10 Alternatives to “Employee of the Month” Awards

Employee recognition is an important element for workforce retention. Many companies use the employee of the month recognition model to praise and congratulate employees for a job well done on a regular basis. However, employee of the month does present some challenges that other forms of recognition negate. Learn what employee of the month is, understand the limitations of employee of the month and review other ways to recognize your employees. 


Related: Thank You Letter Template to Employees


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What is employee of the month?

Employee of the month is a morale and retention program designed to highlight one exceptional employee each month. Usually, this entails some sort of formal recognition, like:


  • An official certificate
  • Photo in a public area of the workplace
  • Company-wide email 


Some companies also provide a prize, like:


  • A cash bonus
  • A gift certificate
  • Additional time off


Related: Sample of Appreciation Letters: Templates and Examples


Limitations of employee of the month

Consider these downsides to employee of the month before implementing a program in your workplace: 


Confuses employees

In most cases, the criteria for earning the employee of the month recognition is not made clear to the managers selecting the winners and the employees themselves. With little guidance or understanding as to what earns recognition, employees may feel the entire program is a popularity contest rather than a true evaluation of outstanding work or performance. 


Breeds competition

In some cases, peer-to-peer competition can be a great motivator. When used consistently month after month in pursuit of recognition, it can break down relationships. Since employee of the month recognizes only one individual, it’s naturally competitive. 


Disallows multiple winners

On rare occasions, some companies may choose two employees of the month, but generally there’s a single winner each month. This system makes it very challenging to recognize groups or teams who perform well on a project together and who all deserve recognition. 


Limits productivity

Depending on the culture of the company, the desire to win employee of the month could actually decrease productivity. With no clear guidelines for what garners recognition, employees might assume their best course of action to win is to spend time and energy catering to the manager or management team who makes the decision rather than focusing on their work. 


Discourages employees

Since the company only recognizes one employee once a month, only 12 employees receive public praise annually. In a company that has more than 12 people, that leaves many individuals discouraged, and it could negatively impact employee morale. 


Reduces recognition

Some managers feel that by recognizing an employee of the month, they don’t need to do any other employee recognition or team morale building. That leaves a lot of people without any positive feedback from month to month and year to year. 


Focuses on popularity

In some organizations, certain employees are more visible than others. Those employees tend to win recognition awards like employee of the month simply because their job provides them the opportunity to interact with the right people. Other employees could misread this as winning the employee of the month award due to popularity rather than due to performance. 


Other ways to recognize employees

Recognizing and publicly appreciating your employees is an absolute necessity for a positive company culture and high employee morale. Whenever you recognize an employee, ensure you explain why they’ve earned that recognition. That will help others see what actions and attributes garner attention and encourage them to improve their performance. Consider these alternatives to an employee of the month program when looking for ways to improve your employee recognition: 


1. Reward values

Have a few values themed gifts on hand to pass out to employees who regularly exemplify that value. For example, if there’s an employee who helps their peers with projects or tasks outside of the employee’s normal scope, reward them with a backpack full of goodies for “having their colleagues’ backs.” You can give these out at random intervals to promote teamwork, collaboration or any other values your company celebrates. 


2. Take them to lunch 

Take individual employees or teams out to lunch at the conclusion of an extensive project or after accomplishing a major achievement. As with any employee recognition, ensure the reason for going to lunch is clear to the employee and to all members of the company. 


3. Auction off actions

To celebrate the entire company for their hard work, hold an auction in which managers auction off acts of service. Provide your employees with play money from a board game and have them bid on leadership provided acts of service like cooking a meal or washing a car. 


4. Provide a buffet

Thank a team or department for a group success by providing a buffet lunch in the office for them. You can also do this as a company morale-boosting exercise by giving all employees lunch on a certain day. 


5. Distribute apparel

Order a bevy of shirts, hats, umbrellas, coffee mugs and other apparel and accessories with your company’s name and logo. Pass these out as low-level prizes for great ideas during meetings, staying a few minutes late to finish up a customer phone call or to recognize some other minor act of hard work. 


6. Say thank you 

Regularly call employees into your office to thank them in person for the work they do for your company. In most cases, you shouldn’t need a specific event or accomplishment to trigger the thank you — simply providing gratitude to your employees who perform well every day will encourage them to continue doing so. 


7. Write a letter

Similarly to saying thank you, you can write your employees thank you letters to express your gratitude for their contributions to the organization. Thank you letters are nice for employees because they’re a physical token they can keep and revisit when they need additional motivation. 


8. Offer time off

Another way to provide a frequent and low-cost reward to employees for minor accomplishments is to offer small chunks of time off. For example, if an employee receives a stellar compliment from a customer, give them a certificate for 15 minutes of paid time off. Once they acquire four certificates, they can use that hour to go home early, come in late or save up for vacation. 


9. Promote peer-to-peer recognition

Create a public area where employees can recognize one another for their accomplishments. This could be a bulletin board where employees write the name of the employee and their accomplishment on a notecard or a box in which employees submit recognitions and a manager pulls a few every week to honor with a small prize. 


10. Share daily wins

Send a daily email to the company detailing a few accomplishments from the workday. These can be small work achievements and include personal victories worthy of recognition as well. For example, you might share that human resources revamped the time off procedure to make it easier for all employees and that the marketing team ran in a group 5K race over the weekend to build camaraderie. 


Related: How to Motivate Your Employees


Employee of the month programs are rarely the best way to honor your employees or the only method you should employ for recognition. Consider a few alternative approaches to ensure your employees feel regularly appreciated on the job.

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