Q. An employer asks: "I want to set up an 'Employee of the Month' program, but I don't know where to start. How do I go about doing this?"
A. Start with the things you need to consider and, with your answers, decide on what you will do. Here are questions to consider:
What's motivating you to want to have an employee of the month program? What do you want to accomplish? If your reason is that you think it's a good idea or because a competitor is doing it, that's not good enough. What are the specific benefits to your organization if you have a program? If you can't define specific benefits, why waste time and money on this?
How many employees would be eligible for the award? Are they in one location or more than one? How many locations? Will you have an employee-of-the-month at each location? Will you have a winner in each department?
Which employees will be eligible? Only employees in some departments? Only the nonexempt (usually the hourly-paid) employees? All employees except top management?
Who will select the winner? Will you have employees nominate candidates? Who will vote on them? Who will make the final selection? Will a team of management people make the selection? Will the top executive make the selection?
If one of your purposes is to encourage employees to improve their performance or the quality of their work, consider having employees recognize coworkers who exhibit outstanding performance or who "go beyond the call of duty."
You could give employees outstanding service certificates or thank you memos they would fill in with a coworker's name, the reason for giving the certificate or memo, and the date. The employee or employees with the most certificates or memos in a given month would be the winner or winners for that month.
What criteria/standards will you use to select the winner?
What is the form of recognition you will use? The typical recognition is a plaque on the wall with the employee's photo and/or name, or a paper certificate presented at a meeting of employees. An award also could be, or include, cash or a gift.
Here are some characteristics to look for in a winning "Employee of the Month." They are adapted from guidelines used in a program at Stanford University:
The employee demonstrates excellence in performance and customer service, actively builds partnership with colleagues, and contributes new ideas for the benefit of the University.
The employee is dedicated to accomplishment, is venturesome, takes responsibility and gets things done.
The employee is committed to people, and involves, challenges and supports others.The employee is enthusiastic.
The employee inspires others with a positive attitude, is energetic, motivates others into action, is friendly, and goes out of his or her way for others.
Q. Will an "Employee of the Month" award promote competition vs. cooperation and teamwork?
A. It is more likely to promote competition than cooperation. You have to decide which it is that you want: competition between individuals or cooperation within a team. An "Employee of the Month" program works, for example, to motivate individual sales people to excel. It can be counter-productive in a team environment.
If you want to use this type of award, consider offering it to teams or departments. Such as a "Team of the Month" Award. You'll have less resentment against the winners if the employees are on teams, or in departments, competing with other teams or departments.
Q. Is it advisable to have staff or management pick the award winners?
A. The answer depends on your current workplace culture and the kind of culture you want to encourage. Where does the power reside now? How much authority and responsibility do you place with employees? Do you want to encourage employees to accept more authority and responsibility? Answers to these questions will help you decide.
In addition, if you choose to go with a "Team of the Month" Award, it's pretty difficult to have the employees select or vote for the winning team.
One approach some employers use in selecting winners is to have the customers or clients do the voting. Typically, in this approach, the focus is on delivering quality customer service or achieving high customer satisfaction. Employees give the customer or client little ballots or coupons on which the customer or client can write in the name of the employee who gives them quality service or high satisfaction. The employee or employees who receive the most "votes" from the customers or clients in a given period are the winners.
Q. What are some negatives associated with "Employee of the Month" programs?
A. Following are three reasons this type of well-intentioned recognition program becomes counter-productive or fails:
The monthly award becomes routine. Employees eventually ignore it.
Employees come to view the monthly winners as the recipients of favoritism, even as the "boss's pets." If the Employee of the Month isn't selected by some objective system or measurement, in time employees see the selection of the monthly winners as the result of favoritism by someone in management.
The program eventually damages employees' morale. When the monthly winners do not actually deserve the recognition, the program can damage the morale of other employees.