Leading Issue:
Oscars in the Workplace


Stories of the Oscar ceremony dominated Monday´s papers and social media. This is the time of year when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognises excellence in the film industry. It got me thinking about employee recognition awards: do companies still dish out certificates, pens, watches and carriage clocks to deserving employees, I wondered?  Well it seems they do.  A Deloitte 2012 research project uncovered a staggering $46 billion dollar market (1-2% of payroll) on employee recognition handouts with 87% of the awards concentrated on length of tenure.

The need for belonging and appreciation goes back at least to 4 July 1943 and the publication of Maslow´s A Theory of Human Motivation; but how relevant are recognition awards in incentivising employees in 2016?

Irrelevant would be my considered response; and here´s why….

To single out individual effort with recognition awards, creates a culture of superheroes which goes against the modern knowledge economy ethos where results are delivered through others and where many players contribute.

Institutional awards diminish the act of appreciation itself and can result in peer-to-peer competition, politics (the Oscars was riddled with it this year) and lack of ongoing appreciation from peers and supervisors (what Debbie Fuller terms  personal acknowledgement and appreciation).

It misses the point concerning what the modern employee wants from work. As Barry Schwartz considers in his short talk given at TED and his recently published book Why we Work, we don´t simply go to work for the salary and remuneration; self-actulization (again Maslow), self-mastery, learning, growing… all come into the mix. Material awards have very little impact on performance – people do not stick around in jobs to get watches or go the extra mile to get the employee of the month award; if leaders think that, they have an outdated understanding of why people go to work.

The level of employee disengagement showing up in surveys such as The Energy Project and Gallup is alarming. Incentivising employees is key but in a meaningful way. Gizmos and gongs can never be a replacement for meaningful work, stimulating environments and a culture of ongoing, in-the-moment employee recognition in the form of feedback and coachable moments.

Believe me, your team will thank you for it… and their parents… and their partners… and their co-workers…

by Ric Kelly PhD.