Why “Employee Of The Blank” Programs Don't Work

Thinking of instituting an "employee of the month" program at your office? Think again.

A new post over on monsterthinking.com lays out exactly why these kinds of programs are demoralizing, counter-productive and shortsighted. Here, in a nutshell is why:

Imagine fitting employees into one of three buckets: Top performers, average performers and poor performers. Now, when you put a program into place, who wins? The top performers! What is the impact on the poor performers? None or negative; the program is just another example of their “loser” status in your organization.

Another issue is that when employees in between, who aren't "losers" or "winners," but merely average, aspire to do better but fail to get recognition, they often will feel there's no point in working harder since they have nothing to show for it when they try.

All in all, it's a lose-lose endeavor. I couldn't find a single source or story out there that supports doing these types of programs. A 2002 entrepreneur.com article elaborates on why this is the case:

EOM violates every known principle of effective positive reinforcement. It is not specific. People don't know what they did to get it. It is not immediate. The behavior that earned it could have occurred over a month ago and may no longer be occurring. It is not contingent on high performance. The award can be given even if everyone is performing poorly. There will still be a best performer. It is not frequent. Since only one person gets it a month, there are only 12 occasions in a year to recognize good performance. Positive reinforcement should be a daily occurrence.

Yeah, I don't know about you, but positive reinforcement on a daily basis sounds pretty darn nice, don't it?

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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