The Yukon’s public service is a diverse group of employees. So when the Yukon government — one of Canada’s Top Employers for 2014 — decided to create an employee recognition program, it was immediately clear a one-size-fits-all approach was not an option.
The territory’s government provides programs and services to a relatively small population of about 36,000 residents and 3,000 businesses, spread across 482,443 square kilometres (an area roughly the size of Spain). Beyond the capital city of Whitehorse, the Yukon public service mainly works in rural communities and remote areas.
The responsibilities of government employees can vary as widely as the views from their office windows.
They deliver health care and social services, teach in the schools and support economic development programs, administer the justice system and manage natural resources. They also build and maintain highways and roads in remote areas and under harsh conditions.
But the one thing they all have in common? Everyone appreciates being recognized for a job well done.
Because it has such a diverse group of employees, the Yukon government decided to build a platform for employee recognition to support the creation of different programs to meet the needs of a range of workplaces. The recognition programs cover a broad spectrum, from very simple and informal to high-profile, formal events.
There are corporate programs as well as smaller, unique programs within each department designed to fit the specific culture of each workplace.
All of the programs are built on the foundation of the Awarding People for Excellence (APEX) framework.
A framework for recognition
The Yukon government’s framework for employee recognition was developed by a group of emerging leaders from across the government.
In 2003, a select group of employees participated in an annual leadership training and development program, the Yukon Government Leadership Forum.
Each year, the group focuses on a specific project and works to create a solution.
In 2003-04, the group wanted to work on a corporate project that would benefit all employees.
They saw the development of an employee recognition framework as a way of giving something back to the government’s employees.
APEX provides a basis for all recognition programs in the government, no matter how big or small.
Departments can design their own programs to acknowledge the contributions of outstanding staff members.
The framework sets out guiding principles, goals and objectives.
It encourages the development of specific award programs and establishes the basis for the most high-profile award, the Premier’s Award of Excellence.
It also lays out a set of tips and techniques for staff and managers to informally and regularly recognize fellow employees.
The criteria for all programs under APEX represent what the Yukon government values most in employees: supporting the organization’s goals, objectives and values; providing quality service; leadership; and innovation.
The proposal was supported by deputy ministers’ human resources committee and
government committed money and resources to the program.
Culture shines through
After APEX was officially endorsed by the government in 2004, several awards programs were developed within departments, based on input from employees:
•In the Department of Justice, senior management host a staff appreciation barbecue each summer on the back steps of the Law Centre in Whitehorse.
The department also holds an annual event to recognize employees who have provided outstanding service during the year. The names of these employees are displayed year-round on plaques in a public area of the centre.
•The Department of Community Services has a flexible, easy-to-access program focused on encouraging staff to make recognition a regular part of the workplace culture.
A virtual recognition tool kit is available on the department intranet with templates for cards and appreciation certificates. There’s also an actual, physical recognition tool kit available, and each branch stocks it with thank you cards and small presents, such as chocolates or tickets to a local event. When an employee wants to thank a colleague, he can easily use the recognition tool kit to make someone feel appreciated.
•The Department of Environment has created a range of recognition programs, including an Environmental Stewardship Award recognizing employees who advance the department’s goal of protecting, maintaining and enhancing Yukon’s natural environment.
Under the APEX banner, recognition is happening throughout the government on a daily basis. The framework also supports several high-profile corporate recognition awards: The Long Service Awards, the Aboriginal Employees Award of Honour and the Premier’s Awards of Excellence.
The Long Service Awards are presented each year to employees who have reached milestones in their years of service with the government.
The annual Premier’s Awards of Excellence has a formal nomination process and winners are selected by a committee of their peers. In 2012, the award recipients came from several different departments, communities and professional backgrounds.
The winners included a long-time administrative assistant from a remote office who was described as an indispensable asset to the natural resources and conservation officers who work there. An inter-agency group that responded to an extraordinary flooding event received a team award, along with a group that developed an educational play about drug use that toured Yukon communities that year. Premier Darrell Pasloski presented the awards at a luncheon in Whitehorse.
The newest corporate employee recognition award is the Aboriginal Employees’ Award of Honour. It recognizes Aboriginal public servants who provide outstanding service or contributions.
It builds pride in our Aboriginal workforce and brings attention to their contributions. The awards are presented by the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission at a year-end gathering of the Aboriginal Employees’ Forum, an event that showcases the diverse Aboriginal cultures within the Yukon public service.
Employee engagement surveys tell us recognition is important. We also know different employees prefer to be recognized in different ways. Above all, it’s important that the recognition is meaningful.
Under the APEX framework, the Yukon government has created a robust employee recognition platform that provides the flexibility different workplaces need to recognize employees in the way that’s most meaningful to them.
Sarah Crane is communications manager at the Yukon government’s Public Service Commission in Whitehorse.