Unleashing the Power of Employee Recognition: A Leader’s Role

At a time when companies are looking for ways to reduce costs and become more productive, employee recognition can be a powerful force for engaging employees and unleashing their full potential. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for managers to underestimate the power of employee recognition. They treat it like a warm fuzzy concept instead of a tool for rewarding and reinforcing employee actions and behaviors that lead to more and better work. Since managers play an important role in implementing recognition programs in the workplace, here’s a look at some of the key essentials for making those programs successful.


Managers must be crystal clear in laying out the terms and conditions of an employee recognition program. This means spelling out the objectives of the program clearly and concisely, including all requirements for qualifying for recognition along with any time frames that may apply. Any vagueness in explaining the program will only cause employee confusion, diluting the program’s overall effectiveness.


By definition, an employee recognition program must be fair. In other words, all employees should be eligible for recognition. Managers who “play favorites” with employees to any degree need to recognize that by so doing they are effectively killing their employee recognition program by undermining its credibility. Favoritism also exacts a toll on employee morale. Creating a level playing field where employees know they can be fairly recognized for setting and achieving worthwhile performance goals is a great motivator.


Along with being fair to all employees, a recognition program must be relevant to all employees. To put it in simple terms, the days of the gold watch are dead. Today’s managers must take into account the various values and expectations of a multigenerational workforce and then determine the proper reward accordingly. One approach managers can use to get a better feel for the types of rewards that will best motivate employees of various age demographics is to ask them in an anonymous survey. Not only will this result in a more relevant reward, it will also help to show employees that their managers genuinely care about them.


When an employee exhibits an action or behavior that deserves attention, recognition will be much more effective if given as soon as possible. After all, we live in a world where technology has made instant gratification more the rule than the exception. Managers who postpone recognition for a job well done clearly fail to recognize the power that a quick and appropriate show of appreciation has to motivate both the recipients of praise and their coworkers to continue in the pursuit of excellence. While every effort should be made for managers to give recognition personally and in real time, if that is not feasible a personal phone call or letter expressing the manager’s appreciation should occur as quickly as possible.


Studies have shown that showing genuine appreciation in small and personal ways can do more to increase employee morale, motivation, and productivity than public gestures involving money and gifts. After all, cash comes from corporate funds and gifts can easily be purchased online. But a personal gesture such as a handshake, a pat on the back, or a hand-written note expressing thanks for a job well done can have a powerful and lasting impact.

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