A week ago on Employee Appreciation Day, I issued a challenge to make recognition an ongoing effort and not a once or twice a year affair. With that in mind, let me offer you a few more cautionary tales on how not to recognize as you make recognition part of every day. Two common ways to wreck recognition is with thoughtless rewards and thoughtless methodologies.

1) Thoughtless Rewards: If people on your team have achieved something truly worthy of recognition and reward, don’t ruin the experience by assuming you know the tastes and desires of all employees equally. This story from the Fistful of Talent blog illustrates my point perfectly. Marisa Keegan tells the story of her brother and his team members who were recognized equally (but not appropriately) for successfully completing a very profitable project. All team members received an iPod from the manager. Marisa’s brother turned to his interpreter and signed, “Are you freaking kidding me?” As Marisa writes: “Who gives a deaf guy an iPod?”

I’ll tell you who as I’ve seen this many times before – a manager who doesn’t want to put the effort into considering the unique preferences of his employees (or leaving the choice up to them) or who wants to be sure the awards are always equal. The thought process goes something like this: “I want to be sure nobody feels like I’ve shown favoritism to someone on the team, so I’ll give them all iPods. Sure, Tom can’t use his, but I’m sure he knows someone he can give it to. Or he can always sell it on eBay.” Laziness or, at best, a lack of training resulted in a talented, highly valued employee looking for a new job.

2) Thoughtless Methodologies: Recognizing and rewarding people for base expectations in the workplace does nothing but demean the value of recognition. A good example is attendance incentives in which employees who miss zero days of work receive bonus pay. Justification for this methodology is: “We expect everybody to come to work every day, but we understand it’s an achievement to do that, so we like to reward that.” (Direct quote from HR manager)

All you’re encouraging with this kind of approach is employees who come to work sick. This does nothing but increase your presenteeism rates, which is more than seven times more costly to employers than absenteeism. Is this really what you want to be rewarding? Instead, you should be practicing behavior-based recognition that recognizes those actions and behaviors that reflect your company values and contribute to achievement of your strategic objectives.

What other thoughtless recognition practices have you seen, or worse, experienced?

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