Case study: Being a best employer means being serious about recognition

It’s really no surprise that pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly of Canada was ranked the fourth best company to work for in Canada by Report on Business magazine. It’s partly due to the fact that good work and good behaviour are recognized almost daily.

“Recognition has a lot to do with (the ranking). Having a fun place to work will have an effect on recruiting and retention,” says Karen McKay, vice-president of human resources at Eli Lilly, which employs 600 people in Canada and 35,000 around the world.

In addition to swanky awards ceremonies spread throughout the year, employees are reminded about their contributions everywhere they turn. On top of appearing in the print version of the company newsletter, employees who have been recognized for their work or rewarded become instant celebrities throughout the organization by appearing on 24 television monitors mounted throughout the firm’s head office in Toronto.

“Our employees really get a kick out of seeing themselves on (television),” says McKay. The reward and recognition program at Eli Lilly is based on meeting the needs of employees, supporting cultural change, leadership and teamwork, ensuring equity and fairness and providing an incentive approach to achieving desired behaviours and outcomes. The focus this year is in making sure employees have a clear understanding of the corporate goals, and rewarding behaviour and work that is in line with those goals.

The program itself is a combination of the traditional rewards, including stock options — 125 this year to commemorate the company’s 125 birthday — and more creative recognition strategies.

The formal awards ceremonies are popular and it’s usually standing room only, says McKay. Last year, there were 30 nominations for four awards of excellence.

“These awards have a lot of profile. There is a lot of excitement and a lot of involvement.”

But, it’s the spontaneous things that seem to grab employees’ attention, says McKay.

“Employees really appreciate instant things and we encourage our managers to say ‘thank you’ and not just leave a note on someone’s desk. We try to make it a personalized approach,” says McKay.

And that’s why managers are so important in the company’s recognition strategy.

Each manager spends an entire day with the HR department where they are shown all of the tools available to them and how to effectively use them. Some of these tools include pre-printed thank-you cards that can be personalized and $50 gift certificate vouchers that managers can give out.

Above all, McKay says employees are listened to and that is a part of recognizing their contributions and value to the company.

Every three years, the company does a worldwide survey to find out what is on the minds of its employees. Then, management addresses the top three concerns voiced by employees.

That’s how the company’s eight-member Work and Life Task force came together. In a survey three years ago, employees said they wanted a better balance and so management put together the resources to start a task force to address issues of benefits, and other issues. The task force meets every couple of months.

“It’s a way for employees to have their say. To tell us what they want,” says McKay.

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