Banishing “Employee of the Month”

An effective safety accountability program depends on effective consequences that are for success as well as failure. It’s important to understand no matter what the consequence (reward or discipline),  it’s a form of recognition that always reinforces some future behavior. If we don’t recognize employees with effective recognition, we may actually reinforce behaviors we don’t want to see.

For instance, if we recognize an employee for what we consider a positive behavior, like finishing a hazardous task on a construction site ahead of schedule, we might be actually reinforcing unsafe behavior: working fast rather than safe. Other employees on the worksite see this recognition and decide, to get recognized, it’s more important to work fast, not safe, so they do exactly that.  They also might think that working safe doesn’t really matter. Consequently, the company’s accident rate increases: an unintended consequence.

Don’t Recognize for Being “First, Fastest, Best or Most Improved”

Recognizing someone for being ranked first, fastest, best or most improved in effect creates one winner and many losers, so don’t do it. Why? The one winner might feel good about the award, but the many losers (and that’s everyone else) will feel bad about the consequence they received – being ignored.   The losers may also think the award is based on some kind of favoritism or internal politics that will completely nullify any positive impact on the company’s safety culture.

Scuttle the “Employee of the Month” Program

A good example of an ineffective recognition strategy, this is the all-too-common Employee of the Month award. We’ve all seen this, and we’ve all experienced being either the winner or one of the losers. Think about the experience you’ve had with this program: how did you feel as a winner or a loser?

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., in his latest book OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time & Money (and what to do instead), says the “Employee of the Month is one of the most common management tools used to motivate employees, yet it’s one of the worst things you can do. Ranking has its pitfalls. As Aubrey Daniels says, “You don’t have to do your best, just better than the one in second place.”

Watch this short video in which Aubrey Daniels explains why it’s important to drop the Employee of the Month recognition program.

Criterion-based Recognition

The fix is to recognize employees for achieving professional performance. An effective criterion-based recognition program will be recognizing many employees for meeting or exceeding the company’s safety standards (criteria). Examples of behaviors that should be recognized in a criterion-based recognition program include:

  • using safe work practices and procedures
  • participation in safety committees or teams
  • reporting and correcting (if authorized) hazardous conditions before an incident or accident occurs
  • making safety suggestions – always recognize every suggestion
  • attending all safety meetings and training sessions

All of these criteria have the following characteristics:

  • Everyone is cooperating with each other to lower incidents and accidents.
  • No one feels the need to compete to be ranked as first, best, fastest or most improved.
  • All of these behaviors are proactive and can save lives (and a lot of money!).

Bottom line: Recognition should be based on achieving criteria and cooperation, not ranking and competition.