EMPLOYEES: Show Me the Recognition

EMPLOYEES: Show Me the Recognition<@VM>Recognition: It's Not Hard to Do

By Gail Repsher Emery, Staff Writer

In today's fiercely competitive labor market, cash is key to attracting skilled technical employees, human resources managers and business experts agree. But spiraling salaries and mammoth bonuses don't bind workers to their employers.

"Money alone doesn't do it," said management guru Bob Nelson, San Diego-based author of "1001 Ways to Reward Employees" and other business books.

"Money is nice," he said, "but in most companies, when you ask people how they feel about working there, the response has nothing to do with what they're making."

Perks such as onsite dry cleaners and health clubs are important, because they make hard-working employees' lives easier. But even perks don't keep employees happily at work for long hours, human resources managers said.

What employees really want is recognition for a job well-done.

Money "isn't what binds them to you, at least not at any rational level," said Donald Payne, partner and director of research at the Business Research Lab in Hauppauge, N.Y. "What keeps them is individual recognition. Do they feel valued, part of a group?"

The Business Research Lab conducts employee satisfaction surveys. Its staff has never found high employee satisfaction in a company that seldom recognizes employee performance.

In other words, "people quit because they think they aren't valued. They may be, but if you don't convey that appreciation, they are going to go someplace else where they can get it," said Roger Sommer, a vice president in the human capital consulting group of Spherion Corp., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., staffing, technology and outsourcing consulting firm.

Showing appreciation doesn't have to be expensive. One of Nelson's favorite techniques is the personal thank-you note.

"It's not very flashy," he said. "It's just finding a way, as a matter of course, to thank people."

Even though money isn't the tie that binds, it's often used to reward employees. That's fine, human resources experts said, as long as the rewards are tied to performance.

Employees at Commerce One Global Services decided how they would meet company goals during a day-long retreat early this year. Their cash bonuses are based on how well they perform and how well the company performs, said Jeroen van Ek, group president for Global Services' southeastern region.

Because employees were involved in setting the goals, they "know they are really building something and they matter," said van Ek, who works in Arlington, Va. Commerce One is based in Pleasanton, Calif.

Wayne Williams, human resources manager for Robbins-Gioia Inc., an Alexandria, Va., provider of program management services, said bonuses improve productivity.

"People can see a reward for their results," Williams said. "If I'm performing and performing well, I'm going to be immediately rewarded."

Companies that offer cash bonuses tied to performance are using their money productively, but they need to offer other rewards and make sure those rewards are tailored to the organization and its employees, experts said.

For example, "things that are tried and true are often also trite, as in employee of the month," Payne said. "I don't think in a high-tech company, posting pictures on the walls is going to work."

And in a start-up firm where most employees are under 40, a years-of-service award probably isn't prestigious.

Even if the traditional does ring true with employees, it's not enough, Nelson said.

"If you have just one program, you are only going to impact a small number of employees," he said. "It's hard to move forward with just 5 percent of your employees motivated."

As managers work to reward employees, Mike Williams said: "Don't just give out an award for the sake of giving one out. There should be some clearly defined parameters that would qualify an individual for recognition.

"Then you have to make sure you apply [the criteria] consistently across the organization. If you don't apply it consistently, it devalues the award," said Williams, vice president of human resources for Extreme Logic, an Atlanta e-business consulting firm.

Managers should reward employees periodically, not just at the end of a project or at the end of a year, employment experts said.

"Maybe two or three little things might have a bigger impact than one big thing," said Sommer, chairman of the national employment committee of the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.

The little things could be a company-paid dinner for the employee and a guest or an extra day off with pay. "Whatever the person likes," Sommer said.

While it's important to have a structured rewards program, van Ek said, managers also need the flexibility to reward people spontaneously. Managers at Commerce One Global Services may give rewards on the spot, such as dinners out and DVD players.

"They might not be as expensive as a cash gift, but it shows you took the time and [that the employee's work] was really appreciated," van Ek said.

Managers must make sure these cash substitutes are also tied to performance, Nelson said.

"Using merchandise as kind of a bribe," Nelson said, such as awarding a trip to Tahiti or a mountain bike for fulfilling one's duties, "sets the expectation that you're going to do more of that. You're rewarding people for just showing up. It's more important to sit back and say how can we be an employer of choice."

BMC Software Inc. of Houston is one of Fortune magazine's Top 100 companies for which to work. The business management software company uses a variety of incentives to attract and keep employees.

The incentives include onsite health clubs, barber shops and stocked kitchens, trips, onsite family activities, bonuses based on individual and company performance and on-the-spot cash awards.

Employees work very hard and very long hours because the company has created a productive, comfortable environment for them, said Sharon Burton, human resources manager for East Coast operations. Still, she said, employees most value "challenging work, a career path they can see and the quality of management. If you have a good manager, you're probably going to stay."

Part of being a good manager, employment experts said, is taking the time to reward employees.

Recognition "doesn't come naturally," said Nelson, who admits he has to work hard at it himself.

"If you buy a card and it sits on your desk for two weeks, it comes across [to the employee] as too little, too late," Nelson said. "If you leave something like [a thank you] on someone's voice mail, I guarantee you they'll play it seven or eight times."

Recognition: It's Not Hard To Do
Recognizing employees doesn't need to take a lot of time or money, human resources experts said. To elicit a positive response, however, recognition must be heartfelt, tailored to the individual and given promptly after the employee has earned it.

Performance-based recognition can be simple or elaborate. Ideas offered by human resources experts include:

?A thank-you note from the boss;

?A certificate for dinner for two at the employee's favorite restaurant;

?Tickets to sports, music or cultural events for the employee and his or her family;

?A day of recognition where colleagues deliver flowers and praise to a fellow employee;

?A donation to the employee's favorite charity;

?House-cleaning services for six months;

?A press release touting the employee's achievements;

?Something the employee can use in his or her hobby;

?A gift certificate to the employee's favorite store or catalog;

?Membership dues to a professional organization;

?An invitation to the employee to choose his or her next assignment;
A recognition program must fit the organization's culture or it won't work, according to the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va. The society and other human resources experts offer these tips for creating a recognition program:

?Think about the firm's environment. Is it fun-filled or very businesslike?

?Determine the program's objectives. Think about how it will benefit the organization.

?Find out what managers and employees expect from the program.

?Clearly define the criteria for each reward, and provide examples of award-winning behavior.

?Specify the people who will identify award winners.

?Distribute authority and responsibility for the rewards throughout the organization.

?Distribute awards promptly after criteria have been met.

?Keep the selection process clean. Do not play favorites.

?Never establish reward quotas.

?Recognize and reward publicly.

?Change programs regularly to keep them fresh.

?Do not substitute recognition for adequate compensation.

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