Although it may seem fairly obvious that receiving praise and recognition from one’s company is a motivating experience, sadly, many companies are failing miserably when it comes to saying thanks to their employees. According to Curt Coffman, global practice leader at Gallup, 71 percent of U. S. workers are “disengaged,” essentially meaning that they couldn’t care less about their organization. Coffman states, “We’re operating at one-quarter of the capacity in terms of managing human capital.
It’s alarming. ” Employee recognition programs, which became more popular as the U. S. economy shifted from industrial to knowledge based, can be an effective way to motivate employees and make them feel valued. In many cases, however, recognition programs are doing “more harm than good,” according to Coffman. Take Ko, a 50-year-old former employee of a dot-com in California. Her company proudly instituted a rewards program designed to motivate employees. What were the rewards for a job well done?
Employees would receive a badge that read “U Done Good” and, each year, would receive a T-shirt as a means of annual recognition. Once an employee received 10 “U Done Good” badges, he or she could trade them in for something bigger and better—a paperweight. Ko states that she would have preferred a raise. “It was patronizing. There wasn’t any deep thought involved in any of this. ” To make matters worse, she says, the badges were handed out arbitrarily and were not tied to performance. And what about those T-shirts?
Ko states that the company instilled a strict dress code, so employees couldn’t even wear the shirts if they wanted to. Needless to say, the employee recognition program seemed like an empty gesture rather than a motivator. Even programs that provide employees with more expensive rewards can backfire, especially if the rewards are given insincerely. Eric Lange, an employee of a trucking company, recalls a time when one of the company’s vice presidents achieved a major financial goal for the company.
The vice president, who worked in an office next to Lange, received a Cadillac Seville as his company car and a new Rolex wristwatch that cost the company $10,000. Both were lavish gifts, but the way they were distributed left a sour taste in the vice president’s mouth. He entered his office to find the Rolex in a cheap cardboard box sitting on his desk, along with a brief letter explaining that he would be receiving a 1099 tax form in order to pay taxes on the watch. Lange states of the vice president, “He came into my office, which was right next door, and said, ‘Can you believe this? ” A mere 2 months later, the vice president pawned the watch. Lange explains, “It had absolutely no meaning for him. ” Such experiences resonate with employees who may find more value in a sincere pat on the back than in gifts from management that either are meaningless or aren’t conveyed with respect or sincerity. However, sincere pats on the back may be hard to come by. Gallup’s poll found that 61 percent of employees stated that they haven’t received a sincere “thank you” from management in the past year.
Findings such as these are troubling, as verbal rewards are not only inexpensive for companies to hand out but also quick and easy to distribute. Of course, verbal rewards do need to be paired sometimes with tangible benefits that employees value—after all, money talks. In addition, when praising employees for a job well done, managers need to ensure that the praise is given in conjunction with the specific accomplishment. In this way, employees may not only feel valued by their organization but will also know what actions to take to be rewarded in the future.
Questions |1. |If praising employees for doing a good job seems to be a fairly easy and obvious motivational tool, why do you think | | |companies and managers don’t often do it? | |2. |As a manager, what steps would you take to motivate your employees after observing them perform well? | |3. |Are there any downsides to giving employees too much verbal praise? What might these downsides be and how could you | | |alleviate them as a manager? | |4. |As a manager, how would you ensure that recognition given to employees is distributed fairly and justly? |