I think the same is true for many employee recognition and reward programs – for many of the same reasons.
3 Reasons Valentine’s Day (and Poorly Designed Employee Rewards) Often Goes Badly
1) It’s a Hallmark Holiday.
Some think a grand romantic gesture given one day a year can make up for 364 days of mediocre behavior. Relationships – whether romantic or employee/employer –require constant nurturing and investment. Employees need to know they and their efforts are valued more often than the day of the annual performance review or Employee Appreciation Day.
I have friends and colleagues who object to Valentine’s Day simply because they don’t appreciate the greeting card and chocolate industries telling them what they should do and when. I have friends and colleagues who feel the same way about Employee of the Month programs and similar. Such programs are as inauthentic as a day dedicated to “love.” Employee recognition should be a natural part of the daily workflow – something employees at every level “just do” when they see a colleague demonstrate superior performance reflective of your core organization values.
2) Appropriate gifts are prescribed.
I’m as much a fan of good chocolate as the next guy, but my friend two offices down would be insulted by such a “gift.” She’s a Type-1 diabetic and has had to be quite careful about what she eats for as long as she can remember. Another common Valentine’s Day gift – flowers – would send some recipients into a allergic sneezing fit. And yet chocolates and flowers are two of the most common gifts given on Valentine’s Day.
This is similar to a common problem of poorly designed employee rewards programs – rewards left to the choice of the HR program manager or the employee’s manager. I’ve heard many stories of well-intended rewards gone wrong:
- The gift card to a steakhouse restaurant given to a vegan employee
- The engraved espresso machine given to a Mormon (who eschew caffeine)
- The iPod given to a deaf guy.
A far better option is to stop listening to what the industry tells you are appropriate gifts or rewards and let your employees choose for themselves, from nearly limitless options.
3) It can create the opposite of the desired effect.
Over the years, have you ever comforted friends who were single on Valentine’s Day? True, many think the construct is ridiculous, but for many others the day highlights their single status in a way that can seem cruel.
The same is true of traditional employee recognition and reward programs that target the elite top 10% of high performers. At the annual awards banquet, it seems the same group of employees continually receives all the accolades. Yet it’s the vast majority of employees in the middle – those who get the work done day-in and day-out – who make is possible for your stars to shine. They, too, are deserving of recognition for their consistently high-quality work.
Are you a fan of Valentine’s Day? How about Employee Appreciation Day or the like? What would you prefer instead?
As Globoforce’s Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.