The ugly side of employee recognition

I knew it was time to post today, but sadly, as I was thinking of what to write about, the only things bopping around in my head were negative. My impending sickness! My current never-ending job stress!

Not so fun for me to write about. Or interesting for you to read. And then I submitted a request for a cash advance to purchase some items for our employee recognition program. Which always gets me a little uppity, because, believe it or not, that program? Is all kinds of ugly behind the scenes. And ugly enough to be semi-blogworthy, so here goes!

For the past year, I’ve been sitting on our little employee recognition committee. One of the tasks implemented by the committee is a little pat-on-the-back program where colleagues can give each other fake money in recognition of a job well done. You can then redeem the fake money you receive for exciting items like gift cards, organizational swag, and even iPods! These items are available for “purchase” once a month before and after our staff meetings. Nice, no? I thought so…until I became the person who manages the “store”.

As the manager, I have to buy the items with the organization’s real money, and then man the “store” each month. I share the latter duty with a colleague (mainly because the store is open mornings, and I can’t be bothered to actually get to work on time, much less early enough to set up). The store is meager, with just a few items totaling between $200 and $400 a month. Hey, we’re a nonprofit, this ain’t no free for all! Thus, it operates first-come, first-served and you are allowed to buy 1 item per month.

When I took on this role at the beginning of the year, I was quite excited. Helping people feel recognized sounds all fine and dandy. I’m not a big fan of shopping, but I figured I’d hit up a Meijer (or Kmart or Walmart for you non-Midwestern folk), and just buy up a bunch of stuff. And that’s just what I did that first month. The next day, I set everything out on the table (aka the store) and eagerly awaited my opportunity to thank my fellow coworkers as they purchased items with the fake money they’d earned from their colleagues.

Then the first customer arrived. Actually, the first customer arrived well before I opened the store…she was waiting so she could be the first in line. (Side note: this is not abnormal. People clamor to be the first there. Who knew an effing gift card would motivate people to get to work early?)

Anywho, I help the first customer, who has like $40 fake dollars, which allows her to buy lots of stuff. I was new and therefore didn’t know the 1 item/person rule, so she ended up “buying” 5 things and completely emptying out the store. Needless to say, I was bummed. I’d taken the trouble to go shopping and then it only lasted 5 minutes — and only benefitted one person. It felt odd to me, but not knowing the rules, I guessed that that was just how it was done.

Later that morning, I learned about the rule. Since I found out within hours of allowing the customer to buy up the entire store, I politely contacted her, informed her of the rules, apologized profusely, and said that unfortunately I would have to take back 4 of the 5 items she’d purchased.

I know, I’m heartless.

But it was only fair. After all, I figured she would still have the items at her desk so it wouldn’t be difficult to return them. She could pick the item she most wanted to keep. She’d get all her fake money reimbursed and could use it next month on another item. If I was the one being asked to give the stuff back, I would understand and readily comply. After all, this isn’t life or death, it’s a measly gift card or set of beach towels.

Instead of understanding the predicament and the greater good, this woman launched into a bitchfest at me about how unfair it all was. Obviously she wasn’t thinking about how unfair it is to everyone else when she shows up to be the first store patron, only to buy up the ENTIRE store before anyone else has a chance to take advantage of it. After much cajoling and apologizing, I wrenched the 4 items out of her grubby paws and went about my weeks.

Until the store opened again a month later. As the months wore on, people complained about the lack of quality items in the store, about the fact that they can’t buy more than one thing, and basically the same few early birds benefitted from the thing.  

As my first year doing this comes to a close I’ve realized the ugly side of this business. Each month it amazes me at the pettiness of my fellow employees. At the fact that it’s basically the same 5 people being “recognized” every month because they get there before it opens and have their pick of the good stuff. One could make the arguement that the early bird gets the worm, but in this case, it’s just not fair. The other 100 staff members equally deserve their shot at this opportunity, but because they don’t get there a half an hour early, they miss out. You could also make the arguement that I could just buy more items. But like I said, we’re a nonprofit, we don’t have a ton of money to be doing this, and frankly, I am busy enough without having to shop for 5 hours every month to fill up the inventory.

I know, I know, I’m an employee recognition grinch.

But seriously? Since when is stuff like this a big deal? I guess the economy plays a role; we have less money to spend on ourselves and so we clamor over freebies like this. Honestly though? Most of the stuff is small potatoes. A $15 gift card here. A hooded sweatshirt there. If I truly wanted it, I could save my money and go buy it. And even if I couldn’t save my money for some reason, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if I didn’t have it. And even more importantly, I wouldn’t be driven to the point of complaining about it to the people in charge.

I think a big part of the pettiness is that the employees feel the organization owes them something. And in their minds, this is it. And I agree; the organization owes us something for putting our all into our jobs each day. That’s why we get 6 weeks of vacation a year. That’s why our health benefits are amazing and yet provided at a very low cost to us. Don’t get me wrong, I often feel like our organization owes us much more than that, but I guess I’m not looking to the fake money store to fill that void. Apparently, though, I’m in the minority.

Today I had to pick out some items I want to buy for the store’s opening next week. And since it’s the holidays, I’ve been told people use the store as a way to shop for their family/friends (Seriously? We’re so cheap now that we’ve resorted to using our fake money to buy “thoughtful” gifts for our loved ones?) So I spent an hour or so this afternoon planning out some higher priced and more exciting items (digital cameras, iPods, etc.) that I will buy. Unfortunately, since they’re more expensive, that means there will only be about 3 big items up for grabs and then a smattering of gift cards. And everything will probably get picked up right away by the usual suspects.

For some reason, this depresses me.

I know it shouldn’t; I mean, at least some employees are feeling the organizational love because of this. But still. It bums me out that I will be spending my Friday night shopping for this, and spending quite a bit of my organization’s money doing so, and it’ll get eaten up within 15 minutes. By the same 5 people. If I felt like others were benefitting from the thing, I don’t think I’d feel so bad. If people weren’t so petty, and appreciated what the goal of this program is, I don’t think I’d feel so bad.

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6 Comments

Filed under career, peeves, rambling nature, rants

6 responses to “The ugly side of employee recognition

  1. How about opening the store after the meetings only? Then ol’ Wanda (who knew the freakin’ rules and was TOTALLY playing you) has to fight the crowds like everyone else.

  2. You know what might be a good rule to implement? If you’ve already bought an item in the prior three months, you must wait at least 30 minutes after the store opens to buy an item. Therefore all the early birds won’t get any doorbuster prizes for being crazy.

    I’m wondering what happened to my bucks? I had a lot of those. Way too many. If I find them, maybe you can unload them for me? I’m sure there’s a black market for these sort of things…

  3. Good grief, that is some serious drama! I’m sorry that people can’t be more appreciative and that there isn’t a more fair recognition system in place. People are lame!

  4. A Super Girl

    Ursula — That is a decent idea! And it’s not just her, trust me 🙂

    Suneil — You better believe there’s a black market. That’s why people have so many freakin’ bucks stacked up!

    Wickedly Scarlett — Yes, people are very lame especially when it comes to how much they care about lame things! Also, luckily this isn’t the only recognition thing we do, but it’s definitely the most sought after!

  5. trendycamper

    Perhaps an auction-like system would work better. Timing wouldn’t matter, and people with more “bucks” (and theoretically better performance) would have a better chance at winning the prize. If you don’t win, you keep your “bucks.”

    I feel your pain on this. Once, long ago, an employee came up to me and asked why we don’t reward people for doing things right like we discipline them for doing things wrong. I told her that it was her job to do things right, and that she gets a paycheck for that. We did reward people for extraordinary contributions, but not for doing their everyday job. The trick is to keep morale up without engendering a sense of entitlement.

  6. allthewine

    Six weeks vacation?! Hire me! I don’t need much money and I promise not to hassle you with getting to work early. That rarely happens.

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