9 Do’s and Don’ts for Workplace Recognition

By Bob Nelson

Successfully recognizing your employees (and even colleagues or bosses) in the workplace can be challenging. Following are some concepts you should implement, along with a few real-world examples of companies that, let’s just say, struggled to do it right!

  • Do make recognition timely. Don’t wait to recognize; make sure you give praise, rewards, and kudos immediately after the accomplishment occurs, or as soon as possible after.

  • Do make recognition sincere. People can spot insincerity a mile away. Don’t insult your employees by giving fake or half-baked accolades. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

    A federal employee working in Kansas reported that an employee of the month was announced at the management staff meeting, even when the winner wasn’t present! “If anybody sees him,” someone would always say, “let him know he got this award.”

  • Do make recognition specific. Since recognition is supposed to encourage workers to keep doing a certain behavior, blanket statements don’t work. Be personal and make the recognition specific to the accomplishment.

    One busy executive, upon hearing for the umpteenth time that one of his employees did not feel appreciated, stormed out of his office and announced in a loud voice to the entire department: “From now on, I want everyone to assume they are doing a good job unless you hear otherwise from me!”

  • Do make recognition special. When someone does something special, the recognition should also be something unique and different!

  • Do recognize people with what they value. Remember, one size doesn’t fit all. Know what people like, and reward them with that (and don’t reward them with things they don’t want)!

  • Do think recognition through. Especially if you have a diverse workforce, take time to plan and ponder before you launch a recognition effort (especially if it’s kind of big).

    A pharmaceutical company gave all its employees around the world watches to celebrate a company anniversary. While many employees appreciated the gift, others were less than thrilled.

    Said one, “I already have several watches, but the company gave me another one. What I really would like is a software upgrade, but that’s not in the budget. I wonder if I can hock this watch to purchase the software I need?” A Spanish affiliate of the firm wondered why Americans were so obsessed with time, and the Chinese affiliates were confused, since in their culture timepieces are only exchanged to grieve a death.

  • Do be proactive in recognizing employees. Don’t wait until it’s too late; make recognition a part of your culture today.

  • Don’t recognize those that don’t deserve it. Giving recognition to everyone, regardless of whether it was deserved, dilutes the message and effect.

    Hearing an employee complain that someone who had recently been recognized was just “doing her job,” one manager announced that henceforth recognition in the department would only be given if everyone could get the same recognition at the same time so no one would feel left out.

  • Don’t criticize publicly. Praise in public, but give criticism in private.

    One insurance company singles out low-performing salespeople at its quarterly awards ceremony and has them get up in front of the company’s 800 other sales reps and explain why they didn’t do better in their jobs.