By: Kayla Bell on August 27th, 2015

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3 Common Problems with Employee Recognition Programs

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Wait a minute… aren’t HR professionals typically writing about how important employee recognition is within an organization? 

If you are a little thrown off by the title, let me ease your mind, this blog will, in fact, reiterate how employee recognition plays a vital role in employee engagement and retention.

The problem with employee recognition is that many organizations are making significant attempts to recognize employee achievements, but they’re not quite hitting the mark to make it meaningful. Just providing a reward is not enough for employees.

As organizations review or implement employee recognition programs, we sometimes forget to look at the impact these programs have on an employee’s feeling of success and value within the organization. 

Below are three common missteps that organizations make when administering an employee recognition program.

How to Solve the Top 3 Problems with Employee Recognition Programs

  1. Employee recognition isn’t personalized. Leaders often recognize their employees in the same manner that they want to be recognized. Have you ever stopped to ask your direct reports how they would like to be recognized? Some individuals like hand-written notes, some value public recognition, and others just need a simple thank you to affirm they are appreciated.  It’s important to understand how your employees want to be recognized and to personalize your efforts; this will make your employees feel truly valued.
  2. Employee recognition is not communicated. As an HR consultant, I’ve worked with clients that have great recognition ideas such as spot bonus programs and newsletter shout-outs, but the recognition doesn’t get past the receiving employee.  Publicly announcing the accomplishments of your employee(s) validates that you appreciate them.  It also encourages other employees to exude the behaviors that are being recognized by leadership. Talking about those behaviors and how they are tied to your core values can reiterate the culture you are cultivating. In addition, public recognition reminds employees of their opportunities for recognition and rewards, which in turn increases the level of effort people put into their performance and engagement.
  3. Employee recognition is inconsistent. It’s important to determine what behaviors and actions you want to recognize and reward, and then follow through with actually recognizing and rewarding these behaviors consistently. If recognition is sporadic, two things are likely to happen: 1) employees may feel that recognition programs are unfair and managers show favoritism, and 2) the organization will not encourage the desired behaviors and actions through an inconsistent recognition program.

Strategic employee recognition programs link the actual performance being recognized directly to the organization’s core values and strategic objectives.  By tying recognition to your organization’s objectives, you can focus on accomplishments that matter both to employees and the business. 

If you don't have a successful employee recognition program, consider enhancing your practices to incorporate these essential aspects of employee recognition:

  1. Tied back to your core values and goals;
  2. Tailored delivery to the individual;
  3. Measured, recorded, and analyzed;
  4. Universal, consistent and centralized for easy reporting; and 
  5. Clearly defined process for recognition.

It’s never too late to implement a program. Just remember, make sure your recognition efforts are strategic, personalized, consistent, and communicated across the organization. From our experience designing recognition programs as HR consultants, employees typically want fairness, clarity, and consistency. If this does not exist in your recognition program, you will not see positive results and employees will lose faith in the value of the program. 

The best way to measure the return on investment of your employee recognition program is by looking at specific metrics such as:

  • productivity;
  • customer/employee retention;
  • employee engagement;
  • return on profit margin; and
  • return on equity.

Organizations that use these metrics when analyzing their recognition programs found an increase in overall employee engagement.  The key to creating a truly effective program is to ask your employees for feedback.  You will be surprised at how many simple and inexpensive opportunities employees will suggest. And lastly, when employees feel more empowered to succeed and that they will be recognized for those behaviors, they are less tempted to leave the organization.

For additional resources on engaging employee recognition programs, check out these articles: