So, this may sound like a contradiction, as we have in the past touted the importance of these types of programs, and we are not taking that advice back. But it is important to examine both sides of the story, and to be aware of the dangerous pitfalls that come with initiating employee rewards.
In a nutshell, the concern here is much like the frustration we feel with Millennials in the work force- the idea that there are no ‘losers’, that everyone deserves a trophy, and that positive reinforcement is the only way to ensure proper self-awareness and development.
However, this harbors a sense of entitlement and disengagement from the importance of doing your best, trying your hardest, and feeling that sense of accomplishment that comes from healthy competition.
When awards are created, a sense of ‘’all is equal’’ can cancel out any internal existing natural motivation, which is the motivation that has driven the strongest to survive, so to speak.
It may sound harsh to equate the Employee of the Month club to some sort of survivalist theory of evolution, but at its own level, this can be just as destructive as a hunter unable to hunt!
Let’s take an example: a company decides to reward any and all employees who show up on time every day for a month. This is the best example, as it is the most basic- is showing up at work on time no longer an implied requirement?
When did we decide that we need to reward people for trying hard to do what is intrinsically PART of their job? What about all those people who show up on time every day already? What does this say about their work ethic? Does it not somehow take their dedication down a notch? These type of rewards can often backfire by encouraging, say, attendance, but causing a simultaneous lack in productivity.
Your incentive should always drive up productivity, profit, innovation, etc. Something tangible must result- perfect attendance is moot when your employees are asleep on the job, so to speak.
It’s a slippery slope- employee recognition is important. However, it needs to be selective, curated, unique, and relegated to those who go ABOVE and beyond of what is expected. Exceeding expectations, accomplishing a set goal or solving a difficult problem- these are reward-able tasks.
You take away the merit of these accomplishments when you imply that everyone is worthy of the same accolade, different day.
The difference between meritocracy and nepotism…
In light of the above article, the two terms beg differentiation. Meritocracy is what you should aim for- reward based on merit, compensation based on ability and accomplishment. Nepotism, the ugly cousin, is what you want to avoid. Favoritism, personal biased, and the implication that some achievements are better than other are all toxic forms of recognition.