Effective Ways to Motivate and Recognize Employees

Employee recognition programs are commonly used by companies to boost morale and enhance productivity
Effective Ways to Motivate | Amwork

However, recent research suggests that not all recognition initiatives yield the desired results. In this article, we'll explore how some employee award programs can unintentionally demotivate your best employees and provide insights into more effective ways to motivate and recognize your workforce.

The Flawed Nature of Some Awards

While many companies distribute awards like “employee of the month” or “top salesperson” with good intentions, it's important to consider their impact. According to Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ian Larkin and his colleagues, these awards may not always lead to the expected increase in motivation and performance.

The Case of Attendance Awards

Larkin and his team studied an attendance award program in a midwestern laundry plant. Initially, the program aimed to reduce absenteeism and tardiness, which can cost companies billions of dollars annually. Employees with perfect attendance were eligible for gift card rewards. The program did succeed in reducing tardiness initially, but it also revealed some unintended consequences.

Gaming the System

Employees began to “game” the system by showing up on time only when they were eligible for the award. In some cases, they called in sick rather than reporting late, leading to unplanned absences. This behavior contradicts the belief that award programs can instill long-term, positive habits.

Demotivating Top Performers

The most significant finding was that stellar employees who already had excellent attendance and productivity saw a 6 to 8 percent decrease in productivity after the program's introduction. These top performers felt demotivated and questioned the fairness of the award, as it rewarded behavior they had consistently exhibited.

The Crowding Out Effect

The researchers concluded that rewarding one specific behavior can sometimes “crowd out” intrinsic motivation for other valuable behaviors. In this case, the attendance award had an adverse impact on overall plant productivity.

Effective Recognition Programs

Despite these challenges, effective recognition programs can be valuable for companies. The key is to manage them carefully to prevent unintended negative effects. Recognition programs that focus on exceptional performance or past achievements tend to be more successful and less susceptible to gaming.

Non-Monetary Rewards

Consider using non-monetary rewards, such as plaques, public recognition, or team meetings to acknowledge outstanding performance. These methods can be more effective in motivating employees and avoiding the gaming mentality associated with monetary incentives.

In conclusion, while employee recognition is essential, it's crucial to implement recognition programs thoughtfully. Some awards, especially those that reward basic job expectations, may not produce the desired results and can even demotivate top performers. Instead, focus on recognizing exceptional achievements and consider non-monetary forms of recognition to inspire and motivate your workforce effectively.


Matteo Bianchi

Matteo Bianchi


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