There are five killer mistakes that companies make when it comes to employee recognition programs. Let’s go over each in more detail and we’ll discuss why companies make them.


  • Money is not employee recognition


First, it’s critical to understand that money is not employee recognition. Money is compensation even bonuses. Most Americans look at bonuses and compensation not as employee recognition of exemplary performance.

Meanwhile, think of your own staff. What employee doesn’t think of merit raises as a right, not a sign of exemplary performance? It’s really expected particularly when typical raises are in the 3% to 5% range.

They’re a lot of managers who even if their employee was not performing that well, they didn’t have the heart to give them no raise or a 1% raise as that figure is just so low. So again, the key takeaway – that really money is compensation and really shouldn’t be your main overall employee reward system as part of your employee recognition program.

Now, I’ve heard when I’ve taught this session previously about employee surveys that show that all employees want is money. Now, I found that once I dig into the particulars with the particular organization, it turns out that employee satisfaction is low too when you looked at those surveys where employees only show that they want money.

The correlation is that in organizations where employees are doing jobs they don’t enjoy while working for managers who never show their appreciation, what I hear is that employees figure, “If this is what it’s like to work here, at least they better pay me well.”

So look into overall employee satisfaction if that really is what you’re hearing from your employees that what they want in an employee recognition program is money. My guess is that there’s a lot of underlying factors going on there too.

  1. Not tying employee recognition to performance
    Now, next, not tying recognition to performance or not recognizing good performance is most definitely a major mistake. When you hear this – I’m guessing it sounds pretty intuitive, you know, tying recognition to performance, but really this will be the challenging part and why recognition programs fail in a lot of instances. You really need to tie in your reward system to performance.

    And that is where the bulk of the work on setting up a new program resides. It can be challenging. And thus, companies pick easier benchmarks such as attendance or years of service. That cannot – we’re really striving to make that not the basis for your recognition program.

  2. What equates to superior performance
    Now, you have to commit to figuring out what equates to superior performance worthy of employee recognition when you’re achieving company goals. So I’m definitely guessing that we’re all familiar with this next one. Who’s been there when the boss’ favorite employee gets rewarded time and time again? Yup, enough said. You got to put controls in place that are supported by senior management to ensure that it’s about performance and not about favorites.

  3. Employee recognition from their immediate supervisor
    Now, the next one may be a bit surprising but there is a lot of research that supports that employees want recognition most from their immediate boss, the person they spend the most time with. And that is not the big boss.

    Interestingly, companies think it’s better if the big boss recognizes you. And it is important to sprinkle that in. Don’t lose that. But it is not what is most important to employees on a general basis. Really important to remember when you’re designing your program or refining an existing one.

  4. Managers who don’t recognize their employees
    Finally, allowing managers to continue who don’t recognize their employees is another major mistake that companies make. Most of the readers have worked for someone who never recognizes their employees.


It reflects poorly on the company as much as it reflects on the individual manager. Therefore, it’s in senior management’s best interest to work with those managers who have issues positively recognizing their employees.

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