Rewarding Recognition

By Tereena Morelli

Keeping everyone happy is a prominent yet challenging goal of most well-run organizations.

Managers and human resource departments are continually striving to find ways to identify and address the needs of individuals to create and maintain a productive, inclusive, and rewarding workplace. Variety in the workforce through cultural background, gender identification, religious beliefs, and political affiliations (and more!) create unique challenges when it comes to developing cohesion.

The good news is there is one element universally shared by all – regardless of these differences: the need to feel appreciated.

How to achieve this has been a topic of debate for years. The words ‘thank you’ certainly go a long way, but the old saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ also applies here.

So, how do we effectively, yet efficiently achieve this? The simplest way is by breaking it down into three categories: Team Appreciation, Goal Recognition, and Special Acknowledgment. Each of these areas presents opportunities to create special moments that resonate with the recipients and communicate the message that they make a difference. 

Team Appreciation

From grand Christmas parties and golf tournaments to more intimate co-worker birthday cakes and staff retreats, organizations have always found ways to show their employees they value their commitment and efforts.

Historically these events were viewed as a valuable way in developing team camaraderie and job satisfaction. However, a decline in attendance and/or lack of enthusiasm for these events has forced many companies to question if these appreciation activities are still effective in the modern-day workplace.

The answer for those folks questioning the value, is that Yes, these events are valuable and productive… if done right! You probably need to change it up and keep things fresh!

 The secret is to keep the experience from becoming predictable and – heaven forbid – boring!

Consider a theme for the annual Christmas Party. Perhaps each year celebrate a different decade. In 2022 dance the night away at a Flapper-inspired Roaring 20’s party. In 2023, a 1930’s ‘Dust Bowl’-inspired event hosted in the party room at the local heritage park. The food, décor, and music all choreographed to create a memorable experience each year which can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their personal interests, age, or gender.

How about incorporating an element of surprise in the obligatory office birthday cake ritual? Celebrate quarterly, rather than monthly, and make it something exciting everyone looks forward to. In March, have an executive chef come in to demonstrate the gourmet talents of flaming a Baked Alaska. In June, hire a singing birthday clown to wander the offices, delivering balloons, cupcakes, and smiles! Something completely different each quarter will keep everyone intrigued and curious to see what will happen next time.

Goal Recognition

Goal recognition requires the exact opposite approach to team appreciation. No surprises here; this form of employee recognition needs to be structured, anticipated, and consistent to be successful.

Years of Service and Safety Awards programs are two prominent categories in this area. Team members understand a clear goal that is to be achieved and the form of recognition that they will receive upon successful completion.

The prize should be tangible in nature and have a universally perceived value. A pair of hockey tickets, a custom company jacket, or a points reward program to choose your own gift are all excellent examples of recognition gifts widely used in this area.

The presentation of this award to your team member should include a public acknowledgement of their accomplishment. Depending on the goal this could be as simple as a highlighted mention in the monthly company bulletin or newsletter, or it could be a formal presentation if the achievement warrants that level and/or can produce encouragement for others.

Keep in mind, though, there is room here for some light-hearted fun, too. For example, if members of your organization are big supporters of the Movember charity event for men’s health issues, incorporate an employee driven contest for the best moustache. Who wouldn’t want a Bronzed Razor trophy hanging over their desk?!

Special Acknowledgment

The pinnacle of Employee Recognition is in the category of special acknowledgement. This is the one area when all eyes are on the organization and its rewards and recognition program.

This is where the adage ‘it’s not the gift, but the thought that counts’ is 100 per cent correct. A great amount of thought should – or should I say must – be put into this type of recognition because it is viewed and analyzed by all others about how the organization truly appreciates its team members.

Numerous movies have capitalized on the scene of the primary character in the office surrounded by balloons, cutting the cake, then finally sitting at their desk alone looking at the obligatory and hackneyed company-branded gold watch and asking, ‘Is that all that the past 40 years was worth?”

The reason everyone knows this scene all too well is because organizations have done this so poorly for so long. We must take these rare opportunities to highlight those that have worked so hard and cared so much about the organizations they work for, and we have to do this by working equally hard to show that we sincerely care about their contributions.

Coming to a head

One Alberta-based oil well service company absolutely nailed the special acknowledgment category when one of its long-term team members was retiring.

To celebrate the occasion, a wonderful dinner was organized in his honour. It included a cocktail reception, dinner, formal presentations, and this gentleman was surrounded by his co-workers, friends, and family. All the lovely elements one would come to expect at the end of a successful career. What he didn’t see coming was one little special element that was to be added to his day.

As he stood at the podium, concluding speech in hand, a few team members make a grand entrance – boxes in tow – for the final presentation.

Inside those boxes? Hundreds of miniature replicas of him, in his company hockey goalie jersey and stick in hand, with disproportionately large heads on each figurine bobbling back and forth! Guests excitedly lined up to get one of these coveted bobble heads autographed by the company’s soon-to-be-retiring most famous goalie!

Moments and memories like that cannot be bought; they must be made with creative ideas that reflect the thought and care from those who present them. 

Recognition matters… now more than ever

The challenge to find ways to tell your team members that they are valued and appreciated has never been more important. The difficult work atmosphere and mental health strain that COVID-19 has placed on so many of us has taken and continues to take its toll. As we move slowly towards the end of the pandemic, we absolutely need to make sure those folks who have stood by and persevered the storm with us know exactly how much they are appreciated.

In the United States, the first Friday in March is National Employee Appreciation Day. While it might be a different country, and the date may have passed, that shouldn’t stop any of our organizations from making our own Employee Appreciation Day a thing. But don’t just limit it to a single day; make it a part of your corporate culture and corporate DNA.

Tereena Morelli is proudly Edmonton-born and raised and is co-owner of Islay Agencies – Printing & Promotional Products. With a background in marketing and personnel management, Tereena is also a connoisseur of enlightened travel, gourmet dinners, and Warner Brothers cartoons.