How to Provide Recognition That Motivates Your Employees

Office colleagues congratulating happy woman excited by good news online
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Have you ever been the employee of the month? Do you have the best website according to a peer vote? Did you get that great parking spot next to the company door for a week or more?

Did you win the teamwork award for the quarter, but you're not quite sure why? Chances are, you're a victim of employee recognition that was not motivational and most likely done wrong.

Maybe you felt good about the recognition, but co-workers are unlikely to share your joy. Those employees who are not nominated for recognition, and who don't understand the criteria for the bestowal of the reward, are generally negatively impacted by the employee recognition.

This is especially frustrating when the employee believes their contribution was equivalent or even better. Or, the employee recognition becomes a joke (must be your turn to be the employee of the month) or a demotivator (I didn't get nominated so forget it when you need help again sometime).

Voted honors are generally a popularity contest, especially when solid criteria for assessment have not been established. Or, if the time necessary to provide an educated vote is unavailable or uncompensated, few will bother to participate.

Motivational Employee Recognition Traps

You can avoid the employee recognition traps that:

  • Single out one or a few employees who are mysteriously selected for the recognition
  • Sap the morale of the many who failed to win, place, or even show
  • Confuse people who meet the criteria for employee recognition yet were not selected
  • Seek votes or other personalized, subjective criteria to determine winners.

Employee Recognition That Is Motivational and Rewarding

Employee recognition is one of the keys to successful employee motivation. Employee recognition follows trust as a factor in employee satisfaction with their supervisor and their workplace.

Informal recognition, as simple sometimes as saying thank you and please, should be on every employees' mind every day. Supervisors and coworkers, especially, have the opportunity to praise and encourage best efforts daily. These tips will help you successfully provide more formal recognition that is valued, valuable, and motivational.

  • Determine what behaviors your workplace wants to recognize. In a client company, a team decided to recognize teamwork, going the extra mile, and years of service. Another company recognized employees for their contributions to the success of their coworkers.
  • Identify and communicate the criteria by which the proposed recipients will be judged or assessed so that people are clear about what they need to do to qualify for the recognition. (You have to understand what the clear expectations are if you are to have any chance of meeting them. The clearer, the better.)
  • Announce and communicate the recognition and the criteria that you have established for the awards. Give employees the opportunity to ask questions, discuss, and share the meaning of the criteria.
  • Design and communicate the process by which employees will be selected for recognition so that all employees clearly understand the selection process. They will also want to know who will decide, based on the communicated criteria, who will win the awards.
  • Allow time for people to qualify for the recognition.
  • Every entry that qualifies for the recognition should receive the recognition.
  • If financial constraints are an issue, either present recognition amounts you can afford. Or, announce all eligible employees, publicly praise them for their contribution, and then, place all names in a drawing to select the lucky winner.
  • Magnify the value of the recognition by these methods: name the employees publicly, place employee names in the newsletter, send out a company-wide email announcement, and so on.

Is it ever okay to nominate people or projects and just vote? In my book, only for trivial, fun events and prizes. Nothing of significance should ever be treated as a popularity contest. An example?

One client company, in a clean room setting, has groups of employees who decorate external windows surrounding the manufacturing area each holiday season. All employees vote for their favorite window, and a nominal gift goes to the teams that decorated the top three windows.

Effective, fair, employee recognition is motivational for both the employees receiving recognition and their coworkers—done correctly.