Although it may seem fairly obvious that receiving praise and recognition from one’s company is a motivating experience, sadly, many companies are failing miserably when it comes to saying thanks to their employees. According to Curt Coffman, global practice leader at Gallup, 71 percent of U.S. workers are “disengaged,” essentially meaning that they couldn’t care less about their organization. Coffman states, “We’re operating at one-quarter of the capacity in terms of managing human capital. It’s alarming.” Employee recognition programs, which became more popular as the U.S. economy shifted from industrial to knowledge based, can be an effective way to motivate employees and make them feel valued. In many cases, however, recognition programs are doing “more harm than good,” according to Coffman.
Take Ko, a 50-year-old former employee of a dot-com in California. Her company proudly instituted a rewards program designed to motivate employees. What were the rewards for a job well done? Employees would receive a badge that read “U Done Good” and, each year, would receive a T-shirt as a means of annual recognition. Once an employee received 10 “U Done Good” badges, he or she could trade them in for something bigger and better—a paperweight. Ko states that she would have preferred a raise. “It was patronizing. There wasn’t any deep thought involved in any of this.” To make matters worse, she says, the badges were handed out arbitrarily and were not tied to performance. And what about those T-shirts? Ko states that the company instilled a strict dress code, so employees couldn’t even wear the shirts if they wanted to. Needless to say, the employee recognition program seemed like an empty gesture rather than a motivator.
Even programs that provide employees with more expensive rewards can backfire, especially if the rewards are given insincerely. Eric Lange, an employee of a trucking company, recalls a time when one of the