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The dangers of employee of the month

Tried and tested doesn’t always work best – especially when it comes to reward and recognition schemes.

Far from boosting employees’ motivation and productivity, some traditional approaches can be divisive; threatening rather than reinforcing teamwork. So what tactics can backfire? And what are the best ways to fire up your team?

Ensuring your employees feel recognised and valued for their work, and the contribution they make to the success of your business, is not an optional extra – or something nice to do when things are going well. It should be a top priority in your working culture – not only for keeping staff happy, motivated and loyal, but also as a vital way of reinforcing the actions and behaviours you most want your people to repeat, and the business outcomes this generates.

Time to rethink

Unfortunately, many organisations have got stuck in the rut of more traditional ways of recognising success, whether it’s Employee of the Month or Salesperson of the Year. This tactic may work in a few environments, such as call centres, hospitality and retail. But be warned; more often than not, these kind of approaches create division and bad feeling, often leaving management struggling to ‘balance out’ the awards across the year. In many cases, employees themselves are actually uncomfortable about nominations that single them out in this way, and would prefer more team-led recognition.

Lots of organisations send out birthday cards to employees. A nice gesture, yes – but in most cases, people know it’s simply a routine action carried out by someone in the HR department, not a heartfelt message from their manager or the owner of the business.

Suggestion boxes to encourage ideas, for which employees receive rewards, are also commonplace in many organisations. Sadly, all too often these end up stuffed behind the reception desk, or unused on a shelf in the staff room. The best ideas schemes are the ones which link directly to the values and aims of the business, and change every quarter – or regularly enough to grab people’s attention and create some real momentum.

Make it meaningful

Of course money is important to most of us and can be an important motivator for some, but financial rewards rarely help to create a sustained culture of value and recognition.

Becoming more involved in social good at a corporate level, and then making sure employees have time to be involved in community, environmental or charity projects can be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone. For example, driving instructors at the Walsall-based National Express Training Centre have the opportunity to work in Tanzania training bus drivers through the Transaid charity. “Members of the team get a great buzz out of working on these projects both internationally and in the local community,” says Mark Simcox, Head of Training/Driver Recruitment, “and National Express is happy to enable their involvement.”

Keep it personal

It may sound obvious, but it’s best to start by working out what your people actually want. Some will value a £25 voucher to recognise good work, or a chance to take their partner out for a meal – while others would prefer a day off work. Some call centres have introduced an area for play and relaxation, so that people can be rewarded with time out in a fun environment. But be warned – if you don’t do your research or rush to offer rewards without fully thinking them through, it’s all too easy to misfire.

For example, one company rewarded a team who had been working late nights on a major project with the offer of a night out together – including a free bar. In fact, all people wanted to do was to have some time out to catch up with their families after so many late nights at work.

Simple things that always work

Of course, one size can never fit all. What works in a call centre won’t do in a dental practice. But remembering to thank people always works. Take a lead from the CEO of a West Midlands Building Society who, every month, asks managers to give the name of at least one member of their team who deserves recognition, and then makes a point of going around the office and thanking them personally over the next four weeks.

Make sure your managers understand that part of their role is to recognise and value their team. They can do this in a variety of ways, from regular feedback to celebrating success as a team, as well as providing training and progression opportunities, and the chance to get external qualifications.

Small, personal approaches will work in most environments – whether it’s a letter of thanks sent to an employee’s home address, flowers, chocolates or vouchers for going the extra mile.

Responding to positive feedback from customers can be a launchpad for recognition, but remember that only a proportion of your employees are likely to be customer-facing, and everyone should have a chance to be rewarded for their efforts.