Staff recognition tips & techniques

How Green is Staff Recognition?

There is a question I have thought about repeatedly since I attended the 2008 Recognition Professionals International (RPI) conference in Newport Beach, CA at the end of April. Is staff recognition environmentally unfriendly?

At the registration desk, we were told that the conference was “going green”. Many of the presentation handouts were on a USB flash drive. Attendees were encouraged to refill the plastic water bottles found in their conference bags, which were themselves made with recycled materials. Provisions were made to recycle paper and drink bottles. Name badge holders could be returned at the end of the conference for reuse. Rather than being presented with gifts that they might not need or use, speakers were told that 15 trees would be planted on their behalf in the nearby San Diego area devastated by wildfires only a few months earlier.

RPI invited attendees to submit suggestions to make future conferences even greener. All these suggestions were entered into a draw for travel mugs that were awarded throughout the conference.

Another aspect of the conference was a day-long trade show where suppliers displayed their wares…plaques, certificates, trophies, paperweights, boxed pen sets, clocks, desk caddies, mugs, lapel pins…the list could go on forever. Supplying recognition trinkets is big business. Bob Nelson, the author of several bestselling books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook estimates that $27 billion is spent annually on recognition merchandise.

One imagines that those who spend this money are giving what they purchase to their staff, hopefully to convey messages of appreciation for what they do and what they achieve.

But, then what? What happens to this stuff after it has been presented? Certainly, some plaques will be displayed on the walls of the recipients’ offices or homes. Some trophies adorn the shelves of bookcases. Some employees will sip their morning coffee from the company mugs they receive.

But not all the plaques, trophies, and mugs will be treasured in the same way. After gathering dust for a few weeks or months, they will be discarded. What was given is not valued by the recipients because what was given was not appropriate for the recipient.

Recently, an acquaintance unintentionally illustrated this point. She showed me a set of glasses etched with her employer’s logo that she – and every other employee – had received to mark a milestone in the company’s development.

“I would really like to have more of these,” she told me. “They are really expensive glasses, but most people don’t know that. I am sure I’ll be able to buy more at garage sales next summer.”

recycleWhile some may recycle unwanted trinkets through garage sales or donations to charities, many others will simply discard them with the household trash. Much of the $27 billion is being spent on items destined for landfills.

How does one avoid environmentally unfriendly staff recognition practices? First, don’t assume that, just because you like something, your staff will too. Get to know your employees. If gift giving is part of your recognition plan, ensure that what you give is appropriate…something they will value and use. Better yet, give gift cards that recipients can use to purchase something that they will actually use. Even better, stop relying on things to do the talking. Thank employees face-to-face, or send them a simple thank-you note.

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