One evening, an elderly couple was waiting in the parking lot of the Calgary airport for their ride. The man was in a wheelchair and the woman was struggling with their luggage — and they seemed a little disoriented. Two airport employees went up to the couple and helped them with their belongings, used a personal cellphone to contact the person picking them up and waited with them until their ride arrived.
Along with receiving many thanks from the elderly couple, the employees were also recognized by their co-workers and rewarded with 1,000 points each as part of the company’s recognition program, says Cynthia Tremblay, senior director of HR at the Calgary Airport Authority.
“We wanted to create a culture where employees were empowered to recognize their peers for going above and beyond,” she says. “It has nothing to do with their job at the airport but it’s taking that extra time to help someone else out.”
Through the YYC Miles recognition program — based on the airport’s locator code — each employee is given 1,000 points per month to recognize co-workers. When an employee sees a co-worker go above and beyond his role, she fills out a form online saying why she’s recognizing him and how many points he is receiving — which is completely at the discretion of the employee, says Tremblay.
Variety of initiatives recognized
Some of the initiatives employees have been recognized for include:
• staying late on the Friday afternoon of a long weekend to resolve a maintenance issue
• volunteering at an external organization
• helping an employee find all the information she needed for a project
• taking the time to search for a more cost-effective mail courier
• helping a confused passenger find his way around the airport.
One point is equivalent to one cent and points can be accumulated for a wide range of gifts from the YYC Miles online catalogue, starting at 1,250 points for a movie ticket all the way up to 450,000 points for an LCD TV, says Tremblay.
“They can get gift certificates at local restaurants, a new set of luggage, an iPad and there are also things for experiences,” she says. “I just bought a lunch cruise along the New York harbour and that was really awesome.”
The program was developed in June 2009 by a volunteer employee committee in response to a low score on the statement: “I feel my contributions are recognized and valued” from an employee engagement survey, says Tremblay.
“We did some employee focus groups (asking), ‘What can we do to help address this issue?’ and the recognition program was the idea that came out of that. It is very much employee-driven,” she says.
The committee monitors the program to make sure people are nominating each other for appropriate things, but the program itself is fully automated online through a third-party service providerso there is very little maintenance, says Tremblay.
Since it was developed, YYC Miles has had a positive impact on the organization’s culture, she says. When filling out a recognition form, employees need to specify which “pillar of excellence” the co-worker displayed at the time — dedicated people, responsible investing, great partnerships, operational efficiency or Western hospitality.
“It recognizes employees for going above and beyond but also for displaying one of our brand pillars, so it’s a really good way for us to entrench our brand within the organization and have employees display our brand in everything that they do,” says Tremblay. “We saw it as a really great culture-building opportunity for us.”
A recent survey on the program found 89 per cent of the organization’s 190 employees like being recognized by their peers and 80 per cent like having a program where they can recognize their co-workers, says Tremblay.
The program also helps with employee morale.
“Employees are able to recognize who they want and pick gifts, and a lot of employees are saving up points to get that really big gift, so it creates a sense of excitement.”
When the program was launched, the employee committee made a promotional video based on the TV show The Office and showed it to all employees at a company retreat, says Tremblay.
To make sure they are continually promoting the program, the committee writes regular articles about it for the company newsletter and mentions it in meetings.
Contests promote program
To further promote the program, the company hosts a variety of contests — such as Commuter Week, a Calgary-wide initiative where employees are encouraged to ride their bicycles to work or carpool — and gives points to employees for participating. Although this is stepping away from the program’s peer-to-peer format, it helps build the program and keep it top-of-mind for employees, says Tremblay.
“We average about 50 per cent usage on a month-to-month basis, and my understanding is that is typical, but we always want that number to be higher,” she says. “It’s an ongoing challenge so that’s why we try to have contests and things like that to make sure people are aware (of the program).”
The company’s service award program is also part of the points system, with employees receiving 10,000 points for five years of service, which increases by 10,000 points every five years thereafter, says Tremblay. And new hires also receive a bonus 1,000 welcome points.
Going forward, Tremblay is working to include a safety module in the program so employees can be recognized for good safety practices such as wearing appropriate protective equipment or participating in safety training, she says.
Having a recognition program like YYC Miles in place helps the Calgary Airport Authority really stand out and hold its own in the war for talent, says Tremblay.
“We’re a not-for-profit so we cannot compete with the oil and gas industry on compensation, there’s just no way, so we need to look for other differentiators,” she says.
“A recognition program that makes employees really feel valued and empowered helps us when we’re working in a city like Calgary where we have some really stiff competition.”
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