The wonderfully well intentioned “Employee of the Month” program took a head dive into an empty pool shortly after we implemented it.  Why?  Because several employees who didn’t receive the award we’re clearly distraught and could not understand how THAT person received the award and they, or the person they thought significantly more worthy, did not.  You simply can’t dodge the “fairness” bullet on this one.

Then there was the dilemma around seniority vs. capability vs. quality of work – who gets the goods?  the benefits? the bigger bonuses?  the kudos?

Seniority is easiest because it is deemed fair by everyone, and achievable by everyone who doesn’t get fired.  However it’s also a cop-out, especially when you know that Joanie who’s only been with the company 2 years does a significantly better job than Barb who’s been there 8.  But we also want to reward loyalty as well as value institutional knowledge.

**Important side note and reminder:  The underlying critical premise being that Barb valuably contributes to the company – or she wouldn’t have been there this long.  Employees who are under performing and over paid because of seniority are a significant burden to the entire company – especially in the demoralization and gossip of the employees around them that feel the “unfairness” of the situation.  (Not to mention the negative hit on the leadership’s reputation.)  While you may be attached to those who have been with you through the good and the bad of growing the company, you need to guide these employees to contribute valuably.  Help them get out of the unchallenging , unsatisfying rut.

So when it comes to rewards and acknowledgements what’s a company to do?  Reward based on quality or seniority?  Benefits are safe in the land of seniority.  This we already know.  Informal praise and appreciation are safe in the land of capability and quality of work.

It’s formal praise that can be more tricky – raises, bonuses, rewards etc.  In reality these should reflect the contribution of the employee to the company and the effort and effectiveness of that employee to improve their piece of the puzzle.  This sends a clear message of what you reward directly and hence value the most – excellence.  Keep in mind that senority is already indirectly rewarded by more vacation, more investment in the 401K etc.

But how can you make formal work-quality praise more meaningful?

Make the employee feel special, because they are  🙂

Find out what makes EACH of your employees tick.  What motivates them?

When you do this, not only will they know you care about them, you will also help them be the best employees they can be by supporting their passions!  Ask the following and keep it close at hand when you are managing and rewarding them:

  1. What facets do they really like about their job? (organizing? creating? improving?)
  2. What do they personally like about the company?  (charitable giving?  family flex time?  opportunities to learn?)
  3. Why do they come to work? (paycheck to go fishing?, get self-esteem from work?, community of coworkers?)
  4. And have them fill out a “favorites” list as suggested by Chip Conley in his book “Peak:  How Great Companies get their Mojo from Maslow.”  What are their favorite restaurants, stores, foods, sports/teams, hobbies?  Then when you do want to reward an employee formally you can give them a meaningful gift of tuba lessons, or tickets to the local softball team, or funds for a babysitter – the reward is personally and individually meaningful.

Now go out there, make some employee appointments and spread the love! 🙂