Home All Employee Recognition: How One Company Puts Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

Employee Recognition: How One Company Puts Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

written by Margaret Greenberg 14 July 2007

Margaret Greenberg, MAPP '06, is co-author of Profit from the Positive. After a 15-year career in corporate HR, she founded The Greenberg Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice, in 1997. Margaret specializes in coaching executives and their teams using a strengths-based approach. Full bio.

Margaret's solo articles are here and her articles with Senia Maymin are here.

Last year at this time, Dana Arakawa and I were writing up our Capstone study.  We found that managers who were in the top quartile for providing frequent recognition and encouragement had teams that were more engaged and productive (see May 10, 2007 Gallup Article for more detailed findings).  What we studied were “informal” forms of recognition, such as expressing appreciation for a job well done.  But what about those more “formal” forms of recognition, such as trips and conferences, that companies use to reward top performers?  Do these programs positively impact employee engagement and productivity, too?  While we haven’t conducted an empirical study on this topic (yet), I do have anecdotal evidence from one company that they do – especially when a company rethinks who attends these events.

Rethink Participation

If you have ever worked in a corporation, you know that expensive trips are fairly typical IF you are in the ranks of senior leadership and/or in the Sales division where top producers are whisked away to exotic destinations.  But how do companies recognize those employees who are really the face to the customer – those front-line customer service representatives who wear a head-set eight hours a day?

Fireworks Show at Disney World

Fireworks Show at Disney World

Recognition for these employees is typically informal and low budget – plaques for customer service rep of the month, pizza parties, gift certificates, t-shirts and the like.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that one of my client organizations, Unum, was taking 5% of its service employees to Disney World for a four-day Training and Recognition Conference – all expenses paid!

Keep in mind, this conference isn’t the only form of recognition this company sponsors and is not a substitute for recognition by an employee’s manager.  The conference is but one element of a more comprehensive recognition program that rewards employees for providing high quality service to its customers.  Employees are selected to attend based upon a set of service attributes (Positive & Enthusiastic are two of them!) that must be consistently demonstrated throughout the year.  This conference is one of the ways Unum demonstrates to its employees that they are truly valued and appreciated.  Is there also a link between feeling valued and one’s personal well-being and happiness? 

Feeling Valued and Happiness

According to Randstand’s 2006 Employee Review, conducted by Harris interactive, 86% of US employees cited feeling valued as an important factor for happiness, while only 37% said it exists in their job.[i]  Following are a couple of quotes from Unum employees who attended the most recent Training & Recognition conference in May.  How valued and happy do they sound to you?

I cannot express in words the effect that the SCORE* conference had on me.  To be able to work for a company that cares enough for its employees to be willing to send them to a conference such as that is inspiring.  Furthermore, to be able to experience what customer service means from the company that truly wrote the book and set the bar on customer service – Walt Disney World – indicates that our company knows where to go to train and motivate its employees to achieve the best level of customer service there is.  How can I go back!?

I want to express my sincere gratitude for the time I spent at the S.C.O.R.E. conference last week.  Not to sound too cliché but it was a “Magical” time.  From the breakout sessions, guest speakers, accommodations, entertainment, etc. everything was wonderful.  Several of the IT guys were walking around Downtown Disney on the last night and ran into several people who asked who we were and what “S.C.O.R.E.” stood for.  It was such an honor to tell them about our company and why we were there.  They were astonished that a company would go to such an expense and headache to reward their employees for their accomplishments.  I look forward to applying the knowledge gained last week to both my personal and professional life. 

*S.C.O.R.E. is an acronym for:  Service Excellence, Customer Focus, Ownership of Issues, Relationship Development & Risk Management, and Every Customer…Every Time 

The Bottom Line

Many companies talk a good game about the importance of quality customer service and yet, when it comes to investing in the very positions that have direct customer contact, they often fall short.  Service employees are often recruited at minimum wage, and training and recognition are limited.  Consequently, service jobs experience high turnover[ii] and the customer’s experience suffers.  Think back to the last time you were on the phone with a customer service rep.  What was your experience?  Could you discern how the rep viewed his role?  Was it just a job, a career, or a calling?

Companies like Unum clearly see the link between engaged employees and quality customer service and their financial results prove it – Unum is one of the leading providers of employee benefits products and services, and the largest provider of group and individual disability income protection insurance in the United States and the United Kingdom. 


[i] Randstand USA, 7-24-06, International Customer Management Institute.
[ii] In a recent survey conducted jointly by ICMI and TalentKeepers, nearly two thirds (62%) of call centers reported a turnover rate of 25% or less: 17% indicated a turnover rate of 0-5%; 13% reported a rate of 6-10%; 12% a rate of 11-15%; 11% a rate of 16-20%; and 9% reporting a 21-25% turnover rate. While most centers have been able to keep attrition under 25%, a fair number did report exorbitant turnover – 13% of respondents stated that they had experienced more than 50% turnover over the previous 12 months.  ICMI and Talent Keepers, 1-18-2007.

Fireworks show at Disney World courtesy of hyku

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Senia 16 July 2007 - 1:47 pm


This is so interesting! It’s one of those stories that you just don’t expect to hear, and then it blows your socks off.

It’s almost like being able to ask the question, “How can we surprise our employees who do well?”

What are other things companies could do, Margaret, to reward incredible performance?

Some thoughts:
* Surprise dinners with spouses (in one group that I’ve heard of, when things went well, the boss used to say, “take your spouse out to a very nice dinner, and bring me back the receipt.”)
* Celebration dinners with co-workers (less in-depth than an offsite, an honorary dinner for the person who contributed the most to customer service that month)
* Short one-day weekend trips as a reward
* Extra vacation days to the person who worked extra hard
* Surprise bonus
* Interview with the star-employee, and send the printed interview to the whole company to disseminate best practices


Dana 17 July 2007 - 12:58 am

Hi Margaret!

I can’t believe it’s been a year already 🙂 I remember attending one of your strengths based workshops with Unum, and being so impressed with the people and the energy there. It’s no surprise that they came out with such a wonderful way to reward employees. I really liked your discussion of customer service reps – as someone who has been speaking to them a lot lately, recently installing internet in my apt., I can attest to the power of great customer service. Speaking with many different reps, some just made my day while others made me want to pull my hair out! I know that my impression of the good reps will definitely affect my impression of the company and service as a whole. Thanks for a great article! (and a great capstone collaboration 🙂 Aloha, Dana

Margaret 17 July 2007 - 11:31 am

Senia/Dana – thank you so much for your positive feedback! Yes, Unum is a special place.

Other ideas to recognize & reward employees in addition to the informal methods? Senia, I especially like your last idea – interview the employee(s) and write a nice article in the company newsletter. Expanding on that idea, what about a video interview that could be posted on the company’s inter/intra-net? Maybe it would create a “contagion effect”.

Here’s another idea: with the price of gas, how about a gift certificate to a gas station? Having a small group of employees brainstorm ideas would go a long way in making the recognition most meaningful. I invite other ideas – readers, please share.


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