine “employee thanks” have been found by some researchers to out-perform their traditional counterparts, give employers a better ROI and improve retention of high performing employees. These ‘new generation’ approaches include drives to:

  • Make recognition easy and frequent. Recognizing outstanding achievements during regularly scheduled conference calls within departments or business units.
  • Give “awards” for specific, results driven successes. This isn’t a typical “employee of the month” award, rather an award for a specific action or service during a specific time or event.
  • Allow peers to nominate or drive rewards program.
  • Share stories about great employees by highlighting their achievement via an internal newsletter or your company blog (such that your customers see the value your employees are bringing to them).
  • For a better boost in employee engagement in their employee recognition program, tie recognition to your company’s mission, vision, purpose or goals.

In my personal experience, what employees value most is their supervisors taking an interest in them and taking the time to mentor them. If you see an employee with untapped potential, take them under your wing and share information about the organization that will help them grow professionally, encourage them to take on new challenging projects, give them additional responsibility and if your personal budget permits take them out to lunch.  When your employees bond with you and know that you have their back, they will go the extra mile and be more motivated to perform. Also publicly recognize their performance every opportunity you have so they are a role model for others.