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Behavioral Change: Behavior-Motivating Recognition Programs on the Rise, Survey Finds

In the past five years, behavior-motivating plans have become an increasingly popular aspect of employee recognition programs, according to a new survey.

June 19, 2013

Programs to motivate specific employee behaviors are on the rise. Scratch that—such programs are really on the rise.

According to a survey conducted by WorldatWork and ITA Group, 41 percent of respondents include behavior-motivating plans in their recognition programs—a 16 percent increase from five years ago when such plans first started appearing.

Length-of-service, above-and-beyond performance and peer-to-peer recognition remain the top three most prevalent goals for recognition programs.

But for the first time in the 11 years since this survey has been conducted, programs to motivate behavior have been identified as the fourth most important aspect of employee recognition programs, according to the report released June 11. Furthermore, behavior-motivating plans were only 1 percentage point behind peer-to-peer recognition plans, the third most popular kind of recognition plan.

"In the last several years, organizations have recognized the opportunity to reward their employees for emulating behavior that will drive business results," said Rose Stanley, recognition practice leader for WorldatWork, in an email. "They may be organized programs such as suggestion or idea programs to better the organization or save them money; peer-to-peer programs that allow peers to recognize each other for doing something good that benefited the team or organization; putting in extra effort on a work project that helped the organization out. Even some wellness programs can be a part of recognition."

The survey also found that 46 percent of senior managers view recognition programs as an investment rather than an expense. Additionally, 41 percent of respondents feel a "high level of support" for recognition programs from senior management, a 37 percent increase since 2010.

"The 2013 data shows 70 percent of organizations offer between three and six different recognition programs, but the sustainable impact on both behaviors and the overall business varies across program types," said Jaimee Chism, employee loyalty practice leader, ITA Group, in a written statement. "Smart organizations are leveraging recognition programs as agile and flexible tools to align employee behavior with what positively impacts their business today."

Stanley says these kinds of recognition programs are effective if desired behaviors are rewarded quickly—and relatively inexpensive as well.

"Reinforcing all of these types of behavior and doing it soon after the behavior has occurred, helps create a line of site between the action and the award and hopefully the employee will repeat that behavior. The beauty is that it doesn't have to be costly—it could even be free (a pat on the back, an acknowledgement from superiors or peers). But you do want to be careful that you do it appropriately so as not to create a sense of entitlement or the value could become diminished," Stanley wrote.

The entire Trends in Employee Recognition 2013 survey can be read here.

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.