Businesses that take time to recognize employees for their hard work this holiday season can expect a staff that is more motivated and productive, according to researchers with the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
Many of the professors, who teach at universities and colleges across the country, agreed that there are long-term benefits to companies that give gifts and parties to their employees.
Providing celebrations, bonuses and other forms of year-end acknowledgement has symbolic significance beyond the objective value that may be attached, said Kimberly Merriman, an assistant professor of management and organization at Pennsylvania State University.
"They send a message that the employment relationship is more than simply a transactional one," Merriman said. "That message is especially important to convey if employees have endured a year of no raises, extra workloads, threats of layoff or many of the other conditions common in workplaces right now."
But the recognition must be sincere for it to be effective, said Robert Eisenberger, a professor in the psychology department at the University of Houston.
"If the employer just goes through the motions of giving a gift that doesn’t really indicate they value employees, then it doesn’t count for much," Eisenberger said. "What really is important is a genuine indication of valuation and caring."
He points to taking employees out to eat as a great way for bosses to show they really care about them.
"It’s easy to give them a few dollars, but taking the time to treat employees to a meal involves effort and planning," Eisenberger said.
Tom Becker, chair and professor in the University of Delaware's Department of Business Administration, notes it is important for supervisors to know each staff member's needs and values in order to select a recognition or reward that employees will welcome.
"For some, it might be money, and for others, a simple and sincere verbal acknowledgement of a job well done," Becker said, adding that nonmonetary recognition can be just as effective as a cash bonus.
With the shaky economy wreaking havoc on many companies' bottom lines, Merriman suggested removing financial rewards from the tradition of holiday recognition as a way to ensure consistent annual rewards for employees.
She suggested utilizing a variety of creative options, including providing free onsite car washes to employees for the day or free onsite gift-wrapping.
"The trick is finding something that can be maintained — even in lean years — but still has value to employees," Merriman said. "Of course, most employees would most value some extra paid time off during the holiday season if possible."
Eisenberger stressed that it is important for employees to feel appreciated all year, not just during the holiday season. "If people aren’t supported and cared about the rest of the year and then a show of that is made just around holiday time, it isn’t taken very seriously," he said. "It needs to be part of a pattern of indicating that employees are valued and cared about."
Robert T. Brill, an associate professor of psychology at Moravian College, agreed that a one-time reward around the holidays won't do much for improving company performance.
"It will go a long way toward morale and the worker's sense of commitment and gratitude to the employer, but changing performance usually will require a more ongoing, systematic approach to performance feedback and management," Brill said.
The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology is an international group of nearly 8,000 industrial-organizational psychologists who study and apply scientific principles concerning workplace productivity, motivation, leadership and engagement.
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