Re-imagining Employee of the Month

It’s common amongst management to recognize employees for their high work ethics. One of these methods is the all-to-familiar “Employee of the Month.” You can see these displayed in some stores or offices along a wall with a picture of the the employee’s face and usually a quote dictating why they’re there. However, there can be more negative side effects than positive side effects of the reward.

A study at Harvard Business School discovered that the most productive workers and the most consistently punctual workers – suffered a 6-8% decrease in productivity after the award was instituted. It also shows that a low likelihood of winning may be ineffective because employees do not habituate good behavior, and instead lead to a highly strategic response from employees.

From a psychological standpoint, this can breed jealousy amongst teammates. The winners of the award may be considered a “stuck up” or “playing the politics game.” In return, it reduces team cohesiveness and chemistry.

The award negatively impacts non-winners too. The criteria for nomination are typically vague and unclear. They may sacrifice quality or even falsify nominations or recognition for the award. Even worse, those who perform at a high rate and even strive for a job well-done may never achieve the award, or be consistently outperformed. As a result, their ego is deflated and their productivity/quality decreases.

This isn’t to say the award is a bad idea. For example, the employee recognized gets recognized by everyone, which may include the owner and CEO. When we evaluate the purpose we determine that it is to reward and recognize employees for exemplary service.

So, what can I do instead?

We want to award employees for being a good example to their teammates and going above and beyond their call of duty. We have to keep in mind that we don’t want a reward system that could be gamed or falsified.

Positive feedback is the best approach. Recognize it sooner rather than later, and be specific on the appraise: What did they do and why do they earn recognition? Be surprising! If the owner, CEO, director, or whomever pays a surprise visit and personally thanks the employee, then this is more beneficial than any award. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything, monetarily speaking. However, don’t be afraid to provide constructive feedback should any issues arise. Not everyone is perfect all the time.

If the goal is to promote or advertise the team, then a board of recognition is worth it. For example, rather than having specific employee names mentioned, set the team as a whole.

For example:

Instead of “I would like to recognize Ray for stepping in and taking the time to help me understand the process.”

Say “I would like to recognize a person on this team for stepping in and taking the time to help me understand the process.”

This provides less pressure on the individual and reinforces teamwork. However, this shouldn’t replace recognizing the employee personally for their efforts either.

This is a link to a MIT published article on recommendations for employee recognition programs for alternative ideas.