Thanks for a job well done. Can we clean your house for you?

Canadian HR Reporter talks with HR professionals about recognition programs, practices and philosophies at their organizations
By David Brown and Lynn Wintercorn
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/11/2004

“It used to be you got recognized because you get a paycheque every two weeks. What more did you want?” says Jocelyn Muir, manager employee and organization effectiveness for Edmonton-based utilities provider Epcor.

But there is a growing appreciation that people work best when there are personal acknowledgements of good job performance.

The goal at Epcor is to create a culture of recognition where people freely and regularly thank co-workers for their efforts.

The company conducted a focus group specifically on recognition. Employees were asked how they would like to be recognized and the number one answer was being personally thanked and appreciated. Employees like the pats on the back, the handshakes and the thank yous, Muir says. And recognition is meant to be a two-way street at Epcor, which means employees are encouraged to recognize their supervisors for a job well done.

The main formal recognition program at Epcor is the Milestone Achievement Awards, which are similar to long-service awards but focus more on contributions rather than time on the job.

At the annual awards luncheon, the employee’s supervisor is asked to prepare a presentation of no more than two minutes that describes the employee’s contributions during the previous five years. At each session they try not to have more than 15 or 20 recipients, otherwise the ceremony can run too long.

There is an online catalogue for employees to pick a gift but that is less important than the presentation itself, says Muir. When it’s done right, having the supervisor stand up in front of the crowd and talk about what the recipient has done for the organization in the last few years becomes much more meaningful than the award itself, she says. Epcor gives supervisors guidelines to help them put together a meaningful presentation.

The program was launched in 1997. Since then the provider for the employee gifts was changed because the original selection was a bit traditional and limited, Muir says. The new provider offers more lifestyle gift options and a wider selection to appeal to as many employees as possible.

Aside from the Milestone Achievement Awards, there are less formal things like recognition cards which can be given out from time to time.

And late last year Epcor had the “Great Cleanup Caper,” a special program to clean up a work backlog in one of the customer care groups. Goals were set for each month and, in keeping with the theme of the initiative, rewards were linked with cleaning. At the end of the project each person received a certificate for four hours of housecleaning. It was an acknowledgement of all the extra time employees put in, says Muir. Yes, they were getting paid overtime, but the housecleaning tells employees the company understands the extra time at work is time taken away from an employee’s home life.

When work is the reward

Employee recognition is a little unusual at Richmond, B.C.-based information systems provider MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), says Allison Guld, recruiting manager.

There are all the standard programs that most companies have, but when you are recognizing highly skilled, highly motivated engineers — working on the Canada space arm or projects to save the rain forests — for the most part they tend not to get too excited about tokens of appreciation to say thanks for the good work. The work itself is a reward, she says.

Employee surveys have shown people feel good about being a part of MDA because of the interesting work and the opportunity to work with great people. Most of the work at MDA is organized in projects, and employees feel most valued and appreciated when they are selected for projects by leaders and peers.

Because of those unique circumstances, there is not the same pressing need for recognition programs, she says. “We don’t tell them they are great because they know they are great, and they know that because they select each other. They value each others’ opinions and that is where the recognition comes from.”

Even though the primary source of recognition is imbedded in the work they do, MDA has formal programs in place as well. There are long-service awards starting at the five-year mark and whenever it’s in order, managers can give employees something extra in the middle of a project.

Beyond that, MDA has its PEER (promoting excellence through employee recognition) award program that recognizes employees for efforts above and beyond normal job responsibilities, says Guld. When an employee wants to nominate a co-worker or group, she selects a category for an award, completes a nomination form that details the impacts of the contribution, the time frame and the relevance and then gathers signatures for the nomination.

For individuals, the categories are:

•team contribution;

•leadership;

•mentorship;

•impact/innovation on the business; and

•customer relations.

For teams, the categories are:

•team contribution and leadership;

•impact/innovation on the business;

•customer relations; and

•collaborative achievement.

A PEER award selection committee of five executives reviews the nominations and chooses the people or groups that receive the awards, which are given out once a quarter. Recipients can choose from a number of different awards, such as:

•theatre tickets;

•tickets to a sporting event;

•ski tickets;

•concert tickets; and

•dinner for two.

Recognizing temps and all

Although for several years staffing firm Manpower Inc. had a recognition program for its temporary employees, it wasn’t until roughly two years ago that one was instituted for in-house staff.

The goal of the Powerful Performers program is to acknowledge those permanent employees who contribute to the corporate vision, says Jo-Anne Yanuziello, director of HR for Manpower.

The program is three-tiered. The first level is the Thank You award, which acknowledges day-to-day job performance above and beyond the duties expected. The recipient chooses from a range of gifts with a value of $25.

The Special Recognition award, worth $100, recognizes employees who have excelled in ways such as providing exceptional service or finding methods of reducing costs.

The contributions of those who receive this distinction are then reviewed by the executive team. From this pool, anywhere from one to four employees are selected quarterly for the highest level, the Vision award, which carries a $500 value.

Those chosen have really stretched themselves beyond their area of responsibility, making a direct and positive step toward reaching the corporate vision, says Yanuziello.

Manpower has seen tangible improvements in performance since the program was instituted and very clear goals have been attained, she says. As a result, there has been a positive effect on employee attitude and on business.

Because employees are getting direct feedback and acknowledgement of their efforts, they’re taking the initiative and expanding their role to the next level, she says. This, in turn, leads to more satisfied clients and improved business.

The key to this success is that employees are aligning individual responsibility and efforts to the broader goal of the organization, Yanuziello says. The program has been so beneficial that Manpower is continuing to enhance and develop it. In fact, it was recently expanded to include in-house temporary employees.

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