The Recognition and Performance Link

By Janet Wiscombe

Mar. 22, 2002

Many people in HR dismiss awards and incentives programs as “feel good”activities. But evidence suggests there is a strong link between non-cash awardsand incentives and improved job performance, says employee-recognition expertand best-selling author Bob Nelson.

Nelson’s study, conducted from September of 1999 to June of 2000, is basedon responses from managers and their employees in 34 organizations ranging from Universal Studios to the U.S. Postal Service.

He says that several performance-related variables were found to have broad support from managers in the study, the majority of whom agreed or stronglyagreed with the following items (listed with percentage of agreement):

  • Recognizing employees helps me better motivate them. (90.5 percent)

  • Providing non-monetary recognition to my employees when they do good workhelps to increase their performance. (84.4 percent)

  • Recognizing employees provides them with practical feedback. (84.4percent)

  • Recognizing my employees for good work makes it easier to get the workdone. (80.3 percent)

  • Recognizing employees helps them to be more productive. (77.7 percent)

  • Providing non-monetary recognition helps me to achieve my personal goals.(69.3 percent)

  • Providing non-monetary recognition helps me to achieve my job goals.(60.3 percent)

Nelson also found that 72.9 percent of managers reported that they receivedthe results they expected when they used non-monetary recognition eitherimmediately or soon thereafter, and 98.8 percent said they thought theyeventually would obtain the desired results.

Of the 598 employees who reported to the managers in the study, 77.6 percentsaid that it was very or extremely important to be recognized by their managerwhen they do good work. Employees expected recognition to occur: immediately (20percent), soon thereafter (52.9 percent), or sometime later (18.8 percent).

“If you look at companies employees love to work for, you’ll find thatthey recognize their people and tell them they’re doing a great job,” saysNelson, whose books include the best-selling 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees(Workman Publishing, 1994) and, most recently, Please Don’t Just Do What ITell You! (Hyperion, 2001). “Non-cash awards and incentives lower stress,absenteeism, and turnover, and raise morale, productivity, competitiveness,revenue, and profit.”

Nelson’s mantra: “You get what you reward.”

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