Recognition or Entitlement?

How to Keep Recognition from Becoming an Entitlement

What makes rewards and recognition memorable and not an entitlement for employees? The element of surprise is big for effective rewards and recognition.

I'll never forget a long term client employee telling me, upon receiving a thermal lunch bag with the company logo, that he had been truly surprised by the recognition. (He and other employees who had braved a huge snow storm to come to work were thanked with lunch bags a couple of weeks after the storm.)

He said it was the first recognition he had ever received that was totally unexpected. He said the unexpectedness of the gift had heightened the value to him and he uses the lunch box every day.

This is an employee who always receives attendance recognition, and is quick to step up to any challenge for which there is a promised reward. Consequently, he usually knows what reward to expect and when the reward will be received.

The Power of Rewards that Surprise Employees

Impromptu rewards and recognition work to your advantage. Expected rewards can become entitlements, and as such, lose their ability to reward and recognize.

An entitlement is any reward or recognition that is expected; once the reward is an expected event or recognition, it becomes more of an expectation or entitlement, and less of a reward. As an example, an employer provides lunch for employees every Friday. The goals of the lunch were employee recognition and team building.

Since, it is an expected recognition, it is not motivating. But, another sign that a recognition has become an entitlement is whether people would complain if they lost it. In the case of the lunches, employees look upon them as a perk that comes with working for the company. No lunch? Complaints would be long and loud.

The lunch adds to the general environment of valuing employees that the company is committed to providing, and the lunch is also successful for team building. But, it is not perceived as rewarding or recognizing and would be viewed as a benefit loss if the lunches were discontinued.

In fact, another client to whom I had suggested the idea of a weekly lunch for employees, called recently with a recognition entitlement question. Several of his employees had decided not to attend their normal Friday team building luncheon.

For several weeks, they stopped in to the lunchroom, picked up their lunches, and went back to their desks - not at all the intention of the lunches. The employer reminded them of the purpose for the lunches. The employees then attended lunch for the next couple of weeks.

But that morning, they had hit him with an unexpected question. They had skipped the Friday lunch and were requesting reimbursement for the lunch they had purchased on their own outside of the company lunch. He wondered whether to reimburse them.

This is an example of entitlement carried to the enth degree. What do you think I responded?

Keep Recognition From Becoming an Employee Entitlement

Sometimes, it's okay that employee recognition becomes employee entitlement.

In the first company's lunches, referenced above, the employee good will and team building outweigh the fact that the lunch is now an expected company benefit.

In annual company employee longevity awards, as a second example, entitlement is expected. You'll need to decide on a case by case basis.

But, if it is important to you to keep an employee recognition from becoming an employee entitlement, you'll want to follow these guidelines.

  • Deliver the recognition unexpectedly and not always on the same day or at the same time.
  • Provide recognition for various contributions. Vary the actions that receive recognition and always inform the employee exactly why he or she received recognition.
  • Vary the format of the recognition. If every employee receives a card and plant for their birthday, you've created an entitlement. You will not reap the benefit that you would with a thoughtfully chosen gift; you will hear about it if you miss an employee for any reason.
  • Let recognition come from a variety of people. The boss is not always the appropriate person to provide recognition. Consider empowering team members, coworkers, the president, reporting staff, HR, and an employee recognition committee to recognize employees.

The key words in keeping employee recognition from becoming employee entitlement are varied, unexpected, and surprising. Weigh each employee recognition activity you consider on these factors when you want to keep recognition from becoming an entitlement.