Have you ever celebrated the "employee of the month" or "star of the week" or anything like those to show your employees your appreciation for their work? If so--keep reading.
It was initially a surprise for me to find that employees are motivated by praise more than they are by financial incentives. I learned that while reading Teresa Amabile's research on motivation in organizations, which led to the creation of her assessment tool, KEYS. Questions regarding supervisory encouragement showed that employees care about that more than about getting bonuses.
To me, this was interesting enough to include in my own 2008-2010 research, From Startup to Maturity , in which I interviewed employees who worked in both startup and established company environments. The findings were consistent--employees cared about praise more, much more than they cared about bonuses. However, something was different. There is something about qualitative, exploratory research that can be missed in a quantitative survey.
They didn't care very much about praise they got from the company's CEO. Even if it was a Fortune 500 company's CEO. Even if it was in front of a large group of their peers. Some of them even dismissed the "awards ceremony" as a waste of time. They felt it was less than genuine. Especially if the CEO didn't even know their name.
In my many interviews, I found that they cared the most about the praise they get from their peers. The people who know them the most. The people with whom they spent the most time. The people they fought in the trenches with.
Next, they cared about the kind words from their team leader. The immediate supervisor. Again, someone they knew well, and who knew them well. Lastly, they cared about the appreciation by top management.
So if you are considering creating an appreciation program such as "the employee of the month," the "star of the week," or any other program in which you will give an award to an employee you don't know by name--don't! You will have a much smaller impact than you think on motivating them. Unless it comes with a better parking spot...
Let them do their job, and get out of their way. That's really what they need and what they want.