“People work for money, but go that extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.”
– Dale Carnergie

All of us, whether working in the corporate world, running our own businesses or homemakers, go through the “Oh! I don’t feel like working today” days. It’s alright to have these days far and few in-between. But when they become more and more frequent, so much so, that we have to drag ourselves to get to whatever it is that we do- it becomes a serious cause for alarm. Not just for us, but for our Organization, (organization here can be a corporate workplace or households). This is the point when we need to ask ourselves- Why? And, hopefully, all prudent Organizations would not just ask, but also address the “Why”.

There are many things that one would/could do rather than spending hours in-front of a computer screen or inside a sweltering kitchen. But something made us choose to work and not perhaps climb-mountains, play music, or do whatever else our heart desires. The choice may be limited, since we all have to run our households and need a regular income. Yet, however limited in its nature the choice is always there. So, we choose to do what we do. Then why is it that the “Oh my God! I don’t want feel like working today” days start becoming more and more frequent?

The answer is apparent in the movie- “Groundhog Day”. The movie depicts Bill Murray as a TV Anchor who is stuck in a ‘time loop’ on February 2nd. Initially, he enjoys the time loop and tries to use it to his advantage, he knows exactly how the day will play out, so he takes advantage of the others within the plot. However, soon the “repetitiveness” and “predictable sequence” of the day starts to depress him. He is stuck in a time loop, doomed to repeat his day forever. He gets so tired and frustrated that he makes several attempts to kill himself. Eventually, he realizes that even that morbid luxury will not be granted to him and he will just have to go on repeating the day forever (more on “Groundhog Day” later).

What is noteworthy here is, it’s the repetitiveness, the sameness, the monotony of the day that psyches him out. Here lies the answer to the frequent “I don’t feel like working today” days. The monotony of our work can get to us. Nothing changes – the people, the work, the routine everything remains the same. We get bored, we get tired and we certainly do not want to go on doing this “same stuff” forever. This is not to say that routine is all bad, it helps us avoid making decisions for every little thing from morning to night. But the most important thing is, how do we constantly keep ourselves and our workforce engaged and motivated in this repetitive and monotonous routine scheme of things? And what makes this routine – apart from being repetitive, more and more unbearable? For the answer to this last question let’s look at human psychology.

Let’s do an experiment, close your eyes and try to recapture your day. Do not be alarmed if you remember that you couldn’t wake up on time, had to rush to work, wade through heavy traffic and the heat was sweltering and muggy. Look back and think how many positive thoughts crossed your mind while running the few hours of ‘today’ in your head. Again, don’t be alarmed if the answer is too few, or almost zero. You are only human. Many studies suggest that we as a species process and absorb negativity faster with longer lasting effects. We will very easily be able to recall negative instances in our life – so much so that we actually go through those feelings as we did when we experienced those instances.

So, to put this in the corporate context – we feel elated upon receiving a salary hike but this feeling diminishes over a period, however, the lack of a raise/ expected raise can stay with us forever – acting as a prick point in our subconscious at all times.

So, it is not just the repetitiveness but also the negative instances that we encounter in our day that make this routine all the more intolerable. We, as humans, do not only remember negativity but are also attuned to pointing out negativity. Psychoanalysis has proven that even a 6 month child can pick a frowning or sad face from a crowd of people, showing us that we are somehow geared to look at the negative, storing it in our heads rather than the positive. So both as employees and as managers we are naturally inclined to notice, remember and recall negative instances. This “natural instinct” of storing and recalling negative instances definitely must have been a handy tool when survival was an issue making us wary and therefore more careful. However, now, when we are not facing life altering risks everyday – this instinct creates tensions and disharmony in both personal and professional spheres.

Many psychologists, like John Gottman, Marcial Losada, Barbara Fredrickson, have emphasized the need to combat negativity of criticism with praise. Not a single praise but 3-6 times more positive comments than negative comments, for an Organization or family to function smoothly.
The redundancy of the monotonous routine day can be broken by positive recognition and subsequent reward. Back in “Groundhog Day” Bill Murray’s character finally breaks the curse of the time warp by using the day to do good, earn praise, recognition, friends and be better at doing what he does every day – (the same day). Recognition for a good effort, for a brilliant outcome and for a job well done is thus, imperative for breaking the monotony of our everyday work lives and for limiting the dejected lackadaisical work days.

Organizations across the globe are struggling with Employee Engagement – an employee who doesn’t ‘just’ show up at work but actively engages with the work environment and enjoys what is being done. Rewards and Recognition (R&R) apart from Performance Based increments are becoming a valuable tool to increase the employee’s engagement. For only an ‘engaged employee’ is a real asset to the Organization. Within performance based increments, the difference, between the hikes offered to a high performer and bottom performer, is not too significant. Also, given the confidential nature of the process, the difference does not even get impressed upon the employee. In such a scenario, R&R becomes an essential tool to not just reward and recognize the one who is deserving but also to showcase why is this employee deserving of R&R. The traits, the characteristics that the Organization values.

Today, employees have lot of options available, it becomes all the more imperative for an Organization to not only attract but also to retain talent. In a study conducted by Gallup in 2014, it was found that lack of recognition and motivation was one of the key reasons for employees to quit their organizations. R&R is a valuable tool for organizations to maintain competitiveness with other organizations as well as within the organization. Depending upon the size of an organization, each employee plays a “larger” role, unlike some bigger companies, which have moved to more specialized singular roles. The motivation for each person to do their bit will only come from within, albeit, aided by external forces of appreciation, rewards and recognition.

As noted, we tend to see the negative, so the need of the hour is not only to recognize the effort, but, the greater challenge lies in training the managers to notice the effort. To see the good and articulate it. To be able to even give negative feedback “constructively” so that it leads to improvement and not brooding over criticism.

Rewards and Recognition are often used interchangeably, they are however, quite different, for recognition is not monetary. It is ‘PRAISE’ in the form of notes, plaques, letters, wall of fame, town hall announcements etc. While Rewards have a financial implication for both the Organization and the Employee. Recognition, therefore, is an inexpensive tool that feeds the soul and goes a long way to increase motivation, inspiration and connectivity with the organization. Reward, on the other hand, aims at sharing the profits made by the organization due to the efforts of a particular employee/team. According to Great Place to Work, rewarding assesses how an Organization shares the fruits of people’s efforts generously and fairly with them whereas, thanking focuses on the way an Organization recognizes and appreciates good work and extra levels of effort and strives to create a climate of approval and positive reinforcement.

It is not only necessary to put an ‘R&R’ process in place, it is equally important to ensure that it is also perceived as totally transparent and fair. Also, the budgetary considerations must be kept in mind. The budgets for R&R vary from 0.1%-20% of total employee cost. Regular checks on how well the program is doing must be maintained through informal employee feedback, formal surveys and HR open houses.

Recognition, due to its affordability, can be repeated regularly and impact the workforce more positively. Managers should be trained and encouraged to give recognition in the form of praise notes, letters, recommendations, but also to balance constructive criticism and praise. The tendency to yo-yo between being the effective managers and populist managers must be controlled. This requires training on interpersonal behavior and tactics.

To conclude, R&R will help you have less suicidal Bill Murrays and more effective employees, contributing to the overall goals and vision of the organization. It will help the organization retain superstars and train others to emulate productive behavior. It will encourage engagement and foster positivity in the lives of humans attuned to feeding on negativity.

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