Recognising recognition – are employee reward schemes a good idea?
44’s Elizabeth Mullenger, Junior Project Manager, discusses the good, the bad and the ugly of employee awards…
Employee of the week was a coveted accolade at my first job – partly because it came with applause, a royal handshake and a £10 gift voucher. Each week, I’d attend the staff huddle, the usual build-up of nervous anticipation gripping my stomach, waiting for the manager to finish droning on about sales. I wasn’t too bothered how many turkeys we’d shifted, or whether the new pair of men’s trousers was hitting target, all I cared about was if someone had noticed me yet – in my defence, I was 16.
Employee award schemes sound like a good idea, right? They encourage colleagues to do well, recognise achievements and help raise a colleague’s profile within their team, but they can also be seen as… well… a little insulting. Or as Forbes put it: ‘How to demotivate your best employees’. New research suggests that instigating award programmes could actually reduce productivity and, crucially, alienate employees who are always consistent.
Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight agrees, asking why companies would put ‘one employee on a pedestal’, leaving many others on the ground. In fact, Pluralsight only instigated a recognition scheme after employees started asking why there wasn’t one, but soon cancelled the programme, citing ‘unhealthy internal competition’.
Put simply, people like to feel valued. In Dean Amory’s essay ‘How to influence, persuade and motivate’, he writes: “Human beings have a psychological need to be respected and accepted. We need affection to satisfy the need to belong, we want praise so we can feel admired, and we want recognition to satisfy our need for personal worth.” According to Perk box, – admittedly, an employee engagement platform – 77% of employees said they would be ‘more productive if their hard work was recognised’. Even the most secure colleague benefits from a bit of reassurance, but is it really a manager’s job to satisfy our emotional needs?
A successful company relies on its people, and those people aren’t going to be driven to work hard if they have no job satisfaction, or feel their efforts are going unnoticed. In ‘Why managers should care about employee loyalty’, Keiningham and Aksoy write “[Often] when the going gets tough, managers focus on the hard numbers, such as the cost of labour, rather than the soft numbers, like the economic value of enhanced employee relationships with customers.”
A little appreciation never did any harm, as long as it’s genuine and deserved. A weekly performance could soon become arbitrary; raising questions about insincerity, or whether one person’s ‘above and beyond’ is another person’s everyday. However, given the right way – timely, personal and genuine recognition can inspire, motivate and encourage more than any gift voucher.
While 16-year-old me didn’t ever make employee of the week, last year I was awarded ‘Rising Star of 44’ and frankly, that meant a whole lot more.