The employee of the month award is pervasive in our corporate culture. Websites offer step-by-step guides and sell blank award certificates by the hundred. But is it a good idea?
The system typically works as follows: Once a month a manager, or committee of managers, picks a single outstanding individual as employee of the month. An announcement is made and the employee enjoys a set of benefits typically including an item of memorabilia.
Clearly, it’s important to have a management strategy that creates a culture of highly engaged employees. Engagement is a critical factor in retention and committed employees need to understand that their contributions are both valued and recognized. Engaged employees not only perform better but are also much less likely to consider leaving an organization. In our competitive employment market, it’s critical to keep retention top-of-mind.
So what’s wrong with the employee of the month award?
By definition only one employee is recognized and conversely, everyone else isn’t. Those not picked may feel resentful for being overlooked. The system, by design, rotates through all eligible employees so once an employee has been recognized, she’ll have a long wait until her turn comes again.
Additionally, the selection process for the award is typically opaque. The recipient doesn’t fully understand the reason for the selection. Onlookers also don’t understand the behavior that has been rewarded and that they should copy if they want to be rewarded too.
Organizers strive to be fully inclusive and typically go to lengths to make sure that they don’t appear discriminatory and that everyone eventually gets an award.
So what does a good program look like?
Great award programs provide incentives that are accurate and systematic. Awards are transparent; the recipient understands why they got the award, and the specific behavior that was considered important to the organization. Awards are just; they are given by the people that best identify exceptional contributions.
Awards are given close in time to the behavior that justified them. Rewards given regularly to outstanding employees.
Awards are public; the entire the organization sees who received awards and precisely why. Awards stand as a statement about the culture that the organization aspires to, and the behavior that defines it.
What to do?
Let’s not be too harsh. Employee of the month programs aren’t exceptionally harmful but if you’re looking to quickly build a high-performing culture in your organization, you might think twice before starting one.