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Recognize your employees during the holidays

Tis’ the time of year when we like to recognize employees with Christmas parties, bonuses and/or gifts. But according to author Cindy Ventrice in her book, “Make Their Day! Employee Recognition that Works” (Amazon), it really doesn’t work. The problem is this: Christmas gifts and bonuses are considered by most employees as some “entitlement” rather than a way for the boss to recognize a worker’s contribution. So, as a way to say “thank you for your good work,” these age-old practices no longer make it.

No one is suggesting anyone drop the Christmas bonus. Remember, if you traditionally give one, employees almost certainly consider it compensation. Cutting it out can be real problematic. I actually did that once. I can testify about the hard feelings I caused.

Ventrice, on the other hand, offers some good ideas for recognizing employees that can be used now or later.

Here’s one that costs absolutely nothing, but will likely be very well-received. Give each employee a personal message. A handwritten note of recognition and thanks can have a deep impact on the recipient. Be sure to cite specifics about what the recipient did with which you are pleased. The fact that you took your time to write it out will also be noticed. And it’s not just a holiday idea, either — it’s good any time you want to give some extra kudos to an employee.

A novel idea, Ventrice suggests putting up a special message board displaying a handwritten note for each employee, pointing out something that you value about each employee. It’s kind of a 2-for-1 idea — it’s still a personal recognition while it’s also a “public” accolade. It’s recognition for all fellow employees to see.

Another innovative idea Ventrice reports on is called “self-recognition.” It’s where the employees recognize themselves for good things accomplished, keep a record of achievements and present their record of successes at the company that is designated “Recognition Day.” The company she cites is Graniterock, a 100-year-old California firm that is among Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

There’s a “Recognition Day” at every Graniterock facility. The employees decide how they want to do Recognition Day. They are often themed days or held outside the company. For example, one was held at a miniature golf course where a success story was recognized by top management at every hole. Another was held at a mall before it opened; still others at a local bowling alley. The events are fun and effective.

Finally, what token of appreciation do employees value the most? After surveying employees in 98 firms, her findings might surprise you because the reward was not monetary. Time off was the big winner. Moreover, it didn’t matter what the age and/or background of the employees was — time off still ruled.

Usable examples included flex time. A longer lunch hour, going home early or similar ideas can be ways to signal a good job accomplished. Others cited included a chance to learn from a senior staff member or to take a course that wasn’t offered to everyone or even getting special assignments.

Today, recognizing employees clearly calls for some creative thought. The old Christmas bonus is apparently, well, old.

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