Giving Awards Deserves an Award

As I mentioned in last week’s blog about wellness, companies are working hard to retain their employees. That’s largely due to the ongoing trend dubbed the Great Resignation. In fact, this tidal wave of workers choosing to leave their jobs is predicted to continue for months at least. If you’re leading an organization, you’re probably scrambling for any way to hold on to your MVPs. Well, supporting employee wellness isn’t the only way to do it. Another way to hang on to your workforce is to give awards. In this blog, I’ll look at why awards matter based on general research and one professional’s individual lens.

Awards for Organizations

Before jumping into the importance of employee recognition, I’d like to acknowledge another kind of award. These go to whole companies or organizations in a given industry. In fact, this Forbes article explains that gunning for an award as an organization has great benefits. For one, creating a submission for an award is a major project. Delegating this project to an up and coming leader creates a fantastic experience for them. The project also adds value to the company as a whole. For instance, the story created to compete for the award can be used by sales and marketing. In addition, research into customers’ experiences, conducted to inform the submission, is important to get anyway! Finally, competing for an industry award shines a spotlight on the organization. It lets your employees celebrate their work and attracts the attention of colleagues. Of course, winning is just the cherry on top!

With that said, this nuanced article from HBR advises discretion when it comes to industry awards. It describes these honors as “judgment devices” that can really shape an organization’s work. The article explains that not every award is worth reaching for. For instance, getting a Michelin star can be more costly than it’s worth for a restaurant. Thus, deciding to work towards an award requires a strategic decision. For instance, if you’re investing heavily into hiring diverse candidates already, it probably makes sense to aspire to an award for encouraging diversity. That might be something like making this list of the Top 50 companies for diversity. Whatever award your organization chooses to pursue, make sure it aligns with your strategic values.

Outstanding Professionals

Now I’ll turn to the main subject of this article, which is awards that organizations give rather than receive. My earliest memories of individual professional awards actually trace back to elementary school. I remember that some books I read had medals on the covers, and others didn’t. Those drawings represented the Caldecott Medal and Newberry Medal, which honor picture books and children’s literature, respectively. However, industry-specific awards exist beyond the world of books. You’re probably familiar with the Emmys and Grammys for instance, which honor television and music performers. You’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of the dramatic Oscars ceremony last month. There are awards available in many, many fields.

One award I’d never heard of until recently is the DAISY award in nursing. I learned about this award when an acquaintance, Rachel Dick, BSN, RN-BC, HC-BC, Holistic Nurse Coach, received the award. I interviewed Rachel to learn more about her perspective on the importance of awards. Rachel told me she was “very excited to be nominated for this award.” She explained that “nurses often go unrecognized for going above and beyond for the patients.” This award honored her good work in a unique and meaningful way. In fact, that’s exactly what awards can do for their recipients.

Why Awards Matter

healthcare worker burnoutIn thinking about the significance of the DAISY award, Rachel reflected that “it’s really important for professionals to receive awards.” She pointed to the epidemic rates of burnout in the workforce as a key reason. (By the way, this problem is especially severe for healthcare workers during the pandemic.) Rachel noted that awards “remind [employees] of why they chose their particular profession” and “helps them feel valued by their superiors.” Although she always does her best, Rachel felt that this award boosted her “positive associations with the work” on hard days. To put it simply, awards mean a lot especially when the work they honor is challenging. 

This is exactly what the DAISY award does. According to research cited by the official website, this award reminds nurses of why they chose their field. It also decreases turnover, which points to the impact of a simple recognition. Additionally, this award provides useful data to organizations to help them continuously improve patient experiences. In other words, awards can support data-driven assessment.

This isn’t only true for this one award. Many studies have found that awards promote productivity, increase retention rates, and make workers feel valued. This study found all those effects and more. It turns out that giving out awards helps to create role models for peers too. No wonder this research identified an increase in productivity among all workers when just a few received awards publicly. Highlighting great work encourages it to flourish in the workplace, even in the face of challenges. 

A Few Caveats

Having painted such a rosy picture of awards, I’d be remiss not to mention their dark sides. Giving out awards does mean that lots of professionals doing great work will go unrecognized and feel slighted. Criticism of this year’s Oscars arose for exactly that reason when some awards were omitted from the live ceremony. Behind-the-scenes workers up for awards like “hair and makeup” or “sound” found this decision unfair and hurtful. In a statement, these workers observed that they “get little recognition as is, despite being the backbone of every production.”

The research in this HBR article also found that those who don’t receive awards can actually harm their company. In a study of CEOs who “lost” notable awards to their peers, researchers identified a concern. At first glance, these CEOs became more productive. They made more and bigger acquisitions after the awards than they had done before. But on closer examination, it turned out that these acquisitions weren’t as good for their companies as pre-award acquisitions had been. So even though giving out awards publicly might boost the drive to succeed, there could be a hidden cost.

Finally, research has documented a massive gender disparity in many prestigious awards. Unfortunately, these awards are more likely to go to qualified men than women as a result of unconscious bias. This ties into the web of challenges faced by working women. One way to circumvent this issue might be to rethink who gives out awards. The DAISY award isn’t controlled by superiors, for example. Instead, patients make the nominations. Rachel said that she felt this gave every nurse a fair chance of receiving recognition for their good work.

Room for Growth

Just because giving awards comes with its challenges, doesn’t mean they should be abandoned. Instead, I think it’s important to keep thinking of positive ways for employers to express gratitude to deserving employees. And we need to keep studying this topic. There are misconceptions out there.

For example, this HBR article asserted that healthcare professionals value helping others above monetary reward. And sure, Rachel did feel “happy to hear that [she] had had such an impact on [a patient].” But she also suggested that awards “should come with a gift card or cash prize!” She explained, “a lot of support for nurses… rang empty from employers because the thanks they were piling on employees was not backed by any real change.” By contrast, attaching monetary value to a reward could demonstrate more tangible appreciation.

Whatever industry you’re in, consider how you can honor your employees’ good work. Of course, you can do it because your organization will see benefits. But also, like Rachel, award recipients will be grateful and honored to receive your recognition and appreciation. They deserve it.