Employee Of The Month Program - Is it worth it?

When you’re a manager who thinks he’s doing the best he can for his team, some discussions may seem a bit difficult to handle. You’re at a business event and someone you know, who happens to work in HR, tells you that having an Employee of the Month Program is the worst decision ever.

It happens more often than you think, to managers all around the world. Consultants, HR experts, friends and even your own news feed warn you of the dangers of an Employee of the Month Program.

I agree, it might be one of the oldest tricks in the book. It might also be an HR tool of choice for lazy managers.

But I believe there is real value in this program: it can make employees happy.

Here’s why you shouldn’t have an Employee of the Month Program

These are the three, most commonly invoked, reasons:

1. Bad selection criteria

Either no one clearly knows what the selection criteria are or they are not measurable. Therefore, you have an employee of the month who has no idea why he or she got the award in the first place.

2. “Everyone has to win” policy

For some companies, having an Employee of the Month Program resembles a kid’s birthday party. Everyone has to be happy and play with the toys, not just the birthday kid. If Sally in Direct Sales never got the award, we’ll make sure she gets it this month because Jake already got it three times.

3. It’s all the employee engagement you need

What more could a happy, engaged employee want when he has a 300$ bonus for being Employee of the Month? As a manager, I don’t have the time to think of an actual employee engagement strategy and increase workplace happiness. A diploma and some money should fix it.

As you might have noticed, there are some gaps in these arguments. Let’s just sum it up to bad implementation. That’s what all three reasons stand for. If that’s the case, shutting down a program because you don’t know how to run it makes no sense.

An Employee of the Month Program is part of a bigger strategy. Your employee engagement and talent retention strategy should have clearly defined goals and tools. This is just one of the ways in which you recognize and reward your talent, by publicly celebrating their work and their achievements. And no, not everyone has to win if you really want it to work.

Here’s how you can make it work

Here’s the hard part behind such a program. Disclaimer: there is no template or magic formula. But there are companies who made it work. And very well at that.

1. Structure

You’re running an  Employee of the Month Program because it serves a purpose. It has a goal. This is the basis of how you design the program. Then you need to decide on:

– the selection criteria

– voting/nomination procedure

– when and how do you award employees

– the award itself

-award eligibility

– communicating all of the above

-engaging employees in participating

2. Implementation

Avoid the 3 reasons above on why the program is not worth doing. Make sure you follow the structure you’ve set out and don’t be afraid to test different ideas. Try different voting systems, try different types of awards. You may not afford financial recognition awards but you can try offering something with far more emotional value than a parking space.

3. Don’t quit

One of the biggest threats in supporting this program for a longer period of time is monotony. It might lose its shine after a couple of months. Try re-thinking it and talk to your employees. See if they see the value in it and ask their opinion on how to spice it up.

They made it work

Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago. One of them being a custom framing factory, with a team of about 30 employees. They do everything from making frames and cutting mats to working in shipping and receiving.

He went through this exact scenario: he met a business consultant who told him he’s wasting his time with an Employee of the Month Program. After giving it some thought, Jay tested the theory and came to the following conclusion:

“I did three things. I asked my managers, I asked a few hourly employees, and I read Mr. Daniels’s book (“Oops: 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money”). After what I believe to have been a thorough analysis, I concluded that the program is in fact worth doing.

People seem to look forward to it. They say they like it, and I think it helps reinforce the mission of paying attention and trying to operate in a quality-driven, efficient manner. Are my employees just telling me what they think I want to hear? I don’t think so. Two reasons: First, this is not some pet project of mine, and I have made it clear that if people don’t appreciate it, we should stop doing it. Second, my “corporate culture” is very noncorporate. People tell me all of the time if they think there is a problem — even if they think am the problem.”

You can read more in his article: Is It a Mistake to Pick an Employee of the Month?

Thinslices is another success example when it comes to Employee of the Month Program. They started the program from the first months of their business. The program was initially designed to recognize employees who did something outstanding, beyond their job description.

The company management tested different incentives and awards, from framed diplomas who ended up left behind in the office, to financial bonuses or gadgets. They collected more data, adapted the system and involved the team.

The nomination system is based on peer voting. Everyone gets to nominate one or more colleagues as Employee of the Month, based on public, well-known criteria: the company values. It’s not a perfect program. It still faces the danger of becoming routine, but it’s an evolving program that proved its worth. People are happy to get their 10 minutes of public recognition and they feel appreciated by their colleagues.

Their recipe: collect more data, test (and test again) and involve your team.

“Different companies of different sizes have different needs. For a big company, with 50+ employees, it can backfire. You need to test what works best for your team.”

Ilie Ghiciuc, CTO Thinslices


An Employee of the Month Program is just a tool, but it can be a happiness tool for your team. It can create strong emotional attachments to your company and build employee engagement. That is, if you do it right.

How would you design the perfect Employee of The Month Program?

Image via Flickr user Torley under C.C.2.0