Everyday Rewards that Cost Nothing

“Second place is just the first place loser.”

Dale Earnhardt

There is this commercial on right now showing a dad walking back to his car with his kid after a sporting event.  He looks down at the trophy in his hand a sees:

He says to himself “participation trophy? But we won every game. Why did we get the same trophy as every team we beat…” and he finally picks off the label and writes:


I get it.

The message is that we’ve become so PC that we reward everyone for everything; we give out trophies and coddle this new generation. The old guard is where you were only rewarded for winning, for doing something extraordinary. Typically this comes up when we talk about millennials and how “soft” they are; entitled, living at home, unemployed and expecting to be rewarded for everything. Like most sweeping generalizations, they are often grounded in some truth/experience, however usually wrong for a large part of the group in question and generally offensive.


I’m not so sure

I’ll be honest, I struggle with the message in this commercial (others are cheering and saying “damn straight” and I’m thinking “eh…I’m not sure”).  I get it that there are winners and losers (ironically enough the commercial ends with the tagline “for football families” and that describes our family).

I see how healthy competition brings out the best in people.  That the desire to do your best, to strive to improve, to not feel totally satisfied, those feelings are important driving forces.  It’s something you want to teach your children.  It’s how we’ve progressed as the human race; people seeing the status quo or how things have always been and want to improve, innovate, be better than they are.

But does that mean everything has to be about winners and losers?

That we compare ourselves to others and need to “beat everyone else” to feel good around ourselves?

I also see how there is value in feeling supported, validated and recognized for doing a good job.  Even if it’s expected, even if it’s part of the everyday job, not every day is easy or every aspect of our work life fun.


Just do your d@mn job

We are used to just accepting that when someone does the job, this is expected of you, you did it, no need for any award or fancy recognition.  True.

However, many of you have staff who make minimum wage or could get more money working elsewhere, in a difference industry.  In the helping profession, we are People Helping People and sometimes the work is less than desirable (ex. Cleaning up vomit or other bodily functions) or having to be very patient and kind to someone who is not in a great place. We often get treated badly but the people we serve or their families and rarely is there appreciation or thank you for the help that we provide.

I recently wrote in a blog post about how employees leave managers, not jobs/companies.

Perhaps a small thing that we managers can do to alleviate that a bit is provide that recognition and appreciation.


Employee Appreciation Programs Cost Money

Simple things like verbally acknowledging and appreciating an employee for doing the basics of the job, and doing it well, can be such a difference in job satisfaction.  Even more impactful than an award or certificate or other planned “employee appreciation initiative”, the heartfelt words of appreciation from a manager tells an employee that you noticed them, recognize the good job being done and how challenging it can be to sometimes “just do the job”.

It’s easy to say that these Millennials are the ones who need constant positive feedback and rewards; that they are babied and from a generation who gets a participant trophy for getting out of bed in the morning.  But I would challenge you to find someone who genuinely doesn’t like being appreciated for their work. To feel like they are doing a good job and someone who matters sees it and knows it; that goes a long way for job satisfaction.  I’ve heard people say they don’t need recognition or the “atta boy!” however usually they mean they don’t need the public recognition, the Certificate of Achievement or forced action to show you are valued.  They do need and like to hear a simple sentence of appreciation and acknowledgment from their manager that what they are doing is good and valued. I believe it’s not a generational thing, it’s a human thing.

It might feel like a “participation trophy” when you acknowledge your employee did their job well. but for that employee, it might be the difference between being engaged and committed to the organization, and viewing it as “just a job for right now until something better comes along”. And when you talk to employees about the formal “employee appreciation program” activities and rewards, often employees talk about how worthless those programs are and how minimal the impact is on morals.  They are not valued as much as you think.  Those programs and forced/planned rewards are missing the element of authenticity. A certificate doesn’t express genuine appreciation like stopping your busy work day to acknowledge someone for going above and beyond.  Of even better, acknowledging someone for doing a great job despite the everyday challenges of working in this industry.


WE want to hear from you! What ways do you show employee appreciation and communicate that you value them?  What ways does your manager do the same for you?  Suggest things that cost nothing, I’m sure there are many!

Kristi McClure

Strategic Marketing Manager BH/CYF and CH

Kristi has more than 20 years of experience in the health and human service industry, the majority of that time working as a direct practitioner with children, adolescents and adults in both outpatient and residential/inpatient settings. She has worked with Relias for over 10 years, initially working with customers on getting the most out of Relias products, then managing the content products for HHS, and now as the Strategic Marketing Manager for Health and Human Services.

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