Why Employee Recognition Programs Fail

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Mar 20, 2020

Acknowledging your employee’s hard work is crucial to a smooth-running workplace. However, if it isn’t implemented correctly, a company can quickly see its workforce losing productivity.

Why recognition is important

Employee recognition is the acknowledgment of an individual’s or team’s effort or results, often focusing on the cases where exceptional work has occurred. It may seem like common knowledge that recognizing hard work is essential, but not everyone realizes this.

It’s something we seek

If a member of your staff goes out of their way to do their job and doesn’t get rewarded for all the energy spent, they’re far less likely to do it again. This is because humans, as a species, need respect and acknowledgment to determine their self-worth.

It’s not about their pride or lack of maturity, but rather something we do naturally as humans.

Your employees need to feel that the effort they put into doing work for you does not go unnoticed, especially when they do more than what’s asked of them. If they do go without any attention given to them, they’ll feel a lack of self-respect and see a lack of meaning in their work.

What makes a good recognition system

There are both good and bad ways to recognize and reward employees. The right ideas will see your company thrive, with little, if any, unfavorable behavior coming from your staff. This is because good systems are designed to make employees feel motivated to work harder, even if it is for an external reward.

It’s specific

A well-organized system of rewarding and recognizing employees does not look for random things to praise. Instead, it has a particular list of items that make a member of staff worthy of recognition. This set of determining factors help to ensure that there is no favoritism or forgotten employees.

A specified list also helps your staff to know what to strive for if they want recognition. Keeping the rewards equal will be beneficial. A great but simple reward will help improve office health by helping employees get more active in the workplace.

It’s on time

One of the worst things you can do is make an employee feel unrecognized. This happens if a member of staff does hard work that’s worthy of receiving recognition, but too much time passes before you reward them. This allows employees to feel neglected and decrease the effort they put in at work until they feel noticed.

If you reward the person soon after they show ambition and drive, they’re more likely to keep it and will prove to be an asset to the company.

What causes recognition to drive your team apart

If recognition is such a good thing, it can be hard to imagine why it would drive your team apart. However, this can actually happen very quickly without anyone noticing until an employee voices their feelings.


Jealousy is a natural human emotion that all members of your staff are subject to. While rewarding an employee can be an excellent thing, if another effective co-worker sees this and feels as though their own work should have received the recognition, they’ll develop negative feelings.

These feelings can quickly result in an employee doing less than what’s required of them or simply never trying to achieve more in their line of work.

The favorite

If one employee is rewarded more than their colleagues, then they’ll likely be called a favorite. Often this will result in one of two situations occurring in the office. The first is that your staff member will begin to act entitled, especially when a high-level reward has been given out.

They’ll also likely begin slacking off as they think recognition will come despite their lack of work. This occurs as well once an employee is promoted above their skill level. This is known as the Peter principle.

The other effect that can happen is similar to when your staff envies each other. They will begin to think there’s no point in trying to get recognition as they will never receive it. This can quickly lead to a lack of productivity in the office.

How to assess and repair the damages

If you already have a reward system in place, it can be hard to pinpoint the areas where it’s falling apart. This is generally why inadequate recognition plans are never changed and why it can cost a company.

Stop and restart

One of the easiest ways to fix a broken system is to stop it and redefine it. This means that your method for rewarding employees needs to be completely redesigned. It may be a lot of work, but there are several simple steps that’ll make it easy to make your staff feel appreciated when they do hard work.

Ask around

Your employees know what they want. By designing a quick questionnaire for everyone to fill out or merely setting up a suggestions box, you’ll hear all about what your staff members want. This can be especially helpful when you have a diverse, multi-generational workforce as expectations in terms of rewards and other job aspects can highly vary across certain demographics. They may not always have the best ideas, but it will help you create an office space where they feel appreciated.

Example of a bad system of recognition

As previously explained, not all methods of reward are good, and you’ll need to do work to spot a bad one. However, here is a prime example of a common way that employees are recognized and how they negatively impact a company.

The employee of the month

By rewarding an employee for their regular work or by only acknowledging one person from a team, you can create a strong sense of envy and demotivation between staff members.

If the requirements for employee of the month are known, and one person fails it, they will be less productive, knowing that they have no chance of receiving that recognition or reward anymore.

Tried and true

When it comes to working with people, you need to remember that they’re only human. One method won’t fit every business without careful planning. By listening to employees and evaluating each person’s flow of work, you’ll soon figure out if anything is driving your team apart.

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