IT Employment

Do formalized company awards programs really work?

Do formalized company awards programs work for anyone outside of sales? Here are some of the issues Toni Bowers has with these types of programs.

This is going to be one of those blogs where I'll get blasted for being a cynical misanthrope (who, obviously, is not afraid of redundant descriptions).

Today's topic is the company-organized awards program. I'm talking about the kind of formalized awards program in which certain employees are culled from the herd and recognized for "outstanding" work. While I appreciate the sentiment behind any kind of employee recognition, I've never seen it formally implemented when it didn't come across as patronizing or having some kind of ulterior motive. (Any of you sales type people reading this can put away your poison pens--I'm not really talking about sales performance award systems.)

Here are the specific issues I have:

"Over and above"

At one company where I worked, the stipulation for recognition was that the employee had to have done something over and above his current duties. Sounds simple on paper; but this turned out to be the hardest criteria to determine. If an accounting found a kabillion dollar mistake in the company's favor, it's certainly great news. But is it "over and above" his current duties? No. Yet, I've seen that happen.

Is it just a replacement for a raise?

I've seen my share of surveys that indicate recognition of a job well done is in many cases more important to employees than money. And I can see that. However, I've also seen some pretty trumped up examples of recognition and it doesn't have the same effect. "No one in the history of this company has ever wielded a paper shredder with the finesse that George does."

It can be biased

At one company where I worked, the awards were given via coworker nomination. Of course, this turned out to be a popularity contest. Those who would do any task a coworker asked them to or who were "just so sweet" were often recognized. Brilliant employees who made real differences but who also happened to have the disposition of Kodiak bears were not. I know that a good working attitude is important and should be encouraged, but I don't agree that this is the way to do it.

It can be a little insulting

Is anyone really motivated to be the best damn employee ever by a gold-plated pin? The last time something like that worked for me, I was nine years old. I'd gotten straight A's on my report card and my mom bought me a Barbie doll. In other words, a wall full of "Best Worker" ribbons is not going to motivate me as much as the occasional good word from my boss.

So what's the general feeling out there amongst you guys?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

151 comments
p4nto
p4nto

If you're bogged under by expenses that all your waking hours are filled with thoughts of 'I need to get more money' then obviously that is a need you need satisfied before you can appreciate anything else in life (Maslow anyone?). For me, single with no kids, no loans/mortgages - I go to work to contribute to the advancement of my company. I believe I'm paid reasonably (ok, maybe above average) for what I do and if they offered me a raise for a job well done, that's nice.. but I don't need it and frankly, that's not what I'm there for. To be acknowledged by senior management and told that I've made a difference is far more rewarding.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

Give me money, or add to my allotted vacation days! And for working college kids (like myself) a scholarship of some kind :) kthxbai!

rwolbert2002
rwolbert2002

I respectfully withdraw my earlier post.

schristopher
schristopher

Now days you don't hear supervisors / managers / bosses say "Nice Job!" or "Great Work" very often. A lot of times it's more like, "Why haven't you done this and this too?" or complaining about unimportant things. I'm not saying that you don't need to correct and "supervise" people. I'm saying people work harder and better for a company that appreciates them and lets them know it. What's this thing people keep mentioning, "BONUS"? Never heard of that! HA! HA!

sallyhamom
sallyhamom

people say they are not motivated by awards but everyone do tend to work for it...its the "grapes are sour" situation.

edwardtisdale
edwardtisdale

Handing out endless awards to employees defeats the reason of giving an award. Nothing wrong with an award for extra work done if a bonus is included, but you worked more so you deserve to be paid for it. Both or just the pay.

Ray Baker
Ray Baker

We had a monthly MVP program by department. Lasted 5 months before Mgmt lost interest. The reward? Monthly winner got a special parking space, for us it was a 1/2 mile away. Then you got in a drawing for a quarterly breakfast with the CEO. How about a simple program, find some one doing good and give them a Dinner for Two coupon. This might get the manager out of his office on occasion.

richslab
richslab

We try to take a three pronged approach. We expect our supervisors to let their reports know when they are doing a good job. We also ask them to tell upper management when someone has displayed an attitude or behavior that we want to promote to all our employees. The CEO of the company then personally thanks that person and gives them a simple certificate. The employees have told us that they appreciate the personal thank you and that their supervisors are letting it be known that they are doing a good job. Finally we try to compensate people appropriately for the job they're doing.

andmb77
andmb77

While I appreciate any recognition, showing me 'the money' is much better. I am there to work for a paycheck, this is the bottom line.

PMGina
PMGina

At management's request, I worked hard to create a reward/recognition program. I think I came up with something pretty good, but by the time it was overcomplicated by committee, and management changed the rules on a whim twice in mid-stream, it was a dismal failure. Like most anything else, the success of a program like this is directly correlated to management's buy-in and acceptance of it.

kaufbiz
kaufbiz

I've always been opposed to monetary recognition awards. I not talking about commission-type payments for specific performance events. When you pick a "winner" you are also making all the rest "losers". I am being "sensitive" and avoiding holding people accountable for performance, but money taints the recognition process. What I've done whenever possible is to have an agenda item on the monthly or quarterly team meetings during which the managers and anyone else can recognize something of interest that someone has done. There is no limit to the number or an obligation to have any. And that is the pure recognition. Good performers like to hear about achievements of others and everyone can "win".

Orodreth
Orodreth

Tickets to sporting or special events work, bonuses work especially when not biased, salary increases work, paid training works (award pays for internal or external training course or curriculum) work. Plaques, paper commendations, pens, trinkets, clocks don't for work me. Promotions work and sometimes don't work.

donstrayer
donstrayer

You're probably aware that W. Edwards Deming strongly advised against individual reward & recognition. Read up on his "14 points"

dpieratos
dpieratos

sorry, a mellow,low stress, yogic-like "om" work environment that doesn't pay enough does not fix coming home to a high stress, crazy how-am-i-going-to-juggle-the-bills home environment. when it comes to tending to your family, being a merc is the name of the game...

debbi.moore
debbi.moore

My company gives so many manager awards they have to make up names of categories.

loco hombre
loco hombre

I got an "Outstanding" on my last yearly evaluation yet, after being here for two years, I have yet to see a pay raise. Maybe I can show that evaluation to the bank and the store and get a discount on items and loan payments.

chrisl317
chrisl317

I ever got was trophies or plaques for my last 4 years I was a Tech. It was usually awarded at the yearly company Christmas party if I showed up! I'm old school (and over 50), if I'm doing a great job, thank me in my paycheck!

suncatTR
suncatTR

I was a contractor in engineering dept at a multinational corporation. I did a significant portion of programming on a special project. The team qualified for awards. Each member got $3000-6000 awards, EXCEPT contractors, because only employees were rewarded. How about hiring those of us who would like to have full time jobs with good pay and benefits, instead of knowing that any day we will [definitely] be let go for another contractor who will work for less. Most of us prefer that to some kind of reward that depends on arbitrary and exclusionary rules.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

talking about tipping said something to the effect; "Tip well, but make sure and compliment them personally for a good job." I think this principle could apply with company programs as well.

Dknopp
Dknopp

is better than a pen sent to me from HR. It almost makes me blush when my boss or some other boss or a peer co-worker recognizes my work in public. Guess I'm too needy.

stuart.voeck
stuart.voeck

Just wondering what effects have been found on other employees when an award winner is chosen from the popularity type contest and other employees encounters reflect that person to be lacking in quality, quantity, effort, etc. What incentive does that provide the other employees?

cynic 53
cynic 53

Most UK workers are only there for the money. Forget truly vocational work, e.g, Clergy, Teachers, Doctors, Nurses etc. The majority of us are wage slaves and job satisfaction comes in the shape of a pay-slip once a month. All that cr@p about other aspects of the working day being of more importance to the average worker than his take home pay is fiction spread by HR Geeks and those who have believed what they studied to gain an MBA degree!. So such "5 star burger flipper crew-member of the month" awards are at best ignored and do nothing to incentivise the other workers or are looked upon as patronising by many UK workers or attract the cynical but alas often true response that "He plays golf with one of the Directors. He must have let him win the last round". As far as incentives are concerned the words of Omar Khayy??m come to mind. "Take but the cash in hand and waive the rest! Oh, the brave music of a distant drum", or as former Movie Star Dan Duryea often said in films "Cut the wise cracks, just give me the money!"

YiJane
YiJane

Rewarding me with money only works short term. Just give me more room and chance to grow and by having more ownership to more challenging jobs is rewarding enough on its own.

akumar232
akumar232

observe market trend and move!!!.

murray.mcinnes
murray.mcinnes

every penny counts never refuse money or anything company gives you. i like nothing better than being insulted with money

meistersinger1
meistersinger1

The only incentive that should be offered to an employee is that they have a job and get a regular paycheck.

mfredrick
mfredrick

Awards will boost morale,morale will make the company servive even in times of adversity because everyone will be involved.May inflation vanish forever coz its made companies think twice about this awards thing!! i say

fuj it al
fuj it al

I thought you might have had a stabb at the sales personnel awards as you did not can i have a go please. In my line the sales people who yes bring in the initial contracts get a large bonus and awards/holidays etc as well. However, the engineers that turn out in all sorts of weathers and 24/7 to keep these contracts going often do not see any praise or awards as apparently they are only doing there job. Its the engineers the customer sees on a regular basis during the contract and often it is the customers view of the engineers work ethos and abilities that decides if they extend or renew contract. So maybe the companies could ask the customer who gives the best service to there contract over the year and award accordingly.

wyxer
wyxer

Good deeds, or good performance must be treated as deposits. If after sometime the performance deteriorates, the best reward from the employer is to give more consideration and understanding to that person. But it also depends on the gravity of the current situation...

jerrydwalker
jerrydwalker

I've got a few plaques (in storage) from other companies. Each has a sense of appreciation for that extra effort that it required. After years at my current company I've yet to feel any apprecation despite going that extra mile and doing the long unpaid hours on projects. Kodiaks need love too.

reisen55
reisen55

After this date in history, the IT group of Aon was awarded (a) a small trophy statue and (b) $500 in American express coupons. A few years later, we were all terminated in an outsourcing decision by CSC, jobs ended, IT support routed to India. Service levels went to hell. So, awards mean nothing to me. I admit bias here but that goes with the day.

crcraft
crcraft

I worked where they gave the guy a trophy who was voted most outstanding for the month. Often you would win this with 2 votes because nobody was interested in the silly process. I told the general manager that I thought the thing was childish which of course offended him. As grown ups what we want is something we can take to the bank, otherwise it is a waste of man hours. Imagine 200 people spending 10 minutes each month casting a vote. They have to stop what they are doing, find the spread sheet to cast a vote and explain why their dude should win and then get back to doing their work and remember what they were in the middle of; how productive is that and how little reward? Don't forget that once a month, all folks that were available met at the copier and tried to hear the boss give congrats to the trophy winner and the winner had to act happy to get the silly trophy and place it on his desk somewhere for all to see. Yippee! Duh!

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Here's the problem I saw with award programs. An award may motivate the person who gets it, but unless that person did something that everyone who didn't get one recognizes as benefiting them all (e.g., defused a bomb in the main lobby - and how often does that happen), some people are going to be jealous. Also, the people working around someone are very likely to know better how good a worker is than the boss, and if he/she doesn't really deserve something extra, they are going to feel unfairly treated and therefore discouraged (i.e., de-motivated; e.g., "we're constantly correcting his errors or covering for him/her..." or "I'm more productive/talented/skilled/etc. than he/she...but they don't give me anything" even if it's not true). And of course, if management just rotates awardees, the awards have no meaning, and the people know it. No matter how you look at it, in most cases, the motivation of one employee by an award is probably going to de-motivate more than one. An award can even de-motivate the awardee, if it makes the person feel like he/she is being treated specially for doing something he/she considers part of the job, because that person just doesn't like that kind of attention, or will feel the award has generated resentment on the part of his/her coworkers. On the other hand, a good word from the boss normally won't be given for no reason, and can be given in private if the awardee isn't the show-off type. Remember also the lesson we're seeing very often today but aren't learning from yet. If you reward someone too much for doing their job, they just take it for granted that they're fantastic and expect more whether they do their job or not. Look at the heads of industry lately. Every proxy statement says something like "recognize the importance of being able to attract talented management with appropriate salaries", but it doesn't. Companies managed by 7 & 8 figure heads don't seem to be 1/10 or 1/100 as likely to fail as a 6 figure run company, running those companies is certainly not that much more difficult, and they do not contribute that much more value to the company (let alone to the economy that gives the money they make its value).

slickrc
slickrc

Traci! You nailed it! Funny how corporate America and elementry school have so much in common. We get points where I work and you get to go shopping...they do not spend at the grocery store or gas pump. So big deal, yea it is a nice gesture, but show me the money. By the way I'm in sales. Cash talks BS walks.

JeffWainright
JeffWainright

The company I work for had an incentive point program where points were awarded by management, using vague and sometimes seemingly arcane criteria. Mediocre employees were given outlandish awards for barely meeting expectations, while those who were truly going above and beyond rarely received any recognition. Bottom line - if I am doing a good job, show it on my paycheck and save the fluff-bunny nonsense for those who need affirmation.

tori.sidenstricker
tori.sidenstricker

If I need a self esteem boost, I'll ask for it at home. I'm not here for warm and fuzzy. I'm here to make money. So... if you want to recognize extra work I've done, or just tell me I'm appreciated, cash is best.

tthomson
tthomson

Many times when such rewards are given we hear things like: "first one here, last one to leave"; or "consistently puts in more hours than anyone else". Hearing such things my first thought is usually, "Why couldn't they get their work done within the usual time alloted? Were they screwing off all day?"

stevegreen1
stevegreen1

I think they make more hurt feelings than do any good. Other employees get upset because they think they deserve an award too but didn't get one.

NWHikerOR
NWHikerOR

...and stop dismissing my ideas. Listen to what I have to say and treat me as a valuable member of the team/staff/department. Slap us on the back when we make mistakes; celebrate like crazy our achiements.

jayohem
jayohem

Any part of the job that involves "merit" is going to be skewed in favor of popularity either with management or with co-workers. The company pets will get the awards no matter who makes the decision. That's why the seniority concept as an underlying pay concept is a good one. Like Festivus, it's for the restofus. :-)

jlfigiel
jlfigiel

My employer has a program which I believe is quite effective in recognizing outstanding effort made by employees. It was simple in that it did require nomination by someone who directly benefited by the employees action in a way that helped them and the company. Nomination were reviewed by a central committee and upon approval, the employee to be recognized received a certificate and a balloon that was hung from their cubical or office so that everyone would know they had been recognized. At the end of the month, one of the individuals so awarded was selected based on a review of their contribution in comparison with other recognized employees who then received an award of 'company bucks' that could be used to purchase an item of choice from the company store. It was a simple enough process and yes, I am sure there were some awards that were more based on popularity than they should have been, but overall I believe it did great things for morale.

Janet Sommer
Janet Sommer

I'd have to say that "where you stand depends upon where you sit." For me, I work in a field that is considered "support." I don't know about the rest of the world, but when my boss gets a $35,000+ commission for a job well done, lunch with my boss just does not do it for me......how would my boss like it if he/she received $35,000 worth of "free lunches?"

whulse
whulse

One act or idea deserves a bonus such as some percentage of the savings or profits; frequent savings/ideas warrant a raise reflecting the savings or profits that resulted from the act over time; continual savings/profits ideas justifies a change of job to better utilize these abilities, with just salary compensation of course.. Non-monetary awards? Rare and spontaneous. Amounts of compensation? Commensurate with savings or profits results. In general, simple recognition of just doing your job well is adequate, appreciated and helpful. To move an employee off dead center, if the employee has useful abilities that are not being utilized, as a manager, privately, toss the person a fish (a serious verbal complement) to inspire a positive result: it costs very little and may inspire them to get hold of their bootstraps and rise to greater value for the company and personally. I once had a boss that told me if he wasn't on my tail about something, I was doing a good job; this is not a good approach even though he considered it praise. I knew him very well and took no offense, but to me it sounded like I was just adequate even though I knew he thought very highly of me and my work. A positive approach, such as 'You're doing an excellent job, keep it up!' would have been much better. At this point in my career, I loved what I was doing and salary was secondary in importance (I was fairly young), but most employees are not so lucky and monetary compensation is foremost in their mind. Usually, in this day and age, with modern work ethics and the entitlement mentality of many employees as well as non-employees by choice, money and benefits talk and work ethics and company loyalty walks! Most employees are now just numbers, particularly in large companies, but it is trickling down. How's the Hope and Change mentality working for you? I'm impressed by it, but not too favorably, since utopian impressions are not usually sustainable, nor are they all wine and roses! Things can turn ugly in a heart beat. Be careful what you wish for! Good luck.

Tetchi
Tetchi

My husband has so many awards plaque, recognizing his hard work. His company even gave him a catalog from a jeweler for him to take it home so his wife can purchase her chosen jewelry paid by his company. Another occasion he brought a certificate of employee recognition and this time I told him to start speaking up to his management to stop giving this certificate and instead a raise. I told him I prefer a check than a certificate.

jmorgandavis
jmorgandavis

I've worked for several years with a few different alternative employee rewards offerings, and can honestly say that I've found personal assistance/concierge-type rewards to be far and away the most appreciated and underrated form of work-life balance incentive. When someone doesn't have to worry about sourcing flowers and caterers for their wedding, searching for a new apartment and booking movers, picking up groceries or copy editing their TPS Report, you can see the fear and stress disappear from their eyes, and you can see it in their work. Solutions like this really are effective, and I've seriously got hundreds of past clients at all levels of employment that will attest to this.

roda235
roda235

Yeah, #4 in the line up, I think he works here....

carlos.villalobos
carlos.villalobos

We all submit a weekly status reports to top management. When cut backs are ordered they look back through those reports. The ones that should go, stand out like sore thumbs. The rest of us know; the pay checks for the money we agreed to - will keep coming! If we need more money, ask for it. If they don't give it - apply for another job until you do get it. Just because they are the bosses and we are the workers doesn't mean we have to keep taking that plaque.

CraigV_z
CraigV_z

After umpteen years in gov't service it seemed that all incentive awards as well as appraisals all boiled down to "how well does the boss like me on a social basis". That seems like sour grapes but the questions given in the essay above like "over and above" is subjective. All the questions in the fill in the blocks of incentive awards and appraisals are subjective. The trumped up excuses then become a rationale for a unconcious decision already reached. One way around this is to give an incentive award to everyone. In which case it is meaningless as an incentive--I've been there. To avoid that impression the supervisor can pick a goat to be the lone person not to get an incentive. And, yes I've been the goat too. I knew it made my boss look good because he could say to his boss "well I didn't just give everyone an incentive". The other dept head gave all of his folks an incentive. My boss's excuse was well you gave your man an incentive. Sure I told him the guy is a GS-9 working a GS-12 position how could I not give him an incentive? That earned a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. Nothing for it but to go out and get pissing drunk.

lucian.gadau
lucian.gadau

When a company delivers a product, or a service to a customer they also deliver an invoice for a certain amount of dollars. My mechanic will not take a 'Great job Mike! Thanks! See you next time!'. My utility providers want money too for energy, water, garbage removal and banks don't lend money without interest... So is going to work for me. It's a business. I'm going there for the money. Otherwise I'd write software from home and solely for my own amusement. I don't understand why a company would even try to reward my good work only with words. It's offensive! Sure, a well done job deserves a sincere thank you, but that should be secondary to them paying my invoice. And since I hate company politics I went into contracting long time ago. It worked much better for me.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... how tight things are for their employees. I remember when I was just starting out as an entry-level programmer, I won Employee of the Month, which included an overnight stay at the company beachfront condo. That's great, but i couldn't even afford to fill a cooler with beer for the occasion. A little help with the grocery budget would have been far more appreciated than a chance to see how the other half lives.