why I don’t like “employee of the month” programs

A reader writes:

What are your thoughts on Employee Recognition programs? Examples: Employee of the Month, Year, etc.

We rely on feedback from peers/managers to “nominate” employees for Employee of the Month and lately have been getting very little participation in said program. The prize shouldn’t matter since the person “winning” doesn’t nominate himself! The driver is: how do we get workers to observe more, care more, etc. so that they would notice colleagues going above the call of duty and nominate them for the recognition? Or is the idea of “I” over “We” an issue?

Honestly? I’m not a fan of those programs. I’ve never seen them carried out in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or a little cheesy.

Recognize employees who are doing a good job in ways that really matter — with strong evaluations, great raises, good management, new challenges (if they want them), and ongoing positive feedback. I think employee-of-the-month-type programs are typically used as a weak substitute for more meaningful retention strategies. What you want are great managers who forge strong relationships with their strong performers, who make sure they feel valued and have the tools needed to excel at their jobs, who ensure that high performance is reflected in employees’ paychecks and career progression, and who are assertive about addressing obstacles standing in their employees’ way (such as unneeded policies, the slacker colleague down the hall, or whatever the obstacles may be).

I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for, but it may be worth asking what the goal of the program is supposed to be and whether there are other ways to achieve it. You could also ask the employees themselves why they don’t seem interested in the program and what they’d like to see in its place. I suspect you’ll hear something similar to the above. Good luck!

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Bonnie*

    I see pros and cons to employee recognition programs. I think their success (or lack thereof) may depend on the work environment.

    If the supervisor does not have the ability (or desire) to reward exceptional performers with a raise, promotion, additional responsibility or even a “Great job!” now and then, an organization-wide recognition program may be a good option. Such programs don’t depend on a supervisor recognizing his/her own people, and if done well, may encourage people to go “above and beyond” their basic job duties.

    If there is no recognition or appreciation for outstanding performance, eventually employees may not bother to do more than required, thinking “What’s the point?”

    On the other hand, it’s very difficult to run a great employee recognition program. If not done well, it can backfire and lower morale rather than raise it. For example, when people start thinking it’s just a “who’s turn is it now?” exercise (or a way to show favoritism) that has no true meaning because those who are selected haven’t done anything exceptional.

    Some managers feel “Everyone does an exceptional job every day, and we all work as a team. It wouldn’t be fair to single out individuals.” So no recognition program is allowed.

    I think that’s a cop-out. That’s like saying an employee who does the bare minimum & just enough not get fired is just as valuable as a dedicated employee who does a truly exceptional job for the organization.

    I like the topic (great post!), but don’t have a great solution. :-)

  2. Anonymous*

    I like them because I won once, but other than that, yeah, they’re pretty pointless.

  3. Rebecca*

    My high school actually had a similar “Student of the Month” program — it always went to either a huge suck-up, a disabled person, someone who had something bad happen to them recently, or a slacker who some teacher thought would magically start caring about school if they won Student of The Month. Students generally saw this as a huge embarrassment and a pointless attempt to force “school spirit,” and teachers were frequently bewildered why no one liked it. … strangely, the exact same pattern occurred at every job I ever worked with an Employee of the Month program.

    How about rewarding everyone now and then for no reason in particular? My current company springs for free lunch for everybody once every few months, announcing it a few days in advance. It’s more expensive than a mug and balloons, but I guarantee you the morale boost will be proportional.

  4. Karl - Your Work Happiness Matters*

    I like regular consistent employee recognition programs as long as they include a wide range of employees. I think this creates conversation and appreciation.

    As for employee of the month I think it creates more anger than good. Most employees don’t win each month and wonder if they are even noticed for all their hard work.

  5. The People Group*

    I agree with askamanager, employee of the month programs rarely work. From an employees perspective, if there are 500 employees, there is 1 winner and 499 losers when an employee of the month is selected. And typically the winner is chosen based on hard to determine criteria.

  6. Helene*

    Employee of the month programmes always feel a bit McJob to me – not sure they really work in the corporate world, I’d prefer a decent comp and bens offering to peer recognition, especially when it’s artificial.

  7. Pat*

    I always thought it would be more fitting to switch the “employee of the month” to the “manager of the month” award. This way managers will be recognized for their contribution in supporting, recognizing and encouraging strong performance in their team members.

    Managers hide too often in their offices and are not held accountable for their own performance in managing employees.

    If a manager takes their seriously and successfully creates healthy performance standards and expectations, then naturally they would step out of their comfort zone and engage their employees in meaningful ways by recognizing each person’s contribution to the team. This way they also have the opportunity to coach employees on their performance or behaviors.

    Ongoing recognition needs to come from the manager and they should be required in their role to learn how to successfully develop this skill.


  8. Tyler*

    I think it all depends on how the employee of the month program is laid out. Where I work its pretty simple, all the employees think of someone who they feel has excelled that month and deserves some recognition and write their name on a piece of paper, the two lead operators (I guess you could call them supervisors) vote counts for 2 and the person with the most votes receives a PAID day off whenever they choose within the month up to the next safety meeting. And sure I can see that some employees would feel left out after a certain point if they never win it but at the same time the truth is some employees simply aren’t good employees and don’t deserve recognition in the first place, it should come down to wanting to be that winner who can basque in the glory of getting a day off while being paid for doing a good job. If a program like that lowers morale then perhaps it’s not the program, it’s the staff

  9. Rebecca*

    I think that employee recognition and awards should be based on the job performance of an individual. It should be chosen by management and not by other employees at the workplace.

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