Holiday Recognition & “The Jelly Of The Month Club” – How Do Thank Your Employees?

Tis the season – one reminder of the holiday season is the comedy Christmas Vacation. The 80’s classic is full of humorous scenes, including one that offers a lesson on employee recognition, morale, and engagement. Clark is expecting his Christmas bonus, a thank you for his commitment to the company, a bonus he’s received for the past 17 years. The scene goes a little something like this (rating PG-13):

Clark: [realizes his bonus is a jelly-club membership] If this isn’t the biggest bag-over-the-head, punch-in-the-face I ever got, GOD DAMN IT! [kicks at the presents under the tree] 

Clark: [Finally revealing his Christmas Bonus to the family] It’s a membership to the Jelly of the Month Club. 

Clark: Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol? 

So, employees – can you relate to Clark?

How would you react if your company didn’t bother to say thank you for your commitment, and assuming you’re a high performer, say thank you for excelling at your job? What if they took away an incentive you counted on without communicating to you why or even providing an alternative form of thank you?

A lesson for leaders – a few minutes later Cousin Eddie kidnaps Mr. Shirley, and shows up at the Griswold house with him tied up. Mr.  Shirley’s wife calls the police and the SWAT team storms the Griswold house. Clark explains that he was upset when he found out about his bonus and that Eddie was just trying to help. The scene continues:

Mr. Frank Shirley: “Bonus? How did you get a bonus? I cut out bonuses this year.”

Clark: “Yeah, thanks for telling us. I was expecting a check. Instead I got enrolled in a jelly club. Seventeen years with the company. I’ve gotten a bonus every year but this one. You don’t want to give bonuses, fine! But when people count on them as part of their salary, well, what you did just plain…”

Rusty: Sucks!

Mrs. Helen Shirley: Frank?

Mr. Frank Shirley: Remember how I was toying with the idea of suspending the Christmas bonuses? 

Mrs. Helen Shirley: You *didn’t*! Well, of all the cheap lousy ways to save a buck! 

SWAT Commander: That’s pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you… 

So, leaders – you may be thinking, why should I care if my employees are recognized for their performance – I mean who is really going to kidnap me on Christmas?

Because if they aren’t recognized, then they are not likely to give the performance needed to satisfy customers, increase revenues, and help the organization grow and prosper. Who is going to help you achieve your company goals?

Your people!

People have a fundamental human need to feel recognized, valued, heard and appreciated – particularly when they feel they’ve done a great job.

Granted, this is no longer the 80’s, and significant company-wide bonuses have become even rarer in the current economy (matter of fact it seems like these days more and more bonuses are going to CEOs than employees.) However, it doesn’t take a huge yearend bonus to say thank you and to keep engagement and retention levels up. Hint: don’t wait until the end of the year!

Questions regarding employee engagement and recognition – and some answers:

  • What does recognition mean to your employees? It means they see you, the organization and leadership, care enough to say “thank you” and reward employees commitment and/or performance for a job well done. That in turn means that they have an increased sense of feeling valued and appreciated. When employees feel valued and appreciated, they tend to stay with the organization for a longer period of time. They also tend to speak highly of the organization to customers, stakeholders and peers increasing positive PR. They also tend to remain more committed to meeting organizational goals.
  • What is in it for me as an organization? In short, reduced attrition, increased retention, higher engagement and higher productivity. With all those things, employees are more likely to give the performance needed to satisfy customers, increase revenues, and help the organization grow and prosper. Measuring individual performance as it relates to organizational goals is an important step in aligning behavior, processes, and strategy. In creating performance management systems, emphasizing continuous “real-time” feedback rather than once-a-year evaluations becomes a key component in effectively managing performance.
  • What if I don’t have a budget to give them more $$?  When discussing employee engagement and recognition, many organizations first response is “…well these types of initiatives cost a lot and we don’t have the budget…” When times are tough, employee recognition is even more essential. Recognizing employees for a job well done doesn’t always require a large budget. A simple acknowledgement for a job well done, a thank you, goes a long way. Other ‘free’ options for recognition can include allowing them additional paid time off or increased flextime. I worked with one client where we created a “Thank You Gallary.” We set aside a conference room and posted flip chart paper in a row along three walls of the room. On a table by the door in a bucket (that was creatively decorated by an artistic employee) were crayons, markers, and post it notes. In working with leadership of the organization, a communication was drafted and distributed to all employees explaining the purpose of the gallery and instructions for participation. When leadership wanted to recognize an employee for a job well done, assuming the employee was ok with public acknowledgement, (in addition to tanking them directly), leadership would go to the gallery room, grab a marker, and write a personal note of thanks on the gallery wall. Employees were encouraged to do the same. Within a little over a month, almost the entire gallery was full.  Engagement and performance increased – as did organizational communication. So, money is not always needed to recognize employees.

Employee engagement and recognition is about creating a win – win situation for both the organization and the employees.  The first step in doing so – communicate. So, in the word of Harry S. Truman, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”  Recognize your employees for a job well done, give credit where credit is due, and reap the rewards.

At the end of Christmas Vacation – Mr. Frank Shirley realized how important people are to the organization. It was a holiday miracle of sorts…

Mr. Frank Shirley: I changed my mind. I’m reinstating all the bonuses. Look, uh, sometimes things look good on paper, but lose their luster when you see how it affects real folks. I guess a healthy bottom line doesn’t mean much, if to get it you have to hurt the ones you depend on. It’s people that make the difference, little people like you. So, Carl, whatever you got last year, add 20 percent.”

Everybody: “(Gasping with excitement.)”

Clark: “(Passes out.)”

So this year – perform your own holiday miracle (and keep performing it all year long) – don’t let it wait until you get kidnapped by Cousin Eddie!  As the year comes to a close – are you taking steps to keep your employees engaged in in the new year? How are you thanking your employees for all their hard work?

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions - an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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2 Comments

  1. Kathy Condon

    December 18, 2012
    / Reply

    Delighted that you illustrated that not all people like to be thanked the same way. When in doubt what an employee needs to feel appreciated---ask.

    • Scott

      December 28, 2012
      / Reply

      Thanks, Kathy. I find all too often leaders assume, based on what they've heard from peers or what they themselves think, but they often don't actually ask...and then wonder why programs don't yield desired results.


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