Employee Recognition Gone Wrong: Two Examples of How Not to Do It

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© HitToon.com - Fotolia.com

Every so often, I’ll write a post about bad employee recognition practices I’ve heard of or read about. Today’s stories made me cringe.

Don’t make people recognize themselves

The husband of one of my team members (we’ll call him Jim) works for a very large, global organization. He often works on a project with an extended team of engineers and other technical personnel. At the end of one such project recently, the team was pleased to learn they’d brought the contract in on time and under budget.

Due to the terms of the contract, this means Jim’s company earned more money. To the company’s credit, they decided to share some of the additional earnings with the team members.

The way leadership went about doing so, however, leaves much to be desired. Jim – and the rest of the team members – were asked to complete forms themselves explaining why each thought he or she deserved to receive a piece of the award.

In essence, they were asked to recognize themselves for their efforts. How much more effective could this have been if the relevant managers had taken just a few minutes to show they paid attention to the good work being done by their team members and filled out the forms instead?

“Losing” has no place in employee recognition

I’m often asked about the role of gamification in employee recognition. There can be a limited, appropriate role, but usually the way it’s done only serves to destroy any benefit from the program itself.

Case in point: United Airlines’ new Outperform Recognition Program. Apparently, United customers are encouraged to use a mobile app to recognize United employees for good service. Then, United will select only 16 “winners.” It doesn’t matter how many people were recognized for their excellence, only 16 can “win.”

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For the rest of those recognized, they hear that as: “If they are the winners, then I’m a loser.” Is that the message you want to reinforce? Especially in a company currently on the hot-seat for losing a 10-year-old child and demonstrating a complete lack of caring at every level?

Let me put it this way – if an employee says to you, “If I did work well enough to be recognized for it, why am I loser?” then your recognition program itself is the real loser.

(For another story of an airline getting it thoroughly wrong, read this post from Paul Hebert.)

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


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