Thoughtless Rewards & Methodologies * Bad Recognition Practices

A week ago on Employee Appreciation Day, I issued a challenge to make recognition an ongoing effort and not a once or twice a year affair. With that in mind, let me offer you a few more cautionary tales on how not to recognize as you make recognition part of every day. Two common ways to wreck recognition is with thoughtless rewards and thoughtless methodologies.

1) Thoughtless Rewards: If people on your team have achieved something truly worthy of recognition and reward, don’t ruin the experience by assuming you know the tastes and desires of all employees equally. This story from the Fistful of Talent blog illustrates my point perfectly. Marisa Keegan tells the story of her brother and his team members who were recognized equally (but not appropriately) for successfully completing a very profitable project. All team members received an iPod from the manager. Marisa’s brother turned to his interpreter and signed, “Are you freaking kidding me?” As Marisa writes: “Who gives a deaf guy an iPod?”

I’ll tell you who as I’ve seen this many times before – a manager who doesn’t want to put the effort into considering the unique preferences of his employees (or leaving the choice up to them) or who wants to be sure the awards are always equal. The thought process goes something like this: “I want to be sure nobody feels like I’ve shown favoritism to someone on the team, so I’ll give them all iPods. Sure, Tom can’t use his, but I’m sure he knows someone he can give it to. Or he can always sell it on eBay.” Laziness or, at best, a lack of training resulted in a talented, highly valued employee looking for a new job.

2) Thoughtless Methodologies: Recognizing and rewarding people for base expectations in the workplace does nothing but demean the value of recognition. A good example is attendance incentives in which employees who miss zero days of work receive bonus pay. Justification for this methodology is: “We expect everybody to come to work every day, but we understand it’s an achievement to do that, so we like to reward that.” (Direct quote from HR manager)

All you’re encouraging with this kind of approach is employees who come to work sick. This does nothing but increase your presenteeism rates, which is more than seven times more costly to employers than absenteeism. Is this really what you want to be rewarding? Instead, you should be practicing behavior-based recognition that recognizes those actions and behaviors that reflect your company values and contribute to achievement of your strategic objectives.

What other thoughtless recognition practices have you seen, or worse, experienced?

9 comment(s):

At March 15, 2010 2:54 PM, Kerry Rustin said...

Many years ago I earned a hard-won bonus from the company. I'd put my heart and soul and energy into my work. Know how I received that bonus? One day I walked into my office and the bonus check was lying on my chair. No one said anything to me about it at all - not my boss, or my boss's boss, or HR, or anyone. The opportunity to give specific praise for my efforts and recognize how those efforts help get the company to it's goals passed with that envelope. I did cash the check. What's notable is that to this day I cannot recall the amount - what I do recall was the missed opportunity to be recognized for my work. Ouch.

At March 15, 2010 2:57 PM, Derek Irvine said...

Ouch indeed, Kerry. What a missed opportunity to sincerely show how much your efforts were appreciated and needed by the organization.

At March 15, 2010 9:51 PM, Marisa Keegan said...

Derek, employee recognition is a topic that can't be stressed enough. Managers have to put the time and effort into recognition in order for it to be successful.

Thanks for quoting my blog!


At March 16, 2010 12:00 AM, Linda said...

This type of superficial reward and recognition is all too common. The bottles of wine to the tee-totaller, the chocolates to the diabetic, the hamper of goodies to the staff member with coeliacs (most of the items contained wheat or gluten) - all of that is meaningless. It serves the opposite purpose, making the staff member feel less valued and less important.

It's not hard to find out more about your staff, what makes them tick, what makes them get up in the morning and what motivates them.

I train on workplace communication, reward and recognition, valuing diversity and workplace bullying. So much can be avoided by really understanding the people that work for you - that spend so much time each week working towards the vision, working within the mission and values - the least we can do is acknowledge them in a meaningful way.

Linda Guirey
The 'Marbles' Expert

At March 16, 2010 9:02 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Marisa, terrific post and thank you for the opportunity to embellish on this important topic.

At March 16, 2010 9:02 AM, Derek Irvine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At March 16, 2010 9:04 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Linda, yes, exactly the point. It takes so little effort to learn about and care for your team members, and the return for doing so is exponential. Additionally, this is why we advocate so strongly for giving the Gift of Choice -- instead of assuming what employees may find to be a rewarding experience, let them choose for themselves! Added benefits of this approach on the global scale include giving employees the opportunity to support their local merchants and economies with locally chosen reward experiences.

At March 25, 2010 11:02 AM, Anonymous said...

My wife recently had an interesting employee appreciation experience by her employer which specifically falls under Thoughtless Rewards. She is employed with a large national home improvement retailer who gave each employee an exclusive care racing book that describes how a well known race driver’s team made their way to the top. For some employees, this may be considered a thank-you gift for their continued hard work, but for many others (specifically my wife) it was found to be a joke.

This appreciation gift topic was discussed among co-workers during their lunch hour. The perception of distributing this book to every employee may be cost effective, but the employer has completely lost touch with the workforces’ motivational desires. The group found this gift to be more of an insult since a majority of the employees are not avid followers of racing. My wife was also not pleased, after being employed with the company for more than three years.

Employers need to take a hard look at what drives motivation and recognition within their workforce. If one group of employees is having this discussion at lunch about being disrespected, how many other locations are having the same conversation? The employer may want watch out for a “Food Fight”.

At March 25, 2010 2:40 PM, Derek Irvine said...

A story we hear all too often, Anonymous. All that kind of "appreciation" effort shows is that you (the boss) are too lazy to learn about your employees. Not as egregious as an ipod given to a deaf guy, perhaps, but just as harmful to morale and motivation in the end.