Companies embrace praise
Employee recognition – especially in a down economy – can be an effective and inexpensive morale-booster.
The human desire for recognition starts early. Watch a third-grader beam at the gold star on a spelling paper, or a high-schooler triumphantly clutch a sports trophy.Skip to next paragraph
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In the workplace, that recognition takes many forms. Sometimes it's a quiet thank you, other times a bonus or a public award. Either way, it is a gesture that employers ignore at their peril.
So important is recognition that employee-appreciation programs are turning into a veritable industry, with national and even international organizations helping firms reward workers for a job well done.
Companies spend more than $1 billion annually on employee service awards, according to the Promotional Products Association International. Dozens of firms, large and small, even employ a manager to handle corporate recognition. At Cargill Inc., the title is chief recognition officer. At Intel, it is corporate recognition manager. Business books feature titles such as "Hug Your People" and "The Power of Appreciation in Business."
"If everyone was treated with respect and courtesy from the beginning, we wouldn't need this industry," says Christi Gibson, executive director of Recognition Professionals International in Naperville, Ill. She notes that in a survey of 10,000 employees from Fortune 1,000 companies, a lack of recognition was a major reason for leaving a job.
Roy Saunderson, president of the Recognition Management Institute in London, Ontario, finds impersonalization in the workplace. "Managers are walking by and not acknowledging employees or saying their name," he says.
Determined not to fit in that category, Dion McInnis takes what he calls a "morning walkaround" through his department at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. It gives him an opportunity to visit briefly with each person, offering anything from a simple hello to a question about work to a chat about what is going on in their lives. "It reminds them that I appreciate who they are," says Mr. McInnis, an associate vice president handling fundraising and relationship-building.
In addition to his daily walkaround, McInnis takes his staff to a nearby ice cream shop several times a year. On annual reviews, he states his appreciation for each person's work. He also uses meetings and e-mails to offer personalized thank-you's.
According to WorldatWork, three-quarters of US companies give tangible rewards such as certificates and plaques, 60 percent give cash, and half give gift certificates.
Some recent examples:
•At a medical practice in Austin, Texas, gestures of thanks include quarterly companywide activities such as bowling night or a night at the ball park.
As office space shrinks, amenities grow
Besides personal awards and verbal recognition, companies are offering a wider range of amenities than in years past to show their appreciation for workers.
While break rooms and coffee bars still rank as the most common amenities, employers are increasingly providing Internet cafes, fitness facilities, and outdoor recreation areas, according to a study by the International Facility Management Association.
As employee workspace decreases, these amenities become more essential. Office space for middle managers, for example, has shrunk from an average of 151 square feet in 1994 to 121 in 2007, a decline of nearly 20 percent. Employers want to attract and retain the best employees while compensating for reduced space.
"As companies reduce personal workspace, employees place greater importance on in-house amenities that simplify and enrich their workday, such as lunch-hour yoga at the company fitness center," says Angie Earlywine, workplace strategist for HOK Advance Strategies in San Francisco. Multipurpose space has become a popular feature. Other popular amenities are exercise parks, cot rooms, and lactation areas for nursing mothers.
Last month Steve Sarowitz of Paylocity.com, an online payroll service in Arlington Heights, Ill., opened a game room where employees can go during breaks to play foosball and darts.