Is Your Team’s Recognition Program Upsetting Some Employees When They Don’t Win?

What to do if employees get upset when they don’t win and if your recognition program is creating animosity between team members


During our 30 years in business, we’ve worked with over 100,000 managers to recognize & engage their teams. And our Engagement Coaches talk to our clients every day, easily identifying which areas of recognition programs need troubleshooting most often.

Though clients have consistent access to their Engagement Coaches, we’re going a step further and having our leadership team weigh in on the most common issues we hear about regularly.

Advice from MyEmployees COO, Adam Tartt

“Most often when we hear this type of feedback, it typically indicates there could be a vital component missing from the program. A common cause for employees feeling this way is that there has not been clear enough communication regarding what it takes to win, why this person won, & how others can achieve the same level of success. If this type of communication isn’t happening in your organization, perhaps there is no objective criteria set up to begin with. If there is, perhaps it isn’t clear to the employees.

Ultimately, no program is immune from short-sighted thinking on the part of some. However, we have found that starting with a strong foundation of best practices greatly reduces the chance of discontent. Then it may come down to the very tough decision that some members of your team will never be happy and engaged, at which point you have to set them free.”

Advice from MyEmployees Sales Manager, Melanie Greenough

“One key area I see needing improvement for myself and for other leaders is making the award programs part of the on-boarding conversation. I currently do this with every one of my new hires & what I’ve found is that it’s important to go over this during the on-boarding process but it needs to be followed up on maybe at month 1, & again at month 2, & maybe even month 3.

New hires often nod & agree that they understand how to win but in reality, they don’t fully understand and they don’t want to tell you. So as they become more & more familiar with their duties, etc., going back over the criteria is vital.

It’s not unheard of for us to go into local establishments that we currently work with and ask a server if they are familiar with our plaques and how to win them, for them to tell us they have no clue & no one has ever discussed it with them. Obviously (or maybe not so obviously) you can’t drive behavior with criteria if it hasn’t been identified & discussed with your new hires & your veterans for that matter.

When it’s a mystery how to win or why someone has won the team animosity increases. The criteria need to be transparent & when the award is given the reasons for it should be listed. Posting the criteria & the standings is important.”

Advice from MyEmployees CEO, David Long

“That complaint comes from a lack of defined metrics within the company. Of course they can have variables with things like being on time and helping others & customers, but in the end you reward the employees bringing the most value to the company & their customers.”

A few roots of the problem, from Star Culture Executive Coach, Keesha Starr

  • criteria wasn’t clearly communicated either within the leadership or within the employee group
  • employees don’t see their clear path to winning (they know that it’s possible, but don’t see how it’s possible for them)
  • awards are given in secret or in front of a select few (it feels shady or like a clique)
  • There is not enough emphasis on the award and then (randomly) someone gets “recognized” for “something”
  • expectations aren’t realistic, or they don’t think it’s possible to achieve them

Seeing the pattern?

You may be seeing a pattern in the advice from our leadership team (who did not confer with each other at all before giving this advice by the way). Were you around for the beginning of your employee recognition program with MyEmployees?

Or did you come on board after your team’s employee recognition program was already set up? Either way, you may remember your Engagement Coach asking about how you were going to pick your winners. Not a coincidence or random question, as you can see.

We’ve probably shared this free resource with you a time or two as well, to help your leadership team set up a trackable criteria.

Turning it around

Fortunately, it IS possible to turn things around, even if your recognition program didn’t get started on the right foot or your team members aren’t receptive right away.

Here’s how General Manager Cat turned things around (and improved employee retention by 37%!) at her Olive Garden while working with MyEmployees & Star Culture.

Key takeaways from Cat’s Call

Here are the main takeaways from our Business Engagement Strategist Becky Lovett’s call with GM Cat from Olive Garden:

  • The program started with a bad stigma
  • It took Cat 6 months to work through all those issues and start having an effective program…..6 months!! But she persevered because she knew she had to do something different or her store would remain at the bottom.
  • Cat started holding one-on-one meetings weekly with each team member and having them set their own goals so each week they could review them & see their progress & if they were in the running to win the award.
  • Cat turned her store around so much she went from “being on the naughty list for every area” to having the VP of Ops walk into their store and say he can literally “feel the happiness.”
  • Cat’s employee retention went up by 37% when she combined the recognition and Star Culture

The good news? Your Engagement Coach is here for you! Please use them as a resource for troubleshooting. They’re not just here to help you submit winners & place orders, though they are more than happy to!

Connect with us today!

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