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5 Things You Think Are Employee Recognition, But Are Not

January 2, 2015


Being in the employee recognition industry, when we ask people what their organization does to recognize their employees, we get all kinds of different answers. That’s one of the great things about employee recognition; it can take many different shapes and many different approaches based on the culture and needs of the organization.
And every once in a while,  when we ask ‘what do you do for employee recognition?’ we get an answer that, well, simply isn’t employee recognition.  So here are the Top 5 things people think are employee recognition, but aren’t.

  1. A Paycheck – Ever heard this?  “Sure, we recognize our employees…by giving them a paycheck.”  Compensation and recognition are not the same thing.  Compensation is a contractual agreement based on services rendered.  Recognition is an expression of esteem for a job well done or an achievement that has been reached.  Now,on the flip side, we’ve seen business leaders who personally deliver paychecks to their employees with a handshake and a sincere “Thank you” for something specific that was accomplished during the pay period.  The paycheck isn’t recognition, but the handshake and comments certainly are.
  2. Monthly Birthday Parties –  Celebrations for personal events – while awesome – are not employee recognition. Getting together to celebrate on a personal level can be great for company culture and team building. By no means would we suggest that these things aren’t important.  But it’s not recognition.
  3. Holiday Hams – Also awesome, but not recognition.  If everyone gets it and no one had to do anything to earn it, then it’s a gift not recognition.
  4. Casual Fridays – I personally, am an advocate for company perks like casual Fridays,  “Massage Mondays,” or “Taco Tuesdays.”  One company on this list of 10 most unusual company perks offers “Free Beer Fridays”  and another free Botox injections.   Perks can be a super-fun way to build camaraderie and employee satisfaction.  It’s important to remember though,  employee satisfaction and employee engagement are two different things.  If you’re working hard to keep a group of employees satisfied who could care less about your mission, vision, and values, you are probably wasting your time.  We’d contend that it’s important to focus first on helping employees connect their personal efforts to the mission of your group (engagement). Once you’ve got that down, by all means, hook up the perks!
  5. Drawings for Winners – Pulling Suzy Smith’s name out of a hat and awarding her as Employee of the Month is not employee recognition.  And I would argue that this type of activity is probably doing more harm than good.  “Recognition programs” where employees are on a random rotation to win with no connection to the individual’s contributions are at best ignored as irrelevant, and at worst can be perceived as popularity contests, inauthentic and rote, and can turn off those who are sincerely trying to make an impact.

So What is Employee Recognition?

At Terryberry, we like to point people to the ABC’s.  Employee recognition is the communication of acknowledgement and praise for specific Attitudes, Behaviors or Contributions that positively impacts the group’s shared mission, vision and values.
Employee recognition can be formal, informal or day-to-day expressions of appreciation and can come from anyone in the organization: executive leadership, direct supervisors, peers, and even subordinates.  It can also come from outside the organization, from customers, vendors or business associates.
Terryberry’s business is to help organizations create a culture of employee recognition.  We aim to help make giving and receiving recognition accessible, authentic, meaningful, and effective for everyone, because we know that when people are recognized for their efforts they are inspired to achieve more.


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