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Employee Recognition: Practical Ways to Positively Reinforce

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In challenging times, when we increasingly pressure our staff to do more with less, maintaining a satisfied and productive workforce is harder than ever. So what can you as a manager do to keep your staff motivated? According to experts, it's as simple as remembering to give recognition when and where it's due.

It’s Not About The Money
Employers who fear that the price of implementing a recognition program may prove too costly need not worry. Studies show that recognition and praise is the number one reason employees stay in their work environment, with fair compensation being secondary. Employee recognition expert and author Bob Nelson recently conducted a study involving 34 organizations ranging from the United States Postal Service to Universal Studios. His findings gave evidence that there is a solid correlation between non-monetary forms of recognition and improved job performance. And while his best-seller, 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, lists some cash-based forms of rewards, many of the suggestions don’t cost a penny. In fact, Nelson asserts that non-cash awards and incentives boost morale, productivity, competitiveness, revenue, and profit. Just as importantly, these types of positive reinforcement reduce stress, absenteeism, and turnover.

Gregory P. Smith, author of the managers’ must-have book, Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High-Turnover to High-Retention, also prescribes praise over cash when it comes to retaining your best and brightest. "People have a basic human need to feel appreciated, and recognition programs help meet that need," notes Smith. "Money may attract people to the front door, but something else has to keep them from going out the back. " Smith’s book also provides low or no-cost, easy-to-implement recognition programs that keep people focused and heading in the right direction.

Make Your Commendations Count
So that’s it – compliments can be the complimentary ticket to a better, brighter workforce? Well, not quite. While it need not cost a lot, implementing an effective recognition program does require that you stay intensely aware of each employee’s performance, and be highly committed to being vocal and timely when giving praise. Only by being consistent, sincere, and fair with your commendations can your recognition program be credible.

Fun*cilitators CEO Gail Howerton, who is often called upon to speak on the ways to energize enterprises, is a strong believer of the power of the spoken word – when it comes to recognition, that is. In her Workforce magazine article, 'Rewards with a Personal Touch', she outlines an approach to effective verbal praise:

  1. Be specific. Address the individual and his or her accomplishment. Let that person know how they were effective and that you noticed – tell them you will continue to notice.
  2. Be genuine and sincere. The effect of verbal praise is weakened when given as a general statement to a large group. "You all did a great job" holds no meaning for individuals and raises a suspicion that the manager doesn’t really know who did what. The same holds true for certificates and bonuses just dropped into mailboxes, rather than presented with pomp and circumstance.
  3. Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated. It’s much more effective to change an employee’s behavior through positive reinforcement rather than through discipline. Find something they’re doing well and praise them for it.
  4. Give praise often, and in person. E-mail, notes and memos through supervisors are great, so long as they’re balanced with a personal touch. Praise should be given at least four times more often than discipline.

Kudos is Key
"Today’s fast-paced global economy makes recognition programs more important than ever," says Kimberly Smithson, a behavior-consequence management consultant and President of the National Association for Employee Recognition.

With businesses facing more challenges than usual, employee recognition is now so much more than a pat on the back. It is a vital source of reassurance that lets your most deserving employees know that their contribution to the company is most certainly noted and appreciated. As many experts have stated, your recognition program need not be elaborate nor expensive. All you need is to take the time and make the commitment to implement your own program, and its cost – and value – is entirely up to you.

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