Image of Employee of the Month Message

Employee of the Month Programs: Why Most Fail & How to Make Yours Succeed

You know what I’m talking about. Most of us have experienced them first hand. That often cheesy employee of the month recognition program that pops its head up every now and then, generates next to no ROI and almost always fails to achieve any of its intended engagement outcomes. Don’t be fooled by the name. We’ve seen Employee of the Month programs marketed as everything from “Winning Ways” to the “Above and Beyond Award”. Underneath it all, they have the same common elements: A prize awarded periodically to an employee determined by a person or group of people.


Let’s put the reward to one side. That’s not really what we have an issue with. Yes, there’s a whole debate surrounding the question of whether extrinsic motivators as opposed to intrinsic motivators are appropriate in the context of the workplace. If you’re keen to delve a little bit into the academia on the subject, check out this journal article which summarizes the leading theories and studies on motivation. For now, let’s assume that rewards can be effective motivators for many companies.


The selection process. There are a few different approaches. Most commonly, the winner is selected by management or a special committee set up for the program. Another approach is that all employees in the company are invited to nominate people they think deserve the award, and the person with the most votes wins (Note: This might be through a simple email nomination or through a more sophisticated peer recognition platform where employees are allocated a set number of votes or points each month which they can assign to their colleagues). Let’s look at both of these approaches in more detail.


Some of the most common pitfalls include:

  • The criteria for selection is usually not properly publicized or completely non-existent. Similarly, criteria for selection is often not accurately measurable or transparently quantifiable. When employees don’t understand how to earn the award, the program is inevitably going to have very little impact in terms of driving desirable behaviours and engagement.
  • The same people are selected again and again – how many times have you seen those who are the loudest and best at self-promotion repeatedly win the award? Or alternatively, management makes a point of giving everyone a turn to be the employee of the month regardless of what they may have actually achieved that month. In each case, even if employees are aware of the selection criteria, they know that even if they satisfy that criteria it doesn’t matter – it will just be Mr/s Popular who is picked again or it will simply be someone else’s turn to be recognized.

Almost all Employee of the Month programs that follow this format deliver very little ROI and have minimal impact on engagement drivers.


Actually, there’s no problem with this approach at all – in fact, it’s the only approach capable of regularly creating transparent and meaningful recognition. Except for one little thing…most programs which follow this format do not truly drive company-wide participation. This is because almost all Employee of the Month programs only reward employees who receive the most votes – that is, they only incentivize the passive act of receiving recognition. As a result, there is very low participation and the winners reflect the random afterthoughts of the few people who remember to participate. Despite the best intentions, most of these programs end up in no better position. Employees know that even if they achieve certain criteria, they’re unlikely to be recognized and thus, the program is unlikely to generate the desired engagement outcomes.


The simplest solution is to implement a recognition program that incentivizes not only the passive act of receiving recognition, but also the act of giving recognition. WooBoard, for example, utilizes gamification elements and employs a comprehensive Points System which rewards users for all engagement actions, including sending and receiving recognition, sharing information, and logging on and joining in the conversation every day. Why? Encouraging all employees to participate (and to participate frequently) ensures that winners aren’t random, but are the people out of the entire organization who have put in consistent efforts over the period – the people who actually deserve to be employees of the month. I know, what a foreign concept! On the back of this transparent recognition, companies create a powerful base on which to genuinely motivate their employees and drive real cultural/behavioural change.

Recognition can be an extremely powerful motivator, and Employee of the Month programs should and can be a legitimate part of any company’s recognition strategy. However, at the end of the day, managers have to be honest with themselves and their employees. Employees can see through box ticking exercises. Unless exceptional work and effort routinely result in the correct people being recognized, the engagement outcomes and objectives of Employee of the Month programs will continually fail to be realized. So ask yourself, honestly, “Are your Employee of the Month Awards going to the people who really deserve them?”


Align values, engage and motivate with WooBoard; an employee recognition platform that encourages happier, more productive workplaces.

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photo credit: druid labs via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “Employee of the Month Programs: Why Most Fail & How to Make Yours Succeed

  1. Jeri Dube says:

    Recognition needs to be specific. And if it includes stories, they’ll help strengthen the culture and lore of the organization. I just posted a blog where I created a hierarchy of recognition. I didn’t use employee of the month as an example…but I did mention a communication mechanism that served a similar purpose, which was incredibly effective for an IBM sales team. When I think about your post, I’m not sure where I’d place the employee of the month in my hierarchy… I guess it depends on the company and how it’s done…

    • Eric says:

      I think in most smaller companies like mine this sort of program is a complete fail.
      And should NEVER be implemented.
      I’ll explain.
      We have 22 employees, most of which are younger.( (25 and under).
      It has really seems to me to have just come down to a “popularity vote” like in high school.
      Everyone here does their job and yes some do put in that extra effort.
      I seldom see them voted in.
      In fact people who come in late, leave early and perform their job within the job description. ( Nothing extraordinary) win the vote.
      And yes I am including myself.
      I come in early every day, stay late, do my job very well and the kicker is a number of things I am well known for.
      The one the “difficult” customers get passed off to deal with even when they are not assigned to me.
      Difficult technical questions come to me.
      Known as the McGyver of the office, something breaks and they bring it to me to fix, makeup compact, eyeglasses, broken figurine etc.
      The person they turn to when they need some special tool for something.
      The one who keeps extra food and snacks around for office-mates who do not have.
      Most conversations with me begin with “Could you do me a favor?”
      This happens basically every day if not multiple times daily.
      Almost none of I am required to do as my job. (which again I have excellent performance)
      So yeah in the 1 year + this has been going with not even being mentioned in the running which they do a 2nd and 3rd runner up.
      So yes this has certainly left me quite jaded.

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