Article: Is it time to kill Employee of the Month Program?

Employee Engagement

Is it time to kill Employee of the Month Program?

The Employee of the Month Programs are founded in the competitive spirit of the humans the one that propels them to do better than others.
Is it time to kill Employee of the Month Program?

Employee Recognition is undoubtedly one of the many challenges that the HR Department of an organisation faces today. In fact, the 2015 Employee Recognition Report (USA) stated that 39% of HR professionals listed it as one of the top three concerns, alongside turnover and succession planning. Organisations are trying to come up with innovative recognition programs to keep engage with their employees periodically. But what’s alarming is the number of employees who actually feel recognised and appreciated for the work that they do. Consider this, a 2012 Deloitte survey states that “Nearly 75% of organizations have a recognition program (despite the fact that only 58% of employees think that their organizations have recognition programs)”. 

This article aims to discuss one such Employee Recognition Program, The Employee of the Month Program, and ascertain whether it is the best approach to make your employees feel valued. The Employee of the Month (or Quarter) Programs pick out (usually) one top-performing employee and make them feel valued through a variety of approaches – putting up their name and photo in the office, giving them cash incentives or better commissions, gift cards, a day off from work, or other innovation or company-culture specific perks. The rationale is simple: the desire to outperform others, win the praise, and get the extra incentive will help achieve the business goals faster as most employees will work harder and more efficiently. Furthermore, such programs are also believed to build loyalty among the top performers and retain them longer, and a feeling of unison, and promote a healthy relationship between the management and the employees. 

The Employee of the Month Programs are founded in the competitive spirit of the humans – the one that propels them to do better than others. The fact that anyone who works hard enough can win the accolade makes the playing field level, and gives every employee an opportunity to display their commitment, dedication and passion for the work they do. And that is where such programs come undone. Technically, everyone has a shot at winning the title, but in practice, quite a few people end up getting nominated more than once. Now even if this is due to their sheer hard work, it is bound to be viewed critically by fellow workers. But a lot many times, managers and bosses end up nominating people in their immediate teams, or closer to them, maybe without even realising that they are doing so. So favouritism, actual or perceived, comes into play. Additionally, since only one person gets to be recognised and feel valued, everyone who doesn’t get recognised stands to feel unvalued. 

Competition gives birth to innovation and success, no doubt, but as long as it is healthy. Employees may reduce supporting fellow workers, or consciously taking steps to undermine someone’s performance to increase their own chances of getting the recognition. This competition, if unchecked, can foster internal unhealthy team dynamics which will have a detrimental impact on achieving macro business goals.  As Aaron Skonnard, CEO, Pluralsight, categorically lists the disadvantages of such a program, he explains something fundamentally wrong in the approach of such programs. He says, “When you set the expectation that a reward is the indicator of how well someone is doing, you'll have an environment of constant strivers who are focused solely on gaining praise. Whether it's a psychological reward that you're offering through public recognition or a monetary reward ... you're causing your teams to focus on the wrong thing. Instead of understanding the business goals and working together toward a shared vision, making decisions accordingly, you instead have people fixated on trying to gain a particular goodie.” Lastly, Employee of the Month programs are difficult to execute, no matter how rigorously the management stays objective. For example, the recognition may not always fit the achievement. Is it fit for an employee who single-handedly solved a big operational problem through innovation and genius, and saved the company a lot of money, to have his/her name plastered all across the office for a month and nothing else?

Thus, contrary to the popular understanding of employee recognition, Employee of the Month programs might not be the best approach to recognise and reward employees. The concept is very encouraging on the paper, but in practice loses out to the subjectivity of the human nature, lack of uniform measuring yardsticks, and the competitive streak which turns unhealthy. However, if you have such a program, or plan to implement one soon, you can try the following to make it more efficient:

Guidelines: Make the guidelines for qualification and nomination clear and simple, and make sure all employees know about the same.

Objectivity: Choose a yardstick that you think best suits your organisation and culture. You can go the skill-based or value-based way, according to what you want to reward.

Inclusion: To give everyone a fair chance, include the opinion of the team as much as possible. One possible way could be to allow team members to nominate a member from their team for the recognition. 

Flexibility: Always keep the window open to reward extra-ordinary results, and appreciate employees in accordance with the successes. Several organisations have categories – Platinum, Gold, Silver or First Order, Second Order, Third Order, which are usually inclusive of such feats.

To sum up, Employee Recognition is an important area to focus on to engage with employees and boost their productivity, but what determines the effect and result of such programs is the approach taken to execute them. Maybe for some organisation, Employee of the Month programs will deliver results, and for some, maybe they will do more harm than good. The tough trick is to that the employees feel like a part of the team, even if they don’t end up winning the title.

Does your organisation have Employee of the Month Programs? How has your experience been with them? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Benefits & Rewards

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