We’re all familiar with "Employee of the Month" programs — the pictures, the plaques, the prime parking spots. Grocery stores, fast food outlets, big box retailers, banks and businesses in almost every sector use these programs to acknowledge outstanding performance from a particular team member.
Why is this form of recognition so popular? For one, it’s a public yet casual way to give accolades on a regular basis. Many administrators believe it helps create a more positive work environment and boost employee morale.
And because there are sometimes financial incentives involved, Employee of the Month programs are often viewed as a motivational factor to get the best possible performance out of employees. Even if it’s just a small recognition in front of peers, it’s believed workers will seek the positive attention.
But are these programs really effective or are they actually doing more harm than good? While there’s no definitive answer on the subject, it has inspired debate.
Potential downsides, upsides
Aubrey Daniels, author and recognized authority on management and performance, insists Employee of the Month programs are a waste of time. And while employees may do their best to win the award for a few months, if they aren’t soon given the award, they stop trying and may become resentful.
Another critic is Bob Nelson, author and motivational speaker. Like Daniels, he believes these programs do not bolster long-term motivation among employees, as motivation is too personal a factor to be influenced by a broad and impersonal program.
He does acknowledge, however, that Employee of the Month programs can be useful when they are part of a bigger, company-wide effort to communicate more effectively and use personal, one-on-one interaction to get the best out of employees.
Critics also suggest that recognizing one employee means all other employees have lost the competition.
But many companies find these programs to be an effective way of acknowledging great performance and boosting overall motivation and productivity.
It’s not a win-lose proposition and companies that make this clear tend to have successful programs. It’s also never a good idea to punish employees who are doing great work merely to soothe the negative feelings of employees who are doing only average work. Eliminating Employee of the Month programs, or simply refusing to start one, can send that message.
Doing what’s best
Should your company have an Employee of the Month program? Often, the best way to answer this question is to ask employees what they think.
Gauging employee opinion is not always easy but program surveys, either on paper or online via secure log-in, can directly involve employees in the decision-making process, as can well-planned focus groups.
A successful Employee of the Month program means every employee has a chance to win and every employee can have input in making the monthly decision.
Explaining why a team member has been named Employee of the Month also helps to make the program feel more merit-based and less like a pass-around award every employee will win eventually simply by virtue of holding a job.
This helps the entire team understand why the recipients are deserving, which minimizes any negative "I lost" feelings.
It’s also crucial to understand that Employee of the Month programs are often most effective when used in conjunction with other recognition programs and communication strategies to boost overall employee morale and motivation.
Alan Whittaker is vice-president of sales and marketing at Williams Recognition in Sherbrooke, Que. He can be reached at (450) 926-0555,