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?