Are ‘Employee of the Month’ programs worth it?

Discussion
Source: Facebook/Sandy Salta
Apr 11, 2017
Tom Ryan

“Employee of the Month” programs are common at retail as well as in hospitals, law enforcement and other sectors, but the concept has a lot of detractors.

Those against these programs argue that only one person wins and that they create resentment and de-motivate others. The award doesn’t recognize a group of individuals for successful group projects, critics point out. Employees may look to stand out to gain individual recognition rather than work with others on a shared business goal.

Staff are often unaware of why someone is chosen and they may feel that the award is randomly assigned. In some cases, management hands out the reward until everyone receives recognition.

Finally, rewarding someone once a month is seen by many as too infrequent and can be a disincentive for managers to recognize employees on a more of regular basis.

“While rewards and recognition programs are designed with the good of employees, teams and the company in mind, they tend to backfire for a simple reason,” wrote Aaron Skonnard, CEO, Pluralsight in a column in INC. “When you raise one person up on a pedestal, it leaves others below on the ground.”

Fans believe the programs work if done right. If the criteria for the reward are clearly spelled out, “Employee of the Month” awards can reinforce core values and specific behavior. Many are moving to have the winners chosen by votes from peers to make it more inclusive.

The trophy presentation can become a fun or surprise aspect of a dreary monthly companywide meeting.

Birchbox, the beauty subscription box company, gives each winner a foot-tall gnome that stays on their desk for a month along with a $1,000 bonus. Often the public recognition is seen as more important than any monetary reward.

“The trophy aspect of winning is key,” Dominique McLaughlin, the manager at Schmackary’s bake shop in Hell’s Kitchen, told the New York Post. “Cash plays a role, but the experience is more memorable.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are you a fan of “Employee of the Month” programs for retailers? What do you see as their pros and cons?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"There is absolutely nothing but positive outcomes from recognizing employees appropriately. The problematic phrase is 'of the month.'"
"The key problem in all employee recognition is that it’s yet another top-down program which from the bottom up can look irrational, random..."
"Let’s get rid of “of the month” and make it an employee recognition award."

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22 Comments on "Are ‘Employee of the Month’ programs worth it?"


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Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I’ve never been a fan. The process is rarely “clean” and tends to be a bit political. Choices can be controversial. Perhaps if employees themselves did the voting it’d at least be more fun. Equally inaccurate, but more fun. I’ll bet there are ways to do it in an interactive fashion now, using mobile phones to tally votes.

And anyone who really believes the trophy is more important than the cash is dreaming. Just my opinion …

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Contributing Editor, RetailWire; Founder and CEO, Vision First
2 years 7 months ago

Paula, I totally agree that cash is king! Recognition is nice but unless you can take it to the bank, it’s only window-dressing. IMHO

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Employee recognition is very important, but I’m not a fan of “Employee of the Month.” The formulaic nature of this type of program can be awkward for management and create resentment among employees. While management feels compelled to “spread it around” finding reasons to award everyone for something, I think it sends the wrong message to true top performers who might likely be awarded more frequently based on merit. Of course, too many awards going to the same employee(s) (even if they rightly deserve it) can create resentment in other employees.

Cristian Grossmann
Guest
Cristian Grossmann
CEO, Beekeeper
2 years 6 months ago

I agree. Employee recognition is extremely important as it perpetuates a culture of transparency and engagement. High employee engagement rates have been proven to significantly reduce turnover and increase productivity. However, “Employee of the Month” may be effective for some companies, but isolating for others. It’s important for each company to find a recognition model that fits and spreads it around evenly (if employees are performing of course) rather than a select few.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

It’s more important to provide feedback to employees than providing an “Employee of the Month” award. The recognition itself can be very positive but runs the risk of creating resentment among certain employees. Granted the resentment will likely come from one of two sources — those employees that are not performing well and are going to resent any recognition given to anyone, or employees who are excellent performers but simply didn’t get the award. These employees may suddenly feel slighted by management. That’s why regularly providing feedback is so important.

Generally people come to work wanting to do well and outperform every day they can. You need to recognize your best employees and provide encouragement to all to motivate everyone to be their best. There will always be those who continually perform poorly, and this is where great managers are born by either turning those employees around or removing them if necessary. And feedback doesn’t always have to be positive so long as it’s constructive and encourages a path to improvement.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

As a consumer I love “Employee of the Month” or other customer-facing recognitions. It says “our associates matter to us” and is a point of connection between the patron and associate. I am honored to be served by someone who takes their work seriously and those who adorn various corporate pins and medals demonstrate that theirs is a career choice and not just in an interim job. And the recognition is useful in telling all employees what the priorities are. Yes some are based on revenue achievement, but when customer comments are part of the award-giving, it does focus attitude and actions. Those who like titles as a recognition of contribution and demonstrated capability are motivated by such programs. Pins, plaques and dynamic signage help to personalize the customer engagement experience at the location.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

I pay attention to that too, Lyle. When I know that the EOTM is serving me I try to give recognition to that. Sadly, more often than not their service is very ordinary or even less than expected. That leaves me wondering “How did you win that again?” Sometimes if there’s an EOTM parking place my evil twin will analyze what the vehicle says about the person. If it’s clean but old and run down I want to negotiate a substantial and immediate raise for them. If it’s filthy and filled with fast-food bags and soda cans I conclude it must just have been “their turn.” Net is: If one is the EOTM … act and look like it!

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
There is absolutely nothing but positive outcomes from recognizing employees appropriately. The problematic phrase is “of the month.” What the heck does that mean? Many HR committees sit around trying to figure out who on earth they can stick in for this month’s “award.” There’s no way a truly brilliant employee could win this thing for 12 months running, though if it really were based on merit they should. Instead, let’s recognize accomplishment that rises well above the norm. Recognize those who see new and amazing possibilities others don’t see. These are the employees who will not settle for the status quo and are always looking for a better way to serve customers, develop a new service or product or see a more efficient supply chain. Maybe three possibilities were revealed last month or maybe none. So what, the time frame is irrelevant. What you want to do is demonstrate that ALL are capable of reaching for higher possibilities and doing so has its own reward. I’d love to see a “Possibility Thinkers” wall with… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

These programs are outdated and useless. Management should figure out ways to recognize and motivate their exceptional employees — try money! These people are your human ambassadors to your brand and are invaluable to keeping your physical store relevant and viable. During a recent visit to The Home Depot there was one employee that salvaged the entire dismal experience — one person and their independent service made a meaningful difference.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Personally, I’m not a fan of “Employee of the Month.” Although I’m a strong advocate for recognition, encouragement and inspiring comments. Striking the right balance to motivate all employees while individually recognizing the value of each is the secret.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 7 months ago

The key problem in all employee recognition is that it’s yet another top-down program which from the bottom up can look irrational, random and serendipitous.

When they work, the people who are recognized are those who their fellow employees agree deserve the recognition. But from what I hear, far too often employees find that those who are rewarded are those who play the politics inside the company — not those who best serve customers.

Done honestly it’s not a bad idea to add something to what can be a dreary world. But the bigger the corporation, the less likely a program will be done honestly without the bureaucracy taking away the value.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
2 years 7 months ago

It’s a great idea but, like many others have pointed out, the execution is where things get hairy. Employee feedback and recognition is important, but it has to be done in a way that encourages growth and is free from any politics or bureaucracy. I’ve found rewarding employees for reaching measurable goals (such as sales goals, customer satisfaction scores, etc.) to be much more effective. That way multiple employees can be recognized for achievements and the process is completely unbiased. And of course, cash is king when it comes to rewards.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

I’m a big fan of the measurable goals each employee is rewarded against. It can remove the politics and include team/department measures to make sure employees are working towards meaningful objectives for the business. When the business is doing well; the employees should do well.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
2 years 7 months ago

100% agree!

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Let’s get rid of “of the month” and make it an employee recognition award. Recognition by the customers for someone going above and beyond to make something good happen. Recognition by superiors for the idea no one else thought of that does something good for the company’s growth. Recognition for developing a program that embodies customer service and carries it through to the sales floor.

This could be a daily or weekly award. An instant recognition for trying to make something good even better. It takes us back to the once very popular “management by walking around.” See something good, say something immediately.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

It depends on the type of culture the retailer is trying to establish and what other employee reward programs are being executed. This type of program is often used to show that an employee program exists — something from corporate that checks the box. As a standalone program the “Employee of the Month” program shows a lack of thought given to the entire process. If mixed into other reward and team building activities it can have its place.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Any time you can recognize employees for their good work is a good thing. If an “Employee of the Month” program is done well, it’s very effective. There are many other ways to recognize employees that are fun, have a little competitive spirit to them and make all employees feel good about who wins.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
2 years 7 months ago

While there are pros and cons to employee of the month programs, I think they are worth doing. The down-side of these program is that just one employee is praised and the other employees that did great things and tried hard aren’t recognized. The positive thing about these reward programs is that it keeps the brand’s customer service values top of mind throughout the month. It also gives employees something to strive for on a daily basis. And combining public recognition with a financial reward is a good approach so that it appeals to whatever each employee values. Some retailers provide team awards by store or by team that provide more collective incentives.

The idea of recognizing everyone is best left for little league … positive reenforcement works at every age.

Tom Redd
Guest

YES! My son was “Bagger of the Month” at Fry’s in AZ and it hyped him up and pushed him to get friends to join the company. Customers loved his badge and it drove a feeling of pride in shopping at Fry’s. The whole experience is worth it for employee and shopper morale.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Staff recognition is definitely important. The effects on the individual, as well as the perceptions of the other employees need to be addressed, for both the positive and negative. “Employee of the Month” awards tend to be less genuine and lose their impact over time. More ad hoc recognition, based upon actual performance achievement creates far more buzz among the staff and seems to have lasting value for the individual.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

I think we all like to be recognised for doing a good job, but I’m not convinced Employees of the Month is necessarily the right way of doing it. It can get quite political — if you have one fantastic staff member who keeps winning, will that upset others for example? Retailers should absolutely be giving recognition to outstanding staff where merited — there’s nothing more disheartening then feeling like your efforts aren’t noticed or rewarded.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think it depends a lot on the size of the company and how it’s handled. There’s a small market I go to that has one of these programs, with the designee’s picture prominently featured when you come in the door. My thought was “doesn’t this just end up being rotated, and if not — and maybe even worse — might it not be the same person(s) all the time?” In this case, I’m not so sure (maybe Tony has a similar program and can tell us).

But in a larger environment, if it’s truly a reward for exceptional performance, then I think it might have value. The keys, of course, are that it rewards performance, and isn’t a substitute for more meaningful compensation(s).

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There is absolutely nothing but positive outcomes from recognizing employees appropriately. The problematic phrase is 'of the month.'"
"The key problem in all employee recognition is that it’s yet another top-down program which from the bottom up can look irrational, random..."
"Let’s get rid of “of the month” and make it an employee recognition award."

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