Employee recognition in the Christian charity context
In the New Testament, Paul encouraged the Colossians by writing, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters“. Because ministry staff personnel are focused on the eternal and know that their labours will be rewarded in heaven, Christian charities may think of staff member recognition as being more of a corporate initiative or tend to equate it with recognizing retirements and milestone anniversaries. But employee recognition, when done well, can be so much more than this, and can be a real blessing to others in the workplace.
Employee recognition has the potential to positively influence workplace culture by calling attention to behaviours and outcomes that are aligned with the charity’s mission and values. In their book Mission Drift, authors Peter Greer and Chris Horst talk about the importance of a mission true culture, which includes what they call the celebrating of exemplars. “When staff members exhibit organizational values, be sure to call it out. The surest way to have others embrace your full mission is through positive reinforcement. At each of our staff meetings, staff members nominate their colleagues when they see them living out organizational culture.” (Greer and Horst, in Mission Drift.)
Closely linked to its impact on workplace culture and engagement is how employee recognition can help staff members to feel valued and appreciated in their work. And while we can often derive a certain intrinsic satisfaction from knowing that a job has been well done, positive feedback and recognition has long been recognized as an important component in helping to build strong teams. In First Thessalonians believers are told to encourage one another and build one another up, and in the workplace this helps to strengthen team bonds and reinforce the desired workplace culture.
Tip #1 how we recognize others is important
Of course individuals can vary greatly in how they like to receive feedback and we should all be intentional about recognizing others in a way that is meaningful and honouring to them. How we recognize others is equally as important as what is being recognized. Asking how others prefer to receive feedback can be a great question for leaders to build into one to one conversations with their staff members, and while this would ideally take place when new employees are being oriented to the charity, it’s never too late to ask longer serving team members as well.
For some employees, being recognized in front of a larger group setting may be a real thrill whereas others may prefer a smaller group setting or even receiving this kind of feedback and acknowledgement on more of a one to one basis. Some of the most memorable feedback that I have received was simply a handwritten card from my manager. I have even had some colleagues tell me they like to refer back to those cards and notes when they are feeling discouraged or having a particularly challenging day.
Tip #2 effective recognition is specific
I have always been fascinated by my Grandparent’s stories of what life was like when they were young, and a few years ago I decided to begin working on my family tree. Like most families it turns out there are more than a few nuts in ours!
After having worked on this project for a couple of years I finally felt ready to share it with my parents and siblings. They told me I had done a great job. Really great, in fact. I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to know if there were specific stories they felt drawn to, or if they had questions or even disagreed with some of my findings. Lucky for them I am already working on a second version complete with discussion questions!
In order to make meaningful connections between the behaviour that is being recognized and the values of the charity, feedback needs to be specific. Being intentional about providing specific feedback doesn’t need to be difficult, and can quickly become second nature. It carries with it a level of authenticity that praising someone in more general terms is not able to convey. An example of this could be sharing with a colleague that their approach to a delicate donor relations matter was appreciated, and that they really exemplified the charity’s values of ‘desire to serve’ and ‘respect’ in that particular interaction.
Tip #3 effective recognition is timely
For recognition to really be effective it needs to be provided soon after the staff member demonstrated the behaviour that is being recognized. This is actually true no matter what kind of feedback is being given. I can remember working at a call centre to make extra money during college. The supervisors would play back calls that were up to three months old and use them as learning opportunities. Needless to say this was not an effective means of coaching given the high volume of calls that customer service associates answered each day. The ideal time to provide positive feedback and recognition is in that moment or soon after the event.
Tip #4 leading the way
Charity leaders have the opportunity to really role model and set the tone for the desired culture in their workplaces. This includes how individuals and teams are recognized and rewarded for their work. Leaders will ultimately decide how formal or informal of an approach the charity will take to staff member recognition and what works best in the context of their workplace. They are also in a position to help their team members understand the broader implications of their efforts. For example, a staff member whose role is primarily internally facing may find it very meaningful to hear a personal story of how their work has positively impacted the life of someone who makes use of the charity’s products or services.
Invariably the topic of employee recognition always leads to interesting discussion around leadership tables. Some leaders take the position that they are hard markers, or that folks shouldn’t be recognized for simply performing the role that they were hired to do. And while I’m not advocating for recognizing the trivial, leaders that don’t include employee recognition in their management tool-kits may be missing out on a great opportunity to build the kind of team that everyone wants to be a part of.
Tip #5 peer to peer recognition can be highly impactful
When managers and supervisors are seen providing authentic positive feedback in a way that is specific and timely, it makes it easier for others in the organization to follow suit. Some of the most effective forms of staff member recognition are grass roots initiatives where colleagues provide their peers with informal, positive feedback. This has the potential to be particularly impactful as colleagues are often the closest to the work that is being done and tend to have greater visibility into what made that assignment or project so challenging in the first place. Charities wishing to encourage this type of peer to peer recognition could provide their employees with note cards for that express purpose, however post it notes can work equally as well.
Tip #6 low cost high impact employee recognition suggestions
Here are some of my suggestions for low cost, high impact employee recognition. There is lots of room for creativity here, so this list is by no means meant to be exhaustive:
- Personal hand written card or thank you note from manager or colleague
- Special shout outs at staff meetings or team huddles
- Assigning the employee a project they will find particularly interesting or challenging
- Having the employee lead a lunch and learn on a topic they are knowledgeable about
- Coffee or lunch with a member of the leadership team of the staff member’s choosing
- Backfilling for another team member who is on vacation or sabbatical
- Allow the employee to take a day with pay to do work for a charity of their choice
- Have employee take the lead on implementing an idea or suggestion they have come up with
Tip #7 don’t forget about taxable benefit implications
Unfortunately the good intent of staff member recognition can be quickly undone if consideration is not given to the implications of taxable benefits. No one likes being surprised at tax time by suddenly realizing the gift they received from their employer was actually a taxable benefit. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does make allowances for employers to give a non-cash gift(s) with a total fair market value of up to $500 per year. If the total amount exceeds $500, the excess amount would be taxable. For full details, CCCC members are encouraged to reference CCCC’s article called Gifts of Appreciation to Charity Employees & Volunteers: What’s Taxable and What Isn’t?
Whatever approach your charity takes to staff member recognition, it’s important to ensure that the recognition is tailored to that individual, and that it is specific, timely and authentic. While there is a dizzying array of software programs and apps available on the market, the best kind of recognition program for your charity is one that will actually get used, and the best time to get started is today.