The Wrong Way to Thank Employees

No worker has ever received an engraved plaque that read “Thanks for keeping your seat warm for 10 years.” Yet that is the message employers send with awards for employees’ five, ten or 20-year anniversaries, according to human resources and recognition experts. They say that most recognition programs reward the wrong things.

As evidence, consider the many employee-service awards for sale on eBay, like this gold tie clip celebrating a 35-year anniversary at Goodyear, yours for about $7.99.


Anniversary awards – from medals to gift certificates redeemed via a catalog of jewelry and household appliances – have little to no impact on whether employees feel good about their company, says Eric Mosley, chief executive of Globoforce, a company that designs employee-recognition programs for companies.


Even so, 59% of employers are offering tenure-based awards this year, a figure that has ranged between 54% and 62% since 2011, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.


“You’d never add this kind of program to a new company, but it’s pretty hard to do away with it” once in place, said Robert Calamai, a retired human-resources executive who now teaches at New York University’s Stern School of Business.


Companies spend about 1-2% of payroll on recognition programs, according to HR consultancy Bersin by Deloitte, but firms like JetBlue Airways Corp. and Intuit Inc. are modernizing them to reward results and execution, not inertia.


The new awards also bring in social elements, such as using praise or “badges” bestowed by colleagues on a company’s internal network to dole out points that can be converted into gifts or cash.

In part, those changes are happening because loyalty and longevity are no longer the goal for many employers or workers, said Razor Suleman, founder of Achievers Corp., another vendor of employee-recognition programs.

That’s particularly true for younger workers, who expect to be recognized sooner than later. “Millennials are staying in jobs, on average, 18 months, so if you tell them their first opportunity to get recognized is in five years, you’re not speaking their language,” said Suleman.

NYU’s Calamai suggests ditching anniversary awards, which he says are meaningless and often removed from what’s actually happening in a person’s career.

“I’ve been at luncheons of people for their 25-year celebration that we knew were on the verge of getting fired. Talk about an awkward moment,” he said.

Article by Lauren Weber as seen on The Wall Street Journal Online.

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