The wrong way to recognise employees

Employee Recognition Done BadlyEmployee recognition is a powerful tool that managers can use to motivate, engage and retain their employee.

Appreciating the effort your employees put in should be simple, but some organisations seem to excel at making it difficult. There’s been a lot written on how to get recognition right, so I thought I would share with you how not to thank employees.


Only allow a select few into the recognition programme

Only allow your best talent, the people you actually want to retain, into your employee recognition programme. It makes sense to recognise your top sales people and those that work in the back office functions, such as finance or IT, don’t need to be recognised because they don’t have an impact on sales.


Make recognition top down

Employee recognition may mean more to employees when it comes from their peers but rather than set up a peer-to-peer recognition programme let senior managers and leaders award the recognition. They may not who know what individual employees do on a day-to-day basis but they’ll know who the top performers are and who need to be recognised for ‘political’ reasons.


Let the committee decide who gets recognised

Set up a committee of senior managers and leaders to decide who gets a recognition award. There should be no selection process for the committee and it should definitely not include staff from all levels of the organisation. The committee should also not include representatives from each department or former recipients of a recognition award.


Thank everyone

Not everyone will get a reward but as a manager you should make sure that everyone in your team gets some form of recognition even if they haven’t done anything to deserve it, just like at primary school. Distributing recognition evenly across the team will mean that the recognition doesn’t have any impact on your employees and it will not contribute to improving employee motivation and morale, but at least it will avoid any hurt feelings.


Don’t think about how to deliver the recognition

Instead of making the recognition individual, use a one size fits all approach to delivering recognition. Don’t at any cost take account of your employees’ individual personalities and preferences such as the recognition being publicly presented, or not. When it comes to recognising your employees chose the method that is easiest for you such as firing off a short email, after all thanking your employees verbally or writing a note is far too much hassle.


Be generic in your praise

Telling your employee that they’ve done a good job should be motivational enough for them. They don’t need you to tell what they’ve actually achieved, why it was important and who benefited from their actions or behaviour. They must already know that, after all they were the person who achieved it.


Keep your own counsel

Don’t let your employees know what the criteria and the process is for being recognised: keep it as secret as possible so employee don’t know if they are likely to get a reward. If employees know the criteria then they might work hard to achieve the standards that have been set and then they might expect to be recognised and you wouldn’t want that, would you? And don’t forget to keep quite about the recognition programme actually existing the first place, on-going marketing of the recognition programme might encourage your employees.


Limit the recognition each employee can receive

You wouldn’t want your employees getting to big for their boots by providing recognition every time they deserved it. By imposing limits you can spread the recognition around evenly amongst the team.


Obviously this is a tongue in cheek way of looking at employee recognition and I would of course recommend that you do the exact opposite: make your employee recognition scheme a mass participation scheme, deliver recognition in a way that means something to the individual employee, be specific in your praise, implement a peer-to-peer recognition scheme and only recognise your employees when it is deserved. And as for imposing a limit on the amount of recognition each employee can receive, have you ever heard an employee complain for receiving too much appreciation?


See how these organisations show their appreciation through peer to peer recognition schemes…

Recognition Video Case Studies

Aviva, Virgin Media and Siemens recognition videos 



John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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