I clearly remember my first award. It was presented in September at an awards assembly at Collier Junior High. I received a certificate for having read 20 books during the summer. I did not bask alone in my glory. There were eight other readers on stage with me, but that did not diminish the lesson that I learned that day: If you work hard, you will be recognized. I still have that certificate in my junior high scrapbook along with the list of books I read.
I still recall the lessons from that award:
• Very little money needs to be spent on an award to make it meaningful. Even at the time, I knew that the paper and time on the part of the school was minimal. The physical award didn’t mean much to me. It was the reminder of what I had done: A psychological bookmark, if you will.
• Being recognized increases one’s self-esteem. At age 13, I was tall, shy and awkward. Receiving the award in front of my peers made me feel good. I remember thinking, “I finally did something!”
• Receiving recognition is motivating. The reading certificate was just the beginning for me. I entered the science fair and won first place in chemistry! I won two more certificates in reading. I entered essay and speaking contests. I didn’t always win, but I found that I enjoyed competition. I went from two A’s (English and social studies), two C’s (geography and science) and two D’s (P.E. and math) to the honor roll. Most of all, I gained a pride that I had not had before.
Sadly, in my many years of working I have discovered that exceptional work is not always recognized. Often the hardest workers go unsung for their entire careers.
The Business Research Lab, a consulting research company, did an extensive study on employee recognition and discovered what I learned in the eighth grade: Employees are more motivated by recognition and feeling part of a company’s mission than they are by salary alone. The study found that the retention of employees is especially affected by the level to which an employee feels rewarded.
Here are nine tips to help with employee rewards:
1. Make a yearly plan in January for your employee rewards programs.
2. Ensure that you include a variety of venues for making awards. Some may be in writing in an employee newsletter. Others may be given at an employee awards function. You may also wish to give on-the-spot recognition.
3. Plan for different types of awards: Reaching set goals. Performing extraordinary tasks. Teamwork. Peer nominated. Customer nominated. Completion of everyday tasks in a reliable manner.
4. Budget for different levels of awards. Make sure that you don’t promise things that you cannot deliver. When I was a textbook sales representative, I was periodically required to work at conventions. We received a memo that we would receive a percentage of all books ordered on the spot. Later, a memo came out that the percentage would be lowered. Reps became so motivated that the higher ups decided they had promised too much.
5. Make the occasion of the award festive and not an afterthought. At one job, I observed a fellow employee receive her 10-year pin at a company luncheon. At the end of the luncheon, the company president stood up and said, “Oh, yeah. Betty’s been with us 10 years. Can’t believe you hung in here that long. Here’s your pin, Betty!” Betty was smiling, but I could see she was hurt. She had received an award for service, but it was given as a meaningless afterthought. Because she worked in a paperwork-intensive job in the home office, she didn’t have the ability to earn the rewards that the field staff enjoyed.
Think how much better it would have been if the company president had taken a few minutes to thank her for her service, mention a few of her accomplishments and ask for a round of applause. Betty quit soon after. I know that it was not just because of the 10-year pin, but it didn’t help her loyalty to feel like an unimportant afterthought.
6. Don’t forget to give recognition for small as well as large achievements. Sometimes, a sticky note with “good job” is just the right note to make an employee’s day.
7. Be aware that some people need more recognition than others.
8. If awards can be earned (through sales, etc.) establish clear criteria in writing so that all understand.
9. Be an equal opportunity award giver. This is especially important in situations where there are home office and field personnel. Usually the latter has a better chance of winning awards through sales and one-on-one customer contact. Don’t forget the heart of your organization.
Employers cannot make workers love their jobs. They can, however, set up an atmosphere where employees are motivated to excel.
One of the means to do this is to reward for performance and to maintain that attitude on a consistent basis.
When I was in the publishing field, I put on a show for the annual sales meeting. Afterwards, the company president came back stage, looked me right in the eyes and said, “Good job!” I can still remember how I felt when he said that. I also remember receiving a stunning maroon leather briefcase for reaching a sales target. Both motivated me, and both told me that I was important to the corporation.
Start hanging those gold stars – your employees deserve them!
Sinara Stull O’Donnell is a professional speaker and writer through Springfield-based SinaraSpeaks. She is the author of “Be The Star Of Your Life: Are You Ready For Your Close-Up?”
Copyright 2005 SBJ. All rights reserved.