Using an employee of the month contest to reward your employees when they do something particularly well could play an important role in boosting productivity and improving morale among your workers. Used the wrong way, however, it can do your business more harm than good.
According to research carried out by companies such as McKinsey, SHRM/Globoforce, and Deloitte, companies with highly effective employee of the month contests that boost worker engagement, report voluntary turnover rates that are up to 31% lower than those of their competitors.
It might, however, come as a surprise to readers that the best performance motivator was found to be, not financial or non-cash incentives, but being commended and/or praised by management in front of their peers. No less than 67% of employees surveyed voted for this option.
When planning your employee of the month contest, the following are important aspects to keep in mind:
The program should have clear goals
Before implementing such a contest, you should be clear about your reasons for such a contest and the goals you want to achieve. You might, for example, want to reduce spending, boost productivity or sales, or get departments to compete against each other in a healthy manner.
The goals and rules of your employee of the month contest should be clear and everything possible should be done to prevent a situation where other employees believe that favoritism played a role in the final decision.
Take into account that with a typical employee of the month contest there will only be 12 winners per year. This could potentially cause disappointment and feelings of resentment among the rest of the workers. Alternative employee of the month nomination ideas could, for example, include offering a variety of trophies and awards, each covering a different type of performance. Or to have an employee of the month contest for every department of your firm. Whatever you plan, do not proceed unless you have discussed it with your workers.
Make sure the parameters are clear and fair
Although the bar for winning an employee award should be high, it shouldn’t be unrealistically high or unfair toward certain workers or groups of workers. It should also be very clear what workers have to do to win the reward. Plus everyone should have an equal chance to win it. And when deciding on the selection process for the employee of the month, make sure your workers are also involved and not just top management.
The following aspects are also important:
- Make sure that everyone knows and agrees on how performance will be measured
- Set a target that is both reasonable and attainable while still setting the bar relatively high
- Draw up rules that are easy to verify and understand
- Ensure that your system is not completely inflexible in case unforeseen circumstances arise
- Be specific. General slogans such as ‘team spirit’ or ‘positive attitude’ might sound good, but are hard to quantify. If your goal, for example, is to improve teamwork, consider letting employees vote about the outcome. If you would like to improve productivity, set measurable goals such as a certain percentage increase in sales or production. And If you want to improve customer service, think, e.g., of introducing customer service cards or a customer voting system on your website.
- Ask your workers to come up with employee of the month ideas.
Prizes should be meaningful
It’s no use giving the winner of your employee of the month contest an insignificant little prize that could be seen as an insult. The prize should preferably be handed over in public and both the winner and his colleagues should know precisely why it was awarded. A non-cash award such as an engraved cup or a recognition plaque for his or her office is often highly appreciated. Other possibilities include a desk accessory, gift card, reserved parking space, or one or more days off. If you have a company newspaper or monthly newsletter, make sure it features the winner and gives detailed background information about what he or she did to deserve the award.
Properly communicate the program
You don’t want the award to become tainted by charges of favoritism and thereby let it degenerate into an exercise in de-motivation your staff. To prevent that, make sure you communicate every single aspect of the award program to your employees. A great idea is to first release a draft version of the program with an employee of the month nomination example, and ask workers to provide feedback.
The final version of the program should be communicated to all employees, together with the goals and criteria for winning. And when the employee of the month announcement is made, everyone should know exactly why he or she won so they will never feel it was undeserved.
It makes very little sense to carry on with a program that is obviously not a success. Employee of the month contests often fail when they have fatal flaws such as it being unclear why a specific individual won the award or when the same person wins it over and over while all the other workers feel they have been trying their best.
When things don’t go according to plan, management should sit down with employee representatives and try to find out exactly where the problem is. Sometimes a simple tweak or a small adjustment is all that’s needed to convert an unsuccessful employee of the month contest into a winning one. At other times, you will simply have to cut your losses and start over from scratch. But preferably not before you know what went wrong in the first place.
The most important criteria to make your employee of the month award a success:
The more you involve your employees in the design, implementation, and day-to-day running of your employee of the month contest, the better the chances are that it will be accepted by them and that it will serve the purpose for which it was designed. Transparency and worker involvement in every aspect of the program are of the utmost importance. The absence of these two vital elements is among the main reasons why employee of the month programs sometimes fail.