When working as a manager, whether at a call center, in a manufacturing plant or as the head of a sales team, it’s essential to find ways to keep your staff motivated. When you have several team members who are all performing similar duties, it is natural to observe some competition. Fostering a friendly, competitive atmosphere should be a top priority of a manager. One of the easiest ways to facilitate friendly competition and reward your top performers is by implementing an employee of the month program.

At first glance, employee of the month programs can seem childish or as though they are forcing some sort of company togetherness. However, if the focus of your employee of the month program is on your team members above all else, you should be able to run a productive program.

Employee of the Month Nomination Ideas

Before you begin considering things like the awards that your employees will get for top performance, you need to figure out what criteria that your employees must meet to gain this status and any applicable prizes. Depending on your industry, these criteria will likely vary. Employee nomination samples are provided for a call center program below.

Call Center Programs

If you run a call center, your employee of the month program criteria could be customers served, calls taken or customer compliments provided. If your center is large, over 30 employees, you could even have a different award per criteria. When selecting what you will offer those honored, keep in mind what your center's primary purpose is. For example, if you're a call center that helps people with online ordering, completed orders on-call would be an excellent metric. Here are several examples of rewards and incentives for a call center:

Rewards for Orders Completed: Dustin has the most completed orders over the phone and through online chat in the month of July. Looking at the numbers, he has successfully impacted his unit's bottom line. During the monthly floor meeting, this should be mentioned.

Not only should the number of orders be mentioned, but a manager should outline his impact on the company. The use of "we" language (“us” or “we” instead of “you” or “me”) will foster a team environment. His reward should be something tangible, such as a parking spot, a gift card or an extra day off the following month.

Rewards for Customer Compliments: An employee named Sam received the most customer compliments during the month of July. He consistently meets company metrics in this area and often far exceeds them. Customers have gone so far as to request his help directly.

As such, Sam's reliability should be complimented and his contribution, while not monetary like Dustin's, nonetheless impacts the company’s bottom line. This means that he should get the same sort of tangible gift that Dustin gets.

Employee Nomination and Recognition: Rachel was nominated by her coworkers for an award. She is one of the company’s top problem-solvers and is always available to assist her team with difficult problems regarding calls or office equipment. She even tries to assist customers who speak a different language than she does. An example given by one employee was that Rachel took a call in Russian.

Rachel also closed the most support tickets in the month of July. Many of these calls were transferred to Dustin for checkout. Rachel consistently has proven that she understands the bottom line and takes pride in her customer service. Her professionalism and skill should be praised for their impact, perhaps by way of a tangible gift, such as a gift card.

Therefore, in the month of July, Rachel would be a great candidate for the employee of the month. The gift associated with this honor should be of a higher value than the smaller employee reward programs, though it does not have to be a large physical item. Instead, focus on rewarding your employees with something that they value. The employee of the month reward should be "stackable," in that one gets a prize for each metric hit.

Determining Prizes for Those Recognized

Despite the fact that every person is different, when it comes to many offices, people tend to want the same things. When figuring out what gifts to purchase for your top performers, you must keep in mind that these prizes should be tangible. Here are some examples:

  • Gift Cards
  • Free Lunch
  • Event Tickets

Gift Cards as Prizes

When you are giving out gift cards, remember that not every employee can use every type of card. For example, a vegetarian probably wouldn't get much use out of a gift card for a steakhouse. To avoid this sort of problem, buy general gift cards that can be used anywhere.

Certainly, for smaller offices where you know every employee well, you can tailor the gift cards. However, it is imperative that they be of the same value to each employee. These cards should be for an amount that your employees would be willing to work harder for. Depending on the office, that could mean anywhere from $50 to $200.

Free Lunches as Prizes

Taking an employee out to a long lunch provides two benefits. Primarily, the employee will get to have a long lunch for free. However, by taking your top performer to lunch, you get uninterrupted access to them and they to you.

This could be an excellent time to see how your employee is feeling, what their career goals are and just generally get to know them better. In turn, your employee will be able to ask you about how you see their performance, what traits you value in the workplace and about steps to further their career.

Event Tickets as Prizes

If you have popular events in your area, such as plays or sporting events, tickets to these events can be seen as extremely high-value prizes. To find out what sorts of tickets your employees want, you can simply poll them.

Alternatives to Monetary Prizes

If you want to give your employees as much recognition as possible while sticking to a tight budget, there are many alternatives to monetary prizes that employees will still value. In fact, small changes to their working environment will not only make winners happier, but other employees will be reminded of the perk and strive to get it themselves. Here are some examples:

  • Parking spot
  • Day off
  • Corner office
  • New chair

Parking Spots as Prizes

Anyone who has worked in a crowded office building understands the trials and tribulations of finding a parking spot. This is even more difficult if you have a different start time than your coworkers. By providing parking spots to your top performers, you remove that stress at the beginning of the day. By removing a major morning stressor, you will make them happier to be at work and likely even increase productivity.

Free Day Off

While one could argue that a day off costs the company money, it is a prize many employees would love to have. A free day off is a huge incentive for most people, since it could allow them to extend a vacation or take a long weekend.

Because this is a tangible gift with considerable value, your employees will likely reach for the prize. Employees who have earned the ability to take an extra day off tend to be more relaxed than employees who do not have enough time off.

General Team Praise and Recognition

Maintaining a positive atmosphere in your office is one of your most important tasks as a manager. Your employees should not dread coming to work. Instead, they should feel like the work they do is important and that their individual efforts are appreciated. These efforts should be sincere and honest. There are many ways to keep your employees' spirits up without seeming fake or disconnected.

Make Use of Walls

Using the office’s wall space effectively can make a difference in how your employees understand their jobs. For example, you can have an organizational chart that clearly shows how the work your employees are doing impacts the business as a whole. Walls are also excellent places to show numbers or KPIs, if you use those as metrics. Competitive employees will see higher numbers as a challenge to conquer.

Banter and Connect

People are not robots, and speaking to your employees and allowing them to chat amongst themselves throughout the day fosters teamwork. You should always pay attention to how your employees interact.

For example, if you notice that Rachel, Sam and Dustin always chat with each other and also exhibit friendly competition when paired, it would make sense to enable them to conduct group work. That sort of energy could rub off on other employees. Of course, you don't want your employees to talk to each other instead of doing their jobs, but a little chit-chat here and there is good for morale.

Snacks and Other Edible Rewards

Having a snack cart or treats in the break room will require you to have an out-of-pocket or petty cash expense. Still, avoiding employees dealing with the midafternoon slump may be worth it.

Before you bring in food, though, make sure that you will be able to handle all of your employees' dietary needs. While food can be a great way to perk your team up, it can also ostracize employees who are unable to partake.

Public Praise, Private Criticism

The single most effective way to recognize your team is to say something positive about their work when you see it. When an employee does a great job, tell them so. Be quick to praise your team members and make yourself available for discussion. Having an open-door policy and treating your team as if they are valuable goes an extremely long way.

That said, it is important that you don't overuse praise. In the same way that "you look nice today" can almost be used as a greeting, your praise must only be given when it is meant, and the praise should suit the action. Additionally, never critique employees publicly.

For example, if you are listening in on one of Dustin's calls, perhaps you notice that the customer is clearly pleased with his service and that their problem was resolved very quickly. Walk over to him and say, "Hey, great job on that last call. Keep it up.”

Offer Career Advice

You don't want your employees to feel stuck in their jobs. During your one-on-ones, be sure to ask about how they feel in the position they are in. Ask if they have any desires or goals that they want to reach. One extremely easy way to get employee buy-in is to ask them to meet at least one of their own goals and then provide a small reward or public praise.