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Less than half of companies are getting employee recognition right

In a competitive labor market, nailing employee recognition could be the difference between retaining key staffers and losing them to greener pastures.

Recognizing employees for a job well done is never a bad idea. How you recognize them, however, can go a long way toward determining whether that employee will want to keep working for you or will seek greener pastures — both in terms of money and work environment — elsewhere.

In today’s candidate-short job market, retention is more important than ever, and showing appreciation for staff is one effective way to keep them happy and loyal. But how good are employers at recognizing employees for good work? In a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam, 58 percent of senior managers said their company’s efforts have room for improvement.

Businesses can lose their competitive advantage if they don’t have key players in place as new opportunities present themselves, says Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager at Robert Half in Madison. “Top performers thrive on being recognized for excellent work and will remain loyal and productive if rewarded for their achievements. Small everyday things, like giving professionals credit for good ideas, can go a long way toward establishing healthy relationships between managers and employees.”

Unfortunately, with everything else going on, managers may deem themselves too busy to participate in employee recognition, explains Truckenbrod. “They may assume their company is doing an acceptable job acknowledging staff because they’ve not heard any complaints. Traditionally, recognizing workers once a year during an employee bash or a work anniversary may have been enough, but managers are realizing that consistent, ongoing recognition is more important to employees today.”

There are also right and wrong ways to go about giving your employees the recognition they deserve.

For starters, don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Truckenbrod recommends managers take time to think about what motivates each individual. She even advises supervisors to discuss which rewards staff members find most meaningful during regularly scheduled meetings or performance reviews, or to use anonymous, informal surveys to gather feedback on recognition activities.

“Budget limitations may hinder elaborate recognition programs, but that doesn’t mean acknowledgment should stop altogether,” notes Truckenbrod. “In fact, many methods of expressing appreciation for employee contributions are low cost or no cost.”

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Celebrate milestones, such as work anniversaries, with lunches or off-site outings;
  2. Publicize employee achievements in the company newsletter or during staff meetings;
  3. Offer gift cards, movie passes or sporting event tickets to standout workers;
  4. Present advancement opportunities — make sure staff members know there’s a path to career growth in your organization;
  5. Treat them by bringing in their favorite goodies, such as cupcakes, donuts, coffee, or fruit;
  6. Provide monetary rewards if budgets permit — consider spot bonuses or salary increases for achievements;
  7. Award them with external or internal accolades like employee of the month; and
  8. Give the gift of time — offer time off or extra vacation days for a job well done.

Recognition gone wrong is a very real thing, however.

Experts recommend all recognition be timely — as in, right now — rather than waiting until the entire staff is gathered for a monthly meeting. It should also be specific; don’t recognize an employee for being a “team player.” Effective recognition programs should be based on specific rewards for specific activities and behaviors, which make your employees feel like you actually know why you’re honoring them and appreciate the value they bring to the organization.

Managers should also be wary of contests. While competition may motivate some workers, that’s not the case for everyone. If one or two people are always singled out for winning company contests, it can create a core group of disappointed non-winners. Instead of rewarding winners (people), companies should reward excellence (performance).

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