When should you recognize workers?

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

We’re planning to improve our employee reward and recognition program. Our current system provides a formal ceremony which is done monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Aside from this, is there any other appropriate time to give due recognition to people? Please help. — Other Options.

This poor fellow has a bad habit of coming home drunk. He had gone so far that he would fall into bed fully clothed, pass out, and then snore loudly all night long. Finally, his wife who was losing so much sleep because of his snoring that she went out to consult a doctor. She said: “Doc, I can’t take it any longer. If you’ll only tell me how to keep my husband from snoring, I’ll pay you anything.”

The doctor said there was no problem at all. He could give her the answer and he wouldn’t even charge her. He told her that whenever her husband passed out and started to snore she was to take a ribbon and tie it around his nose, and his snoring would stop. That night, her husband came home drunk as usual, fell across the bed fully dressed, passed out, and started snoring.

The wife got up, pulled a blue ribbon from her dresser, and tied it around his husband’s nose. Sure enough, the snoring stopped. The next morning, the wife, fully refreshed after a good night’s sleep, was preparing breakfast and asked her husband who just got out of bed.

“Honey, where were you last night?” The husband still fully clothed with yesterday’s shirt and pants, looked in the mirror and seeing the blue ribbon around his nose, replied: “I don’t know. But wherever I was, I must have won first prize!”

It seems that everyone in the corporate world is so drunk talking about employee recognition that people are inquiring about my public seminar on noncash employee rewards this month. Whatever the reason, they know the importance of employee rewards and recognition that they’re looking to understand new ideas and strategies.

Monthly, quarterly, and yearly reward intervals seem like common sense. Doing it more (say, weekly awards) may not look significant to the employees after some time. If we are to continue examining the frequency of employee awards, then it can only be classified into two — ratio and interval:

Ratio has two components that include “variable ratio” when the award is to be done at random so that employees do not know when it is to be given. On the other hand, there’s such a thing as “fixed ratio” when the award is to be awarded at a certain nth milestone. For instance, a factory worker gets a cash bonus of one thousand pesos for every 500 zero-defect products that he made.

Interval awards have two components. This includes a “variable interval” when the reward is given at a random average length of time since the last award. For example, giving an award after every few days. The other component is called “fixed interval” or the giving of awards after a fixed period of time, which is happening in your case — monthly, quarterly, and yearly.

This means you only have to consider varying your approach to include say, a “fixed ratio.” You can give awards not only to individual workers but to teams and departments as well if they have accomplished a certain target like having one thousand working days without an accident in a factory. In the service industry, which includes banking and call centers, you can vary this approach by giving awards to those concerned if they reach 40 work hours without a customer complaint.

Given all of these options, what is the most effective type of employee award? Personally, the best type that I know is often unrestricted by formality of ratio and frequency. It is best that we do it casually and informally with concerned workers who have displayed consistent work performance. Why wait for monthly, quarterly, and yearly awards to happen when you can do it right away, in front of people attending a department meeting, for instance?

This is challenging if only people managers have that positive mind-set of actively catching people doing something right, instead of being fault-finders. Immediate recognition, done spontaneously, is much better than delayed gratification. However, this requires a personalized approach by people managers that must be made independent from corporate-wide practice.

Why should this be so? In the first place, you don’t need a formal system from the human resource department to write a short, crisp, specific and clearly worded commendation letter to a person who worked hard over and above the standard requirements. And you don’t even have to wait for the annual performance appraisal to document it. Whatever approach it takes, like taking a person to lunch or giving him a best-selling book is more than appreciated by people.

In doing this, you have to personally know the worker, his interests, hobbies, career aspirations, and other personal details like his birthday, home address, number of children, and name of spouse, among others. If you don’t know these basic details, then it may be difficult for you to motivate people, even in the presence of formal awards where material things are given.

ELBONOMICS: It’s better to suffer in silence if everyone knows about it.