Gimme a Million Bucks
And I’ll give you a happy staff
By Karen Young
Date Published: 5/1/2017

I admit it … I’m a Boomer. Granted, I’m at the end of the “Boomers” trail but one never the less. I was raised that you put in an honest day’s work and said ”thanks boss” for my job. No trophy just for showing up, just a fair paycheck for a fair day’s work. I was raised to be appreciative of any benefits my employer offered, never sensing they owed me anything. A good Boomer! 

However, I’m also needy and insecure (not so proud of those two traits but they are what they are). I need to know that I’m appreciated. I need to know that I’m recognized. Who doesn’t? A paycheck is great but I also need to know that you know what I do for you. You know what else? I’ll bet your employees are the same whether they are Boomers, Traditionalists, Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, Gen Z or whatever the next ”generation title” might be—reward and recognize your employees and you’ll get more energy, more return and, generally, a happier workforce. 

That statement isn’t just made up out of my happy Boomer brain either. Gallup reminds us that recognition can play a huge role in retention yet we often overlook that when we’re seeking ways to keep our talent ( Another favorite reference (and I believe it should be included in any manager’s library) is The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, Leigh Branham, 2005 … updated regularly. Unrecognized and Unappreciated is the #5 reason employees leave. Lastly, you can review the data of the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For.” These companies are selected, principally, from employee surveys—so they must be doing something right! 

Generally, I use reward and recognition interchangeably although that’s not true. A reward program is done in exchange for something. The goal is to reinforce or modify behavior or induce learning. A recognition program, really, is about validation, an acknowledgement or special attention. Reward and recognition programs don’t have to take a chunk out of already tight budgets either. We’ll use me as an example; I’m incredibly easy to entertain … give me a small, flashy thing or a gold star and I’m happy. Really! Give me a gold sticky star on a report that I did for you and you would think that I had been awarded the Nobel Prize.

You can literally spend thousands of dollars on these programs if your budget allows. You can also spend little to nothing. Neither budget extreme is better. What is important is that the reward/recognition means something to your employees. And I’m sure you can name at least one employee who is as easy to entertain as me.

For the program to have the most impact, it’s important to recognize that one size does not fit all. Some people think a gold star is just dumb (hard to imagine) and not at all appropriate for the workplace. Recognition truly must be personal to be most effective. Remember, praise publicly and correct privately. Most times. Some employees may be embarrassed if you congratulate them on a job well done in front of the entire company. Again, you run the risk of having the exact opposite effect you intended. 

One of the best ways to begin to develop a program for your organization is simple. Ask your employees what they want! What’s important to them? What will make them feel special and appreciated? Fulfilling that response will take you further, faster than the most expensive gold watch you can find. 

Some ideas for no-cost/low-cost recognition:

• An announcement in a professional publication (like B2B) about an award

• Thank you note to the family for the extra time the employee spent on a project (and away from home)

• An extra day off work 

• Grill hamburgers and hot dogs … you, not the caterer

• Wash your employees’ cars for them


Remember, it doesn’t have to be extravagant but it needs to be sincere. It’s easy to forget, when we’re all grown up, the feeling of pride that comes from a gold star or a sincere “job well done.” Put simply, business just gets in the way. Stop and think … how much time does it take to say, ”Nice job”?


Karen Young, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, ( is the founder of HR Resolutions and author of “Stop Knocking on My Door: Drama Free HR to Help Grow Your Business”. She’s fondly known as the Queen of #DramaFreeHR.      


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