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Employee Recognition on a Budget

Boss handing employee a promotion letter

Management Topic: Employee Recognition on a Budget

Dear Colleagues,

Have you ever wondered what employees need to be motivated? Money? A promotion? More vacation days? Great benefits? Fear of discipline? It may be surprising to find out it is something much simpler than that. Several recent studies have unveiled that employees are influenced by recognition far more than any other motivator. Extrinsic rewards like money and benefits are still important, but these meet an employee’s basic needs and do little to motivate an employee. Is fear of being disciplined still on the minds of employees? You bet, but a fear of discipline mostly prevents negative behavior, and does little to promote positive behavior that leads an employee to excel. Generally, what employees need to achieve their best and feel appreciated is to be recognized for their hard work. Doing so meets an intrinsic need for employees to feel their jobs have purpose and meaning, and that their contributions make a difference that allows them to share in the success of their organization.

Management should keep in mind the following when providing recognition:

  1. Recognition should be timely. When an employee does well, take a few minutes to recognize them the same day and show their actions and hard work do not go unnoticed. Delaying recognition loses relevancy and maybe interpreted as forced or an afterthought.
  2. Be specific. Recognizing an employee’s actions or behaviors positively reinforces them to continue these behaviors in the future. Vague feedback is unhelpful to team members, diminishes positive feedback for more important actions, and may feel disingenuous.
  3. Tailor the recognition to the employee’s comfort level and preference. If your employee is uncomfortable receiving public praise, avoid engraving their name on a plaque. Rather, provide recognition in a one-on-one setting. On the other hand, if an employee loves the spotlight, provide them recognition in a visible manner, such as a team meeting.

For this month’s Monthly Management Tips, we want to highlight ideas that recognize employee accomplishments. Below you will find a list of creative and effective recognition programs, several of which have been developed right here on campus by our dedicated managers and department heads.

No Cost Ideas

Kudos logo
  • Years of Service – Employees receive framed certificates signed by their department head at certain career milestones.
  • Employee Recognition Letters – The UCLA Health System encourages their supervisors to nominate employees at any level for outstanding performance. Awardees receive a personal recognition letter from the Health Systems CEO or COO.
  • Kudos – Administration’s Events & Transportation (E&T) department has a virtual recognition program where employees can submit nominations for colleagues that are featured on the E&T Kudos site.
  • Thank You Cards – An employee receiving appreciation for their hard work boosts morale and makes them feel important and valued. It’s motivating, encouraging, builds trust and promotes employee engagement, resulting in better performance and less turnover.
  • Team Building (in person or via Zoom) – To motivate employees, provide them opportunities to work towards a common goal. This is especially important for coworkers or teams that do not typically work or collaborate together. This allows them to have opportunities to demonstrate their strengths and address any areas of improvement. Any team building exercise should encourage collaboration rather than competition. Be sure to incorporate team building often.
  • Random Acts of Kindness

Nominal Cost Ideas*

  • On the Spot/Extra Mile Awards – Administration’s Facilities Management, Campus Human Resources, and Events & Transportation have programs where supervisors nominate employees for going above and beyond the employee’s normal duties. Employees receive a certificate of recognition and a $75 gift card.
  • Employee of the Month/Quarter/Year – Several departments nominate employees on a set schedule to recognize overall standout employees. Common awards include $75 gift cards, engraving their name on a brass plate for an Employee of the Month/Quarter/Year board, and having an article published in a departmental newsletter, TV screen or on an intranet site.

Other Ideas

  • Thank You Thursdays – Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck started a program where he visits several areas of campus to hand out treats such as ice cream bars, pastries, popcorn, etc. to any Administration employee he sees. These are a fun way to simply say thanks for being a part of the team and all that you do for UCLA each and every day. This can be adopted by departments of any size.
  • Star Awards – While not a low-cost employee recognition, we would be remiss not to mention this important program that provides cash awards to select top performers or teams within your department. Each department creates their own plan and funding source in accordance with UCLA Campus Guidelines and UCOP Policy PPSM-34. Check with your department head for more information.

There are many other ways to recognize employees. Creating a culture where employees feel recognized for their efforts and contributions is a sure way of helping employees feel that their efforts make a difference in how this campus operates. If you don’t already have a set of recognition tools, there is no time like the present to begin. If you already have a recognition program in place, please share your practices. We would love to hear from you.

*In accordance with UCOP Policy G-41, gift cards must be capped at $75, and departments may only issue three gift cards per year per employee. A summary of the policy can also be found on the UCLA Business & Finance Solutions Policy G-41 Compliance webpage.

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Stay Safe!

Leadership 2029

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