Employee Recognition Needs to Be More Sustainable Than a Fad Diet

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Over cake with colleagues at a recent company celebration, I had an epiphany. Well, perhaps not an epiphany as this is a truth I’ve long known, but definitely an analogy worth sharing.

As we enjoyed cake and petits fours (they’re smaller, so fewer calories, right?), my colleagues shared their plans to “get into shape for swimsuit season,” as they called it.

New Year’s resolutions for losing weight and getting fit have long passed, so now it is time to focus on the latest quick weight loss scheme – the newest pill, the craziest fad diet.

As we all joked together, I realized that this is what many companies do with employee recognition, motivation and engagement. They try the “quick fixes” – Pizza Party Wednesdays, Bagel Fridays, Employee of the Month, and my personal favorite, some form of peer nomination with a “winner” drawn from a hat.

Strategic recognition, not just a grapefruit diet

Like the infamous grapefruit diet, these are all quick fixes. Just as no one can eat grapefruit every day for months on end, no strong company culture of recognition can survive on the infrequent and untimely Employee of the Month program and other similar plans.

A healthy lifestyle and long-term weight-loss maintenance comes from one approach – diet and exercise. The same is true for your company culture. A healthy culture and long-term employee engagement and motivation come from one approach – truly strategic employee recognition.

The hallmark of strategic employee recognition is consistent, timely, frequent and specific recognition of all individuals when they demonstrate your core values in contribution to achieving your strategic objectives. Not just one worker once a month, but any employee who deserves that praise and positive reinforcement.

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And this needs to come not just from managers, but from peers, too. That’s how you build a true culture of recognition – give everyone responsibility for contributing to and maintaining that culture over the long term.

(I must also give a hat-tip to Lance Haun whose recent post Fad Diets and Facing Reality cemented my thoughts on this analogy.)

Is your company on a fad diet for employee recognition or committed to a wellness routine for strategic company recognition?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.