When It’s Time for Staff Recognition Programs to Retire

Some say that continuing to do what we have always done and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Certainly, that could be true when it comes to recognizing staff.

Staff recognition practices become stale. They pass their “best-before” date. They don’t work as well as they once did—or we think they once did. Change is required.

It’s time to apply one of the 4 As of staff recognition: Abandon staff recognition practices that don’t work or have become stale.

Retiring long-serving staff recognition practices is easier said than done. They become engrained in the fabric of the organization and are difficult to remove. You need to consider why you are changing “how things have always been done.”

Recognition practices may be based on values that no longer reflect the organization’s purpose or culture. They no longer help boost morale, increase engagement or improve retention.

Cost may be another factor. The resources needed to recognize staff in ways they have been recognized in the past are simply no longer available.

On the other hand, the need to change may be less about cost and more a belief that you could get a better bang for the same staff recognition spend. 

It also may be that enthusiasm for a program is fading.

In Thanks! GREAT Job! I described a client’s service awards event where no one who had reached their fifth- and tenth- year service milestones attended the banquet and awards ceremony, and attendance by people who had reached the other anniversaries was spotty.

It was a program due for an overhaul.

Before continuing to host service awards, consider conducting assessments after any of those events, asking participants why they choose to attend and non-attendees what drove their decision to stay away.

What you learn may point the direction ahead.

Sometimes programs disappear organically, such as an employee-of-the-month program that falls into disuse because no one remembers to identify recipients for several consecutive months and no one notices. Some may wonder why the name of the employee-of-the-month from last February is still displayed a year later, but no one asks. Likely no one ever really cared who became the employee-of-the-month.

Other programs will be less easy to abandon. Some employees may notice if you simply no longer hold service awards events. Decisions about the future of staff recognition programs should involve staff representatives and be announced to everyone.

The program could be ended cold turkey, with a rationale for doing so, although a statement that “we can no longer afford it” is unlikely to be greeted with enthusiasm or understanding.

Even if few are attending an awards program, a decision to abandon it without presenting an alternative might give staff morale a hit.

Some who were due to be acknowledged at the next event may feel they are being cheated out of a free meal and award to which they feel entitled. Other will interpret the decision to end the program that cannot be afforded as evidence that management does not care about staff or value them for what they do.

There should be a plan for how to retire the program and how to introduce its replacement. In lieu of a formal organization-wide event, the money could be redirected to departments within the organization, with an expectation that the leaders of those departments use the money to celebrate all their staff as they reach service annual anniversaries and for other contributions and achievements.

As an alternative to going cold turkey, consider a gradual phase out of the program. Perhaps announce that only staff with 10 or 15 years and more of service will be invited to an organization-wide event and that the money saved will be redirected to recognition initiatives at the departmental level. 

Or, the banquet could be replaced with a reception for those reaching service anniversaries.

Once new ways of recognizing staff are identified, those who will have added responsibilities related to recognition should be prepared to fulfil these expectations In addition to money in their budget for recognition, they should be offered tips and training to prepare them to recognize staff. 

Once ready for this added responsibility, they should be held accountable for ensuring that staff receive recognition when it is deserved. During one-on-one meetings with front-line leaders, their supervisors should ask what they have done to recognize staff and what is planned.

Top 10 Articles of 2022

Each December, I check the year-end statistics to discover which articles posted to my blog attracted the most readers during the previous 12 months. Doing so provides insight into which topics have most appeal to Briefly Noted readers.

For the fourth year in a row, the top article was one written in 2017 in response to a question asked by a Briefly Noted reader: “How do I discover if the candidate is a fast learner?” In this article, I suggested how to incorporate required competencies into your advertising and how to consider them when reviewing resumes, when writing and asking interview questions, and when checking references.

Every issue of Briefly Noted includes a link to the second most popular article of the year from a feature titled, “A question that may help you hire the right people.” First published in 2015, Grab the tool to navigate your way through the interview journey suggests preparing to assess responses to interview questions by identifying answers you would typically consider as outstanding (top performer), acceptable and unsatisfactory.

The most recently posted article appears to resonate with readers, having reached #3 on the annual list in just over a month. The gist of this article is pretty much captured in its title, 
 “No recognition, please,” said no one ever

The title of an article from 2018 that is fourth on the list asks a question and foreshadows the answer, Who Is better prepared for Interviews? Hint: It’s usually not the people who are hiring. While job seekers invest time and money preparing to be interviewed, most managers and supervisors have little training on how to conduct interviews. Learning more about interviewing would lead to the right people being hired more frequently.

Researchers discover that the impact of thank-you notes is greater than writers imagine was inspired by research that confirmed that people value the thank-you notes they receive, no matter their age or gender. Receiving a thank-you note also has a positive influence on how the recipients view the person who wrote the note. This article from 2019 was the fifth most frequently viewed post of 2022.

At #6 on the list is an 2016 article that suggests front-line leaders could Encourage peer recognition with a pass-along award. This article outlines ways to introduce a pass-along award and encourage its use.

Next on the list, at #7, is an article inspired by a 2017 visit to the Lambert-St. Louis airport. Looking for more reasons to recognize staff? Ask customers and use their words includes several suggestions on how to collect and use feedback from the people your organization serves as part of your staff recognition strategy.

The oldest article to make the 2022 Top10 list, at #8, was written in 2013 and suggests 7 questions to ask to recognize staff appropriately and ways to use what you learn about the people with whom you work.

Appropriate ways to recognize staff was the theme of the article in ninth place on the list. Appropriate — Making staff recognition personal was written in 2020 as part of a series of articles exploring the five ingredients of meaningful staff recognition—Genuine, Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely.

Related articles: 

Genuine: Making staff recognition authentic

Relevant: Making staff recognition strategic

Explicit—Making staff recognition specific

Timely—Making staff recognition prompt

Tenth place on the list for 2022 an article written in 2014. The main message of Advice to hire slow and fire fast is incomplete” is that having done the hard work necessary to hire the right person, a similar effort is required to influence the newcomer to commit to your organization.

Related articles:

Some old, some recent articles are among Top 10 blog posts of 2021

In 2020, an article inspired by a reader’s question topped the most viewed list for the second year in a row

“No recognition, please!” said no one, ever

Pure fiction!

These is no other way to describe the following exchange between two characters in Looking Good Dead, a mystery novel by British writer Peter James.

It is difficult to imagine anyone, in any school, office or other workplace, responding in a similar fashion to words of appreciation.

‘I’m coming up there myself,’ (Roy) Grace said. ‘I’ll be about ten minutes behind you.’

‘I’ll have the results waiting for you.’

‘I appreciate it.’

‘Actually, I don’t give a @#!* whether you appreciate it or not,’ the SOCO said, staring straight at the Detective Superintendent.

Sometimes Grace found it hard to tell when Joe Tindall was being serious and when he was joking; the man had a peculiar sense of humour. He couldn’t gauge it now.

‘Good!’ Grace said, trying to humour the man. ‘I admire your detached professionalism.’

‘Detached, bollocks!’ Tindal said. ‘I do it because I’m paid to do it. Being appreciated doesn’t bang my drum.’

Unlike Joe Tindall, most staff members would say that appreciation does “bang my drum.” They would prefer that a whole drum line celebrated their work.

Over the years, I have asked many participants in my programs if they felt they received too much recognition.

The universal response, whether I am working with teachers, health care workers or employees of construction companies, never varies. No one has ever said, “That’s me! I just want to go up to the boss and say, ‘No more recognition, please!’”

According to a new report from Gallup and Workhuman, just 23 per cent of employees strongly agree that they are satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive. That leaves three quarters of staff feeling less than satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive.

Separate research by Gallup found that 65 per cent of employees had not been recognized in the past year.

Another study—this one by Authentic Recognition—paints a somewhat brighter picture. Among workers asked, 42 per cent felt that the recognition they received from their immediate supervisor was “about the right amount,” while 39 per cent felt that recognition was not frequent enough and 15 per cent said it was “about frequently enough.” At the other end of the scale, only one per cent felt they were recognized “much too frequently” and another two per cent said that it was a “little too frequently.”

It’s fair to conclude that people believe you can’t provide too much recognition—if the recognition is Genuine.

I realize there are some managers who believe their staff is made up of people like Joe Tindall. 

“I don’t feel we should thank people for just doing their job,” they say.

Other supervisors think recognition is unimportant for another reason: “I don’t get any recognition myself—never have, didn’t need it.”

These are among the most common reasons one hears for not recognizing staff, all of which are simply not valid. They are just excuses for doing nothing.

Ironically, these same managers see no contradiction between not recognizing their staff and what they, themselves, do when attending sports events and concerts. They join other fans in cheering loudly when athletes and performers do their jobs well, whether it’s scoring a goal or singing one of their hit tunes. 

They likely even cheer when these well-paid professionals simply show up for work, be that running onto the field, skating onto the ice or stepping onto a stage.

How might those managers who claim to have never received praise or recognition feel now, had they had been thanked for jobs well done? What if they had received regular praise? What difference would that have made?

Some managers think the bashfulness or awkwardness that some staff members exhibit when being thanked means they want their fine work ignored. Phrases such as, “I was just doing my job,” or “anyone would have done the same thing,” are seen as evidence that those employees don’t want or don’t need recognition. 

The actual response to their awkwardness should be to offer more recognition, not less. A lack of recognition in their past may mean that they are unsure of how to accept recognition

Eventually, staff members will learn that the appropriate way to respond when they receive praise is with a smile and a simple, “Thank you for noticing what I do.”

In the real, non-fiction world where we live, you will encounter very few employees like Joe Tindall, who are satisfied with just the financial reward of doing their job. Most want more than financial income. They are also looking for emotional income—the feeling that they are valued for who they are and appreciated for what they do. 






					

Why staff recognition doesn’t belong to HR

Why does everyone see staff recognition as a task for which the human resources department is responsible?

When I tell people that I write and speak about staff recognition, most of them quickly identify it as “HR stuff.” Bookstores and libraries categorize books on staff recognition as belonging to “Human Resources and Personnel Management.”

Perhaps, this is understandable. Conferences for human resources professionals seem a natural place for me to speak about how to recognize staff.

HR professionals understand the value of thanking people for doing their jobs well. They believe in the power of staff recognition.

But staff recognition should not belong to human resources. Those hardworking professionals already have enough on their plates. 

Staff recognition belongs elsewhere.

Every member of the leadership team, from the top of the organization to those on the front line, should be responsible for ensuring that staff members feel valued for who they are and appreciated for what they do. They must create a work environment where everyone is comfortable being themselves and feel they are where they belong.

The tone should be set by those who lead the organization.

Senior leaders may not be present to recognize staff on the front line for what they do, but they can champion recognition throughout the organization. They can encourage and support their subordinates in their efforts to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of the people they supervise. 

Senior leaders should themselves be role models for staff recognition. They should recognize those who report directly to them when those staff members meet or exceed expectations. People who are recognized frequently are more likely to recognize others.

They can provide other leaders with the training, tools and resources they need to become skilled in recognizing staff. They can require their direct reports to describe how they are recognizing staff. They should recognize the recognizers for demonstrating a behaviour the top leaders want to see more often—acknowledging others for doing their jobs well.

When hiring for leadership positions in the future, it is important to search for people who have demonstrated a commitment to recognizing staff. Once you hire them, provide them with the tools and training they need to grow their recognition skills.

Responsibility for staff recognition does not have to end with the leadership team. Encourage peer recognition, too. Provide your staff with tools to recognize their co-workers.

Throughout your organization there can be a culture of recognition and appreciation. 

Recognition belongs everywhere and to everyone—including to the folks in the HR department.

Everyone is asking: How do I find and keep staff?

When one joins strangers at a cruise ship dining room table, their questions and the sequence in which they are asked seldom vary.

“Where are you from?”

“Are you retired or still working?” (This question tells you a lot about the passenger demographic.)

“What do/did you do?”

I respond that I prepare front-line leaders to “Hire, Engage and Retain the Right People.”

Recently, this prompted new acquaintances to bemoan the challenges they face hiring and retaining staff. “I run the same ad every week but no one ever applies. And when we do hire, they don’t stay. How do I attract and retain people?”

Despite what some may say about the “Great Resignation” (a trend that began in the second year of COVID-19 and has seen employees resigning their jobs en masse), the question about reducing turnover is not new. It’s what prompted me to write my first book, Thanks! GREAT Job! 

Keeping people is an element of staff recruitment. When people feel valued for who they are and appreciated for what they do, they are less likely to be updating their resumes and more focused on serving your customers. They feel they are in a workplace where they belong, so why leave? You will have fewer vacancies to fill.

Of course, some people will leave no matter how strong the culture of appreciation. Some want to spend more time with their families, some move to other communities and some retire—perhaps to join the ranks of cruisers asking and answering inquiries about where they come from and whether they are retired or still working.

There will be times when the requirement to find new staff will be unavoidable. Here are a few suggestions on how to attract people to your organization:

Stop writing ads that that read like all the others. You might as well proudly proclaim that your workplace is “just as boring as the other guy’s!” Of course, no one ever does that, but if you use the same words and phrases as other organizations that are competing for the same people, that is the effect. You are failing to create any excitement about your workplace. Why would someone want to work for you and not your competition? Base your advertising on the answers to that question. (Hint: Saying you pay “above the industry norm” doesn’t cut it. People who are only in it for the money will be easily lured away by other organizations offering to match or increase what you are paying.)

Discover why the “right” people stay with your organization. What do they find attractive about the job and the work environment? Incorporate what they tell you in your advertising. (Hint: Ask only those people who you wish you could clone. What disengaged workers tell you won’t be particularly useful. They may not have quit yet only because they are too lazy to look for another job.)

Ask current staff for referrals. Offer rewards if they refer someone who applies and is hired. Add another reward is the new hire doesn’t quit after a few weeks—maybe if they stay three months. (Hint: People will recommend people like themselves. Hard workers are more likely to recommend someone who will work hard. Slackers won’t.)

Follow the example of McDonald’s. Recruit friends. In 2019, working on the belief that having a strong social connection with a co-worker was a powerful predictor of job satisfaction, McDonald’s restaurants launched a campaign that invited friends to apply: “Friends wanted. Be more than friends. Be co-workers.” Potential employees applied individually but mentioned their friend when applying.

Ask customers.They know your organization and may know someone who is looking for a job. There are several ways to make customers aware you are hiring. (Hint: Customers continue to do business with organizations that meet their service expectations. They will recommend people who they believe will fulfil their service expectations.

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Several incidents highlight the challenge of diversity and the need for inclusive recognition

Three unrelated events reminded me of the importance of diversity and inclusion in today’s workplaces: shopping for ingredients for one of my favourite sandwiches, the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and a visit to a bank.

One of the first things I do during my infrequent visits to New Orleans is to head to the Central Grocery in the heart of the city’s French Quarter where the muffuletta sandwich was invented. After years of searching, I have found a recipe that comes close to replicating the original. It requires a variety of sliced meats, cheeses and olives available at the Italian Centre in Edmonton’s Little Italy neighbourhood.

Waiting my turn at the deli counter, I observed a sign on one of the three machines used to slice deli meats: “Do not use for pork products!” Obviously, the managers implemented this probation because the store has a diverse customer base that includes members of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

In the days following Queen Elizabeth’s death, news reports included excerpts of speeches she made during her 70-year reign, including from her 2004 Christmas message: “Some people feel that their own beliefs are being threatened. Some are unhappy about unfamiliar cultures. They all need to be reassured that there is so much to be gained by reaching out to others; that diversity is indeed a strength and not a threat.”

Finally, there was the disturbing episode at my bank, where a customer verbally attacked a teller who could be the poster girl for the diverse nature of the organization’s workforce: a racialized little person who was barely half his height.

While this customer might still have been frustrated by the bank’s protocols (and aren’t we all from time to time?), one doubts that he would have behaved the same way if the person behind the counter had been a six-foot-tall white male.

These three incidents all occurred as I was finalizing a chapter for a new book that suggests ways staff recognition can contribute to more inclusive workplaces, where all  feel they belong.

While they’re related, diversity and inclusion are two different concepts.

Diversity is metrics. It’s about who is hired and about differences that are both visible (race, gender, age, disabilities) and invisible (religion, sexual orientation, family status).

Organizations benefit from being diverse. In an article on the Forbes website, Ashley Stahl writes, “Not only is diversity crucial for creativity and social justice, but also research shows that a diverse workplace is good for the bottom line.” 

Businesses with workforces that reflect the communities they serve are more successful. An article on the Business Development Bank of Canada site states, “Research also suggests that diverse teams are more effective, produce higher quality work and have deeper engagement.”

Biases can become a barrier when hiring. They can severely restrict the pool of talent available to the organization and, in some cases, can attract substantial penalties for violating human rights laws. Positive biases, based on schools attended or where candidates have worked previously, can also lead to poor hiring decisions.

Hiring for diversity is just the first step, as Michael Bach points out in Birds of All Feathers. “You can focus on the number of people you have from an underrepresented group, but if you don’t focus on the bigger picture of ensuring those people feel included and valued, twice as many people from that underrepresented group will be going out the back door than coming in the front entrance.”

The challenge is to create an inclusive workplace where everyone feels welcome and comfortable being themselves. In inclusive workplaces, everyone feels safe, valued and respected. Everyone is treated equitably. People feel they are where they belong and where they want to stay.

During a 2018 TED Talk, inclusion advocate Janet Stovall drew a significant distinction between diversity and inclusion: “Companies can mandate diversity, but they have to cultivate inclusion.”

Staff recognition is one way to cultivate inclusion. At its core, inclusive staff recognition is about ensuring recognition practices are Appropriate. Inclusive recognition requires us to get to know and value the people we work with as individuals.

Unless inclusion is embedded in the workplace culture, attracting and retaining a diverse team will be difficult and perhaps impossible. A 2020 study by Glassdoor found that the diversity of a workplace is a consideration of three quarters of jobseekers and is a crucial factor when evaluating companies and job offers.

Here are ways to make recognition inclusive:

  • None of us are blind to race or gender, but all of us can see the person in front of us for who they are. Value people as individuals and recognize them for how they contribute and what they achieve.
  • Respect and treat all staff members with dignity, without regard to their role within the organization. Everyone matters. Everyone contributes. Everyone has thoughts worth hearing.
  • Strive to understand the culture of others. Don’t assume. Verify the truth about cultural stereotypes, which may introduce unconscious biases into your hiring and recognition practices. Ask questions to understand. “I want to learn more about you and your culture.”
  • Avoid asking questions that begin with the word “why” (Why do people from your religion do this?) Asking people “why” can make them defensive. People may feel their background or religion is under attack when asked, “why do/did you?”
  • Involve a diverse group in planning for staff recognition. Seek their input on how to celebrate success. Be prepared to change practices that may unintentionally exclude people (E.g., family responsibilities may be a barrier to attending evening celebrations, events involving alcohol may deter the participation of others, etc.)
  • Names are important. Learn  to pronounce ones that are unfamiliar. Ask staff members to assist you in mastering their names. Don’t anglicize names to make it easier for you or expect staff to do so. 
  • Determine which pronouns (he/she/they) staff members prefer and use them when referring to these individuals.
  • The fear of doing the wrong thing can prevent us from doing the right thing. When dealing with people from different backgrounds we will make mistakes. That’s OK, if our actions and questions are driven by a sincere hope to learn about the people with whom we work and a desire to create a workplace where all believe they belong. As with staff recognition, there is no endpoint for inclusion. There will always be more to learn, more to do.

“Do the best you can do until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

— Maya Angelou, American writer

Loyalty programs and service awards don’t produce their intended outcomes

The changes announced recently to the Air Miles program got me thinking. What’s in my wallet? The answer: A pocket full of loyalty.

My wallet is filled with cards for many different loyalty programs. I am a member of three coffee chain’s programs. All my credit cards provide opportunities to earn points.

Every grocery store I enter provides points and I have signed up for all of them. I am enrolled in about half a dozen hotel programs. And there are points from airlines, bookstores and the phone company.

This abundance of reward cards suggests that these programs are as ineffective at building loyalty as are “recognition” programs that reward employees for their service every five years.

Neither works as intended. Programs create neither customer nor employee loyalty.

Opportunities to earn points don’t influence my buying decisions. There are other factors. I will shop, stay or fly with whichever store, hotel or airline offers the best price, is most convenient, provides the best customer service, or is a combination of all three.

There is only one business to which I am truly loyal—my local Second Cup coffee shop—but this has nothing to do with the chain’s loyalty program. 

I am there frequently. It’s where I go to write. The article you are currently reading was conceived, written and revised there. 

I collect points with every cup of tea I purchase. At last count, I had more than 5,000 points in their loyalty program, good for 10 drinks.

Why so many? Because I don’t go this Second Cup for the points. I am a loyal customer because of intangible benefits. I like the atmosphere, the people who work there and the energy of the strangers who patronize the coffee shop.

I never use points to buy drinks at my Second Cup because I am invested in their survival. I know that any time I redeem points it comes right off their bottom line. The franchise does not reimburse franchisees for the “free” drinks they serve.

I save the points until I am passing a corporate store.

I suspect that few staff members are loyal to their employers because of the promise of an invitation to a celebration of service in five year’s time. I never met anyone who said, “I stayed because my employer did such a terrific job of celebrating my five years of service,” but many initiated a job search because they felt their boss didn’t show enough appreciation for what they did. 

Where people feel valued and appreciated is where people want to stay.

Organizations need to offer more than the promise of a celebration of service every five year to improve retention. Of course they need to compensate staff fairly, but more than money is needed. The leadership team must work to create a work environment where staff members want to be, where they believe they belong. 

Meaningful staff recognition conveys the message that staff members are valued as individuals and appreciated for what they do. Where people feel valued and appreciated is where people want to stay.

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Looking for advice on creating a workplace where people want to be? Schedule a 15-minute telephone or Zoom conversation with me to discuss your questions about staff recognition. There’s no cost to you. My reward is the opportunity to talk with people who share my passion for staff recognition.

A few words of praise can make a big difference

Several weeks ago, I was feeling a bit down when I received an unexpected message from a new LinkedIn connection.

“You did the most amazing Professional Development at the convention on teacher appreciation,” she wrote. “I’ve watched it a few times. It was so inspiring.”

Here was validation of what I do. I immediately felt a boost to my energy. I was energized to do more that afternoon (and eventually inspired to write about it).

It was a reminder that simple words of praise make a difference.

I wrote back to thank her for her kind words and to describe their impact: “Your words were the energy boost I needed.”

As those who paid more attention in chemistry class than I did could tell us, there is a scientific basis for how these words made me feel—dopamine. An article on The Whole U website of the University of Washington explains, “Researchers have also discovered that receiving praise releases dopamine, the same chemical that is released when we fall in love, eat a cupcake or meditate.”

Unfortunately, this feeling is fleeting. “The jolt of feel-good chemicals wears off quickly … a compliment feels wonderful, but it doesn’t last long,” the article states.

That is why I plan to return to LinkedIn to reread the message from my new connection from time to time so that I’m reminded how I felt when I first read the words. This is a practice everyone should start.

As a leader, you should encourage all staff members to follow the example of those who hold on to letters, thank-you notes and even messages scribbled on sticky notes.

The first time (or the next time) you recognize staff members in writing, hand them a file folder. “I hope to be able to recognize you frequently. Use this folder to file letters, thank-you notes, etc., from me and others. Review them often. Go back from time to time to reread them, especially on difficult days when things are not going well.”

Of course, this sets up an expectation that you will provide similar messages in the future and you will do so frequently. Recognition is important for all staff but it is particularly important for new staff. They should be recognized on their first day and regularly thereafter as a way to build their commitment to the organization. As this updated version of an old adage states: Hire slowly. Fire quickly. Recognize immediately!

Before you onboard another staff member, purchase a box or two of thank-you cards and a file folder for every new staff member—and for all your existing staff.  Remember to keep one for yourself to collect the messages of praise you will receive from your supervisor, staff and customers.

Even a few Genuine words of praise can make a substantial difference in a person’s day.

More Staff Recognition Tips from 2022 Convention Participants

A week or so ago, I published staff recognition tips collected from participants in the programs 97 Staff Recognition Tips in Just Minutes and Crowdsourcing Staff Recognition that I presented at conventions in February and March. 

There were too many for one newsletter, so as promised, here are the rest.

The previous article included ways to incorporate fun into the serious business of recognition, how to personalize recognition, tips for peer recognition, and various approaches to “SP” programs, pass-along awards and appreciation walls.

Now, the focus is on using food, snacks and treats to help convey messages of appreciation; recognizing staff with the gift of time; tips on using the words of others when recognizing staff; putting recognition in writing; and recognition at staff meetings. There are also suggestions for recognizing staff if your budget permits and a few thoughts that didn’t really fit any of the other categories.

But first, Words of Advice from participants:

  • Get out of the office and into the halls/classrooms. Celebrate what you see.
  • Recognize in private and then talk well about staff members/praise them behind their backs.
  • Forced recognition where everyone gets recognized reeks (i.e. no valentines unless everyone gets one). This does not appear Genuine.

Read what follows with the 4As of Staff Recognition in mind. Adopt those ideas that resonate with you. Adapt others to fit your organization. These tips may replace practices that you wish to Abandon because they don’t work as they once did. And of course, Avoid tips that aren’t right for you, your staff or your organization.

Food, treats and snacks

Food, treats and snack always seem to be prominent when people talk about staff recognition. This year’s program participants certainly use them:

  • On our Demo of Learning Day, we created a cart of goodies that our teachers could choose from. We gave each a little bag to load up.
  • Create a “treat train” to classrooms with a wagon of treats for staff to choose from.
  • Leave treats (mini chocolate bars, etc.) on photocopiers to say thanks to all staff after a busy week.
  • I have a chocolate cart in my office. It gets people to my office and I can see how they are or recognize them for something they’ve done or have been working on.
  • Use a snack cart combined with verbal recognition in front of students.
  • Offer treats as an appreciation on special occasions.
  • Have student council drop off treats to teachers randomly throughout the year. Make sure everyone gets one by the end.
  • Say thank you as much as possible, as often as possible. I always have a stash of chocolate in my office for teachers and staff who need a pick-me-up.
  • Put little treats in mailboxes. 
  • Set up a popcorn bar. 
  • Stock a snack bar in the staff room for “spontaneous spirit-lifting.”  
  • Maintain a pluck-it bucket of goodies. 
  • Hold an after-school chip party.
  • Create a Tim Hortons order list for all members.
  • I bring in food and baking.  
  • Bake cookies and give them out in little treat bags. 
  • Bring muffins or other treats to school occasionally.
  • “Coffee barista” for making gourmet coffee drinks for staff all day long. 
  • Push a cold drink cart through the hallways on a warm day. 
  • Deliver hot drinks to classrooms on a cold day. 
  • Bring coffee to staff in the morning.
  • During parent-teacher interviews, have a drink and snack cart delivered by the principal. 
  • Coffee cart/hot chocolate cart delivery to classrooms by administrators.
  • Order the person a coffee and in the special notes add a message.
  • Pop and pizza with the principal for staff.
  • Provide food during early morning meetings.
  • Buy teachers dinner on parent-teacher interview nights.
  • Free lunch on PD days.
  • Lunch with a bunch. Invite staff to grab lawn chairs and meet in the parking lot for lunch, special treats and time to recognize.
  • Breakfast or lunch for staff.
  • Dispense a favourite chocolate bar or candy on staff member’s birthday. 
  • Hold a birthday pizza party. 
  • Leave birthday treats on a desk.
  • People can sign up and have birthday cakes brought to school for them on their birthday.
  • Celebrate birthdays with treats at the end of the month.
  • Spontaneous wine and cheese to recognize an achievement.
  • Share recipes to go with special national days. 

Words of others:

Occasionally, colleagues or non-staff members—customers, parents, suppliers, etc.— will spontaneously praise staff members. Other times, we solicit feedback through surveys, posters and other means. However they are gathered, positive comments should be passed on to staff members.

  • Have students write a thank-you to their favourite teacher.
  • Staff recognition Google form: Allows colleagues to send anonymous recognition that administrator reads out during staff meetings.
  • Staff recognition good form: Sent to administration and the administrator sends a card to the staff member to be recognized.
  • A “Win” board in the staff room recognizing wins that staff (or students) have had.
  • Encourage parents to send thank-you notes to their children’s teachers.
  • Allow students an opportunity to write cards to staff.
  • Cards to staff members based on “good news stories” you hear to recognize both the staff member and the one who told you about that good news.
  • Have small groups of students write notes to staff members including things they appreciate about the staff member.
  • Ask leadership students to write appreciation letters to staff
  • Customer praise: Gather staff to inform everyone.

Putting it in Writing:

There are two reasons for expressing appreciation in writing, whether it’s in thank-you notes, on sticky notes or electronically:

  1. Putting recognition in writing shows you value recipients and their contributions enough to invest time to recognize them.
  2. Recipients often will save your messages and can reread them. Your written expressions of gratitude have staying power.
  • Postcards: For thank-yous, things I noticed.
  • Personalized note on Christmas cards.
  • Monthly Valentines:  I keep track in a Google doc who I recognized and for what.
  • Shout-outs in our weekly staff memo.
  • Thank-you notes with a Tim Hortons card.
  • We deliver cards to three staff members each Friday in recognition of something great they did during the week.
  • I always leave sticky notes on how amazing and helpful my EAs (educational assistants) are. I also buy cups with personalized sayings that we both understand.
  • Recognize staff who have made positive contribution to students in weekly morning minutes.
  • We receive a lot of business emails. I like to mix in some words of thanks to people. Not as personal as a handwritten note, but I’m more likely to follow through.
  • Email messages to recognize meeting schools goals.
  • Social media posts telling the world at large of their accomplishments.
  • Thank-you cards provided for no specific reason other than to show appreciation.
  • Special notes to point out strengths of colleagues. Can be anonymous or actually include the names of who they are from.
  • Recognition on our weekly calendar update.
  • Provide recognition of staff in our weekly updates to families.
  • Sticky notes with a compliment on each staff member’s classroom or office door.
  • Sticky notes on a whiteboard in the staff room.
  • Send recognition emails after special events to each staff member.
  • Thank-you emails and handwritten notes.
  • Just purchased some “Pep Talk Postcards” to email to staff throughout the remainder of the year. I did this during our first lockdown in 2020. Going to commit to it again. (Related article: Postcards: an anachronism or a tool to personalize communication?).
  • Give each teacher blank thank-you cards and treats to hand out throughout the term. Include a thank-you to them from you.
  • Gratitude book.  
  • Leave notes in mailboxes. 
  • Send Valentines with positive affirmations.

During Meetings:

Scheduling time at staff meetings for recognition provides opportunities for front-line leaders to recognize staff members publicly and for staff to recognize their peers.

  • Bouquets to start staff meetings.
  • Shout-outs and honourable mentions during staff meetings.
  • Celebrations and staff recognition at the beginning of all meetings. 
  • We celebrate accomplishments and creativity of employees on special projects during Monday morning kickoff meetings.
  • Weekly kudos at our staff meeting and in our weekly staff announcements.
  • We nominate staff to be recognized at every staff meeting. They have their pictures taken with an icon meaningful to our school and it’s posted on Twitter and on a display board.
  • Assembly shout-outs for students and staff.
  • Thank individuals at the beginning of staff meetings with a kudos moment.
  • Start team meetings with gratitude remarks.

Related article: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for Staff Recognition During Meetings

A Gift of Time/One-on-One

Staff understand that of the limited resources available to front-line leaders to recognize staff, time is the most precious. They welcome the time leaders share with them when it is linked to recognition.

  • Offer to take a teacher’s supervision or to cover a teacher’s class.
  • Provide extra preparation time, having administrators cover for staff.
  • Involve staff in meaningful discussions.
  • Take personal, one-on-one uninterrupted time to “listen.”
  • Take staff member aside, personally recognize performance and ask them what you can be doing to help them.
  • Personal one-on-one conversations.
  • If comfortable, invite a staff member and their family to your house for dinner and to get to know them.
  • Listen for ideas as people as they tell you about their day.

If your budget permits:

  • Monetary gift cards. 
  • Manicures. 
  • Spa day. 
  • Free flights.
  • Long weekend staycation at a hotel for a staff member and significant other.

Didn’t Fit Any of the Categories

  • We highlight staff for a week on our bulletin board and have their favourite songs playing during our transition times in the day. We include a photo of the employee and a short bio.
  • Recognize accomplishments of staff that are not strictly work-related, but relate to overall feel good/wellness (E.g. Congrats on running your first 10K race). Congratulate staff on personal achievements.
  • 12 days of Christmas gifts.
  • Random acts of kindness.
  • Host a staff party and have fun together. Will do again after COVID.
  • We have a Wellness Committee that delivers uplifting goodies to staff having a tough time.
  • Our administration brings birthday gifts and a balloon to us on our birthdays.
  • We have monthly awards for teachers, but we could do this for staff as well.
  • Spruce up the staff bathroom with messages of gratitude on the mirror, nice soap, lotion and flowers.
  • Substitute Teacher Recognition: Thank-you cards and coffee cards, school logo items, survival kit, etc. Available during substitute teacher appreciation week.
  • Bowling night.

You Asked About Interview Red Flags

The Question: What are some common red-flag answers by candidates?

“Unlucky” When Hiring? participant

The Answer: Years ago, I listened in disbelief as a candidate for a vacant school principalship calmly described how in a previous position he had secured additional funds for his school’s budget.

“I just added a few extra names to the class lists to increase the number of students enrolled in the school.”

Now, I have no expertise in criminal law but I am pretty sure that fabricating students to generate more money is fraud. 

For me, a candidate confessing to previous criminal activity raises a red flag, a signal not to hire.

Illegal behaviour in a previous job is one of the four red flags to which I referred in a previous article that focused more on yellow flags that don’t necessarily disqualify a candidate from consideration, but warn us to proceed with caution. More information and clarification is required to understand what the candidates is telling us.

Red flags are different. Once raised, there is nothing the candidate can say or do to change my mind. This is definitely not the right person to hire.

Another jaw-dropping incident occurred when I was working with a client to hire a new CEO. The candidate shocked us by peppering his responses with profanity. This was not the type of behaviour that the client would ever accept from an individual who would lead the organization and be its face to the public.

When I offered this feedback to the candidate following the interview, he responded, “That’s just who I am.”

That might have been the case, but he was also someone whose job search would not be coming to a successful conclusion any time soon if he kept raising this red flag during interviews.

When another candidate was asked why he was looking for a new position, he provided a detailed explanation of why he was fed up with his current employment. Too much information!

Having listened to the candidate badmouth his previous employer, the interview panel had no difficulty imagining a future when they would be the target of his wrath. Once raised, this red flag wasn’t coming down. 

Another go-no-further moment comes when a candidate’s words portray negative attitudes towards identifiable groups. Evidence of racism, homophobia, misogyny and religious intolerance should raise a red flag. Respect for others is essential in a diverse organization serving a diverse population.

Are there more red flags? Certainly. Any of the yellow cautionary flags identified in my earlier article could become a red flag. What I identify as cautionary flags may be  red flags for you. Each of us must decide what we will accept from candidates and what becomes a firm reason not to hire.