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How to Provide Positive Employee Recognition

One key to career development is keeping employees motivated. It’s not always easy for busy prospective leaders to take time out to acquire new skills as part of a formal professional development plan. They need to be recognized for their hard work at their “regular” jobs, as well as efforts they’re making down the career development path. One reinforces the other.

Employee recognition includes a varied group of offerings and incentives that, taken as a whole, are designed to celebrate all sorts of employee achievements. In some ways, you might see them as feel-good measures, but the benefits of recognition go beyond simply inspiring good will. Letting employees know that you value their contributions also increases productivity and innovative thinking.

But recognition can’t be a rare event. It has to be a positive feedback loop woven into each and every day.

Now’s the time to put an employee recognition program in place. How do you want to run it? Even the best program doesn’t run itself. You need to make sure that you have a workable foundation. Here’s a checklist to get you started:

  • Make sure that people know about it. One of the key duties of the person managing a recognition program is to publicize it. Mention it in your employee communications, such as an employee magazine or company intranet.

  • Set up a budget. You’ll need to ensure that your programs are affordable to the business. Don’t forget that money and tangible rewards aren’t everything to employees. It’s a good idea to set up a formal program, while also encouraging managers to informally recognize employees when and how they see fit. Some managers may overlook doing this if they know the company has an official program in place.

  • Make your recognition efforts an investment, not an expense. Any program you set up shouldn’t be a line item like a company retreat, but rather part of your operating costs that can’t be cut.

  • Make sure that it’s aligned with your overall business strategy. For instance, if your goal is to cut expenses, reward people who suggest and implement money-saving ideas.

  • Encourage line managers to weave it into their regular schedules. They should be encouraged to make recognition a habit rather than the exception. Even simple thank-yous can work wonders.

  • Make it fair. If only a few select employees are regularly singled out, that can breed resentment and jealousy among others. Spread the recognition as equitably as possible.

  • Make it mean something. Bonuses, raises, and other financial rewards are always welcome, but they’re not the only forms of recognition that carry real weight. Extra time off, a complimentary meal, and other means of saying “thanks” or “job well done” can mean just as much. Whatever you do to recognize performance, be sure that the recipient will genuinely appreciate it.

  • Make recognition go beyond a slap on the back. However rewarding your words may be, sometimes it’s nice to spice them up a bit. Picture the employee going home and telling her spouse: “Virginia stopped by to say thanks for the great job on the contract. And, check it out — dinner for two at that new Thai restaurant!”

  • Reward only exceptional achievements. An employee who’s always willing and available to make a fresh pot of coffee is one thing; a salesperson who sets a record for deals in a given month is something else entirely. Offering recognition for every little thing dilutes the impact of the reward. Establish guidelines that truly separate the exceptional from other activities that don’t necessarily warrant special attention.

  • Solicit employee feedback. Ask staff whether they value your recognition program. If they want changes, what would they be? For instance, what sorts of rewards do they feel really mean something? The greater the connection people feel with the program, the more involved they’ll become.

  • Connect recognition to professional growth. While promoting existing employees isn’t always possible, it can demonstrate your long-term commitment to employee growth and development when it is possible.

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