Employee Recognition

ECEC sector staff are so busy that employee recognition is often put on the back burner. There are some compelling reasons to focus attention on employee recognition.

Employees who feel appreciated:

  • Often go above and beyond what is expected of them
  • Are more productive and motivated
  • Are more likely to stay with the organization

Employee recognition lets employees know that their hard work is valued. It doesn't have to cost anything, it can be done in less than five minutes and the results can have a lasting impact.

In this Section:

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is the acknowledgement of an individual or team's behaviour, effort and accomplishments that support the organization's goals and values. Recognition is not one-size-fits all. Thought needs to go into what would be appreciated by the person being recognized. Ask your employees how they would like to be appreciated.

Why is employee recognition important?

Employee recognition is important because it:
  • Lets employees know that their work is valued and appreciated
  • Gives employees a sense of ownership and belonging in their place of work
  • Improves morale
  • Enhances loyalty
  • Helps build a supportive work environment
  • Increases employee motivation
  • Improves employee retention

Guidelines for employee recognition

Employee recognition needs to be a common practice in your organization. For the greatest effect, incorporate recognition as a normal aspect of day-to-day life in your workplace.

Employees can be recognized for both individual and group achievements. When recognizing a group of individuals, it is important for each person to be distinguished for their own contribution. Group recognition contributes to team building and informs the group that together, they are valuable to the organization.

To be effective, employee recognition must be sincere and heartfelt. Employees will sense if their efforts are acknowledged only out of duty or if comments are lacking in sincerity. Acknowledgement of effort and accomplishments must be timely in order to be effective. Remember that each person has their own preferences for how they want to be recognized – what one employee appreciates could be a real turn-off for someone else.

Remember that recognition can be either formal or informal. Formal initiatives can be put in place on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis, with informal recognition taking place when it is merited.

Keys for giving positive feedback to employees:

Recognition expert Bob Nelson gives the following guidelines for day-to-day recognition:

'ASAP Cubed' Guidelines:

  • As Soon – Timing is important; don't delay praise
  • As Sincere – Do it because you're truly appreciative
  • As Specific – Give details of the achievement
  • As Personal – Do it in person (or a handwritten note)
  • As Positive – Don't mix in criticism
  • As Proactive – Don't wait for perfect performance

Informal and formal recognition programs

There are endless ways to recognize employees. The following are informal employee recognition ideas for managers. Employee recognition must be designed to conform to your workplace culture and to the needs and interests of the individuals. Some of these suggestions may or may not fit all workplace cultures or individuals.

Informal recognition ideas for managers
  • A simple "hello" at the start of the day and "goodbye" at the end of the day is an obvious but sometimes overlooked form of recognition. As employees are called upon to do more with less, spending just a few minutes chatting can open lines of communication and can set a positive tone for the day.
  • Say a sincere thank you for a job well done. Do this often and be specific (e.g., "You handled that client well, thank you," or "Thanks, those were some really good ideas that you provided at the staff meeting. They will move us forward to solve the problem.")
  • A personal note can be very meaningful. Keep a pack of note cards in your desk for convenience. You could also send an e-mail to acknowledge work well done, with a copy to the executive director.
  • Tell your employee about positive comments that you hear from others.
  • Use the organization's newsletter as a way of acknowledging an employee or thanking staff for a job well done.
  • Acknowledge individuals or teams at a staff meeting, management meeting, board meeting, or special event. This is often meaningful for the recipient and can be a source of inspiration for others.
  • Organize celebrations – at the end of a project, after the quarterly review, individual milestones, team milestones or just because.
  • Food is important. You could have muffins or cookies at meetings. Reward achievement with a box of chocolates, or bring in ice cream on a hot Monday morning or Friday afternoon. It does not have to be all the time – keep it spontaneous.
  • Acknowledge birthdays, work anniversaries, new babies and other significant life events. Gone are the days when work and the rest of life remain separate.
  • Give out hour-off certificates for exceptional achievements. Let employees accumulate them for up to one day off.
  • Have a team meeting outside the office at the local coffee shop or restaurant.
  • Create a recognition bulletin board to post “thanks” from clients.
  • Give an employee a day off for a job well done.
  • Ask an employee to represent you at a meeting outside the organization.
  • Take an employee out to lunch.
  • Attach a thank you note to your employee's paycheque.
  • Write down three things you appreciate about your team members and give it to them.

Based on recognition ideas from Bob Nelson and The National Association for Employee Recognition (see Links and Resources below).

Planning a formal recognition program

In addition to informal recognition of employees, some organizations may wish to set up a more formal recognition program. These types of programs can take many forms and recognize various types of accomplishments. The following are basic steps for developing a formal recognition program:

  1.  Set up a planning group. This should not be a top-down process. The buy-in will be greater and the results more substantial if a cross-section of employees contribute and take some ownership of the process. It need not be a large group, but it should be reflective of the various types of employees.

Note: Many ECEC employers have a small number of staff. Therefore, anything that requires setting up a committee or planning group may be difficult to accomplish.

  1. The planning group needs to determine what accomplishments will be recognized. Here are a few possibilities:
    • Milestones
    • Length of service
    • Personal accomplishments
    • Team accomplishments

This group could take the lead in asking other staff what they would like to see recognized and how. They may wish to develop a short survey to get everyone's input.

With the competition for talent and retention issues, a newer trend is to recognize length of service before the five-year mark.

  1. Once it has been determined what accomplishments will be recognized, the planning group should think about how often recognition will occur and what will be provided as a token of appreciation. It may be necessary to establish some sort of budget, although some formal recognition processes require few, if any, resources.
  2. Last but not least, communicate the formal recognition program to all managers and staff. It is advisable to also inform the board so directors are aware and supportive of the program. Review your program on a regular basis to ensure that it's still a fit for your organization's culture and remains relevant and important to employees.

One Size does not fit all

Employees are different and what might retain one employee might not retain another. For example, new graduates may prefer “cash” (i.e. a higher salary), while older employees may value a pension plan or RRSP. Employees planning a family may value the opportunity to enrol their children in the child care program, while older employees may value the opportunity to work part-time as they ease into retirement.  Executive directors need to pay attention to changing demographics and create initiatives that reflect their staffing complement.

Examples of formal recognition programs

Below are examples of formal employee recognition programs including both individual and group recognition:

The Catholic Family Counseling Centre in Kitchener holds the "Cathy Awards" each year near the time of the Oscars. The awards are named after the executive director, Cathy Brothers. The director of communications designs a list of categories for awards, some humorous and some kind, related to things that are important to the employees, for example, "most compassionate therapist." All employees vote in advance on who should receive the awards. On the night of the awards, staff and their partners are invited to a casual beer and pizza supper at the agency. All costs are covered by the agency. Before new awards are announced, guests view a PowerPoint presentation showing all the previous award winners. This adds to the fun and has a way of making everyone feel included. The awards given out are plaques with a picture of an Oscar with the executive director's head on it. A picture of the winner's head is also on the award, superimposed over a comical body along with a description of the award.

The Ann Davis Transition Society in British Columbia has developed a number of ways of recognizing employees. Bobbi Jacob, the executive director, writes a personal note of acknowledgement to any employee who has done something terrific. The organization also has a Ground Hog Day Pancake breakfast held at the home of the executive director. She provides and cooks breakfast for all employees. The Ann Davis Transition Society also has a strategy for celebrating birthdays: each employee assumes the responsibility for another employee's birthday, including cake and card.

Women's Resources in Lindsay, Ontario has a number of ways of recognizing employees. Staff birthdays are celebrated, usually with cake, flowers and a gift. A “secret sister” game is played around Christmas where each staff person draws the name of another staff person out of a hat and then buys her small gifts during the three weeks leading up to Christmas. A Christmas luncheon is then held where everyone tries to guess the identity of her “secret' sister” and exchanges a larger Christmas gift. The “secret sister” then goes on to organize her “sister's” birthday celebration that year.

Abbotsford Community Services in Abbotsford, British Columbia has a Wellness Circle made up of a cross section of staff, supervisors and managers. Several events are held for employees throughout the year and these include everything from a "Soup for the Soul" luncheon to feel-good activities such as hand massages, head massages, Reiki and chocolate fondue.