Occasionally, I like to share with you the horrible stories I hear of employee recognition and rewards gone wrong. While my cache of stories is, sadly, fairly limitless, today I’ll share just two.
If You Have to Tie Employees Down to Give Them Their Reward, It's Not Rewarding
Just in case this wasn’t clear, forcing employees to participate in prostitution is not, in fact, rewarding. Yes, this really happened, as reported here:
“Latin America's biggest beverage company Ambev has been ordered to pay $US25,000 to a worker who was forced to attend prostitute parties as part of a manager's incentive program. …
“A court statement says incidents with prostitutes happened at least 10 times in 2003 and 2004. At one point the worker was tied up at work and forced to watch pornographic films and a stripper performed in his office. The statement described the worker as a married evangelical Christian. The worker's manager used the services of prostitutes to reward salesmen who met their goals.”
Setting aside the salacious aspects of this story, this reward fails because the manager was more focused on what he would like as a reward than on what his employees would like – a classic failing in poorly structured employee rewards programs.
If the Employee Has to Wait 30 Years to Be Appreciated, It’s not Rewarding
In a recent issue of Human Resource Executive online, Susan Meisinger related her husband’s story of a potential “early retirement” scenario. After 30 years with his organization, her husband was offered early retirement or the potential of downsizing in the near future. When he chose early retirement, he was surprised to find out the company deemed him a “key employee” and would delay his early retirement by another year. As Susan says in the article:
“My husband's first comment when he discovered the company wanted him to stay: 'Gee, it only took 30 years for them to tell me I'm indispensable.'”
Susan goes on to tell another story of a senior leader calling out her husband in a meeting to publicly thank him – for the first time – for his valuable service.
This is the problem of the annual review writ large and another common failing in organizations – assuming employees know they and their efforts are valued because, after all, they’re still employed.
Think how much more this conscientious employee could potentially have given over the years if just a few words of appreciation had come his way.
What Is Rewarding? Simple Appreciation, Frequently and Specifically Given
What do employees want, then? Cathy Missildine put it quite well recently in her blog:
“What I hear from the employees is the need to feel valued. Employees want to hear, ‘I appreciate your hard work and you hanging in here through our tough times.’ As a manager, recognition is easy and doesn't cost a thing. Yet, we get so busy we forget to acknowledge our rockstars. I also believe those employees that are trying and are making progress need recognition too. (future rockstars) So, I am not of the camp that only rockstars need the love. I am of the camp that if rockstars don't get the love they will go get it from your competition.”
It really is that simple:
- Tell employees they and their work is noticed, valued and appreciated.
- Recognize and reward employees for those efforts in ways that matter to the employee, not to you.
- Do so regularly. Don’t wait for an annual review, a milestone anniversary, or retirement!
What’s the worst rewards or recognition story you’ve heard or experienced yourself?
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.