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The Economy is Starting to Turn Around – Is Your Recognition Culture Ready?

By John Schaefer, April 22, 2010 9:55 am

For the past year we’ve been sharing some surprising statistics about employee morale, recognition and how a poor economy has made it easy to take employees for granted.  Now those unintended bad habits could start to cost you, but it’s not difficult to identify and fix.

Walker Information studies show that 66% of employees are disloyal and could be looking for a better workplace environment as the economy recovers – and I’ll bet it’s not the group you’d like to see leave.  Is it too late to do something about it?  Not necessarily, but a fresh, energized and educated approach to recognition and incentives can sure help.  Here are five simple steps you can take right now to make sure your employees know you care and think twice before looking for greener pastures:

Evaluate your current recognition and incentive programs and determine which are truly engaging people and which are just seen as entitlements.  Be careful in using surveys and focus groups to determine this, however, because no employee is ever going to tell you to stop handing out cash, even though they may feel like you’re just throwing them a bone.  Effective programs engage people emotionally and help them feel valued, so they want to bring their best performance and attitude to work.  That’s why so many cash and gift card programs have such short term results and can lead employees to feel “bought off” rather than recognized.

Invest in training managers to both understand and appreciate recognition tools as something that has personal value, as well as benefiting the recipient’s.  If managers are just going through the motions employees will see it a mile away and feel manipulated rather than appreciated.  Some simple changes in management communication style and perception will go a long way in making your recognition effective and allowing you to get a lot more for your money.  Good communications training is quick, inexpensive and works well with your overstressed managers who are dying for help in making their jobs easier and more rewarding.

Integrate all of your programs into a single strategy focused on your current company goals and mission.  Try this exercise – make a list of all of your current recognition and incentive programs along with their costs and logistics.  If you’re like many companies, you will be surprised and the number of disjointed programs, and how independent they are in application.  This makes them hard for managers to use consistently and even more difficult to evaluate in terms of their return on investment.   You’ll probably also be amazed at how much more you’re spending than you think. A single strategy will allow you to minimize costs, by changing or eliminating overlap, while making it easier for managers to understand and utilize them properly.  It will also make it possible to track, monitor and evaluate the benefits of your strategy, so you can show positive financial results to your CFO.

Utilize today’s high technology to implement web-based solutions.  This is not only environmentally friendly, as you eliminate paper and the distribution costs of catalog materials, but makes it easy to keep things fresh and programs relevant to your changing goals.  Platforms exist that will handle all of the program details, training,  communications, award choices and management reporting, so you can use your recognition and incentives as a Performance Management Tool, not just a bunch of unrelated bonuses.  By demonstrating how easy it is to drill down by location, division, department, manager and employee, you subtly hold everyone’s feet to the fire, so they know that you’re serious about using awards as constructive tools to improve your organization.  Tied with appropriate training to engage your managers, you’ll make much better use of your budget, and you’ll be able to prove it.

Get and keep upper management involved in your recognition programs.  We can’t stress this one enough, as employee’s are always looking for an ulterior motive and when they sense that you’re using recognition more for your benefit than theirs, they emotionally disengage and do just enough to stay under the radar; and with considerable resentment along for the ride.  The best way to assure continued upper management support is to show quantitative, positive results such as reduced hard costs, improved profits, reduced turnover and higher morale.

The discussions about employer/employee loyalty rage on, but our experience shows that about 80% of your people will respond positively to genuine, honest and vulnerable communication from supervisors and managers, as long as they know your motives are sound.  The missing ingredient has been time and training, but once your management team has a simple, well-structured plan in place, they are much more likely to embrace recognition as part of an overall culture of appreciation and trust.

Employees want to bring their “A” Game to work for a company that shows they care and is working together as a team towards positive, realistic and exciting goals.  With competition what it is today, don’t let this easily obtainable advantage pass you buy.

John Schaefer is a Consultant with more than 20 years of experience helping companies realize and react to what he calls the Employer/Employee Disconnect. “Your people have the capacity and desire to become far more involved and productive than they are today. The resources required are freely available, if you simply choose to use them,” says Schaefer.   “The key is to get your managers and supervisors to embrace this challenge by seeing what’s financially in it for them.”  John is the author of The Vocational Shrink – An Analysis of the Ten Levels of Workplace Disillusionment, as well as The Vocational Shrink The Game and Manager Training Program “Why Should Supervisors Care?” which gets to the bottom of what they’re really thinking, “what’s in it for me?”

I was just interviewed on the Michael Ray Dresser Radio Show

By John Schaefer, April 21, 2010 10:31 am

It’s always fun and educational to have the opportunity of being interviewed by a pro.  Here’s a link to where the mp3 of the interview - 

Michael Ray provided me the opportunity to breifly share my passion and beliefs about how companies can get more benefits from the employee recognition, performance improvement and incentive investments.  We both quickly realized that it all comes down to employee perception of their manager’s motives; in other words are you being genuine as a company and management team in letting employees know how much they’re appreciated and respected.

While this sounds easy and logical, it’s surprisingly elusive during this tough economic times with thin staffing, overworked managers, and a general uneasiness amoung many employees.  That’s why this is such a good time to share easy, inexpensive and fast solutions for improved employee/manager communications and ways of improving engagement levels.  The financial benefits of reduced turnover, higher morale, better teamwork, less recruiting and training expenses and an overall more experienced team are staggering and translate into an easier, more productive and rewarding situation for managers who really do need a break!

Here’s a link to here the mp3 of the interview -

New Radiospectives Interview

By John Schaefer, April 13, 2010 11:10 am

I just had the opportunity to be interviewed by Dan Culhane on Radiospectives to discuss employee recognition, incentives, manager training, and how companies can get the most productivity, profit and ROI from the recognition investments.  Thought you’d like to read the script, as it went very well. Thanks!

Hi, This is Dan Culhane for Radiospectives.

Our guest today is John Schaefer.  Also known as the Vocational Shrink, John is the Founder of the Schaefer Recognition Group and author of the book, The Vocational Shrink:  An Analysis of the Ten Levels of Workplace Disillusionment.    He and his team help companies realize and react to the Employer/Employee disconnect, so they can optimize productivity as well as their investment in people.

 Welcome  to the program, John

 Hi Dan and thanks for having me on the show.

 Q1)  John, I thought we could begin with discussion of some examples of problems in the workplace and continue with your ideas and solutions for improvement.

 Can you tell us more about your background and why you decided to write this book?


Sure Dan. I spent the first 5 years of my career as an Industrial Engineer.  While this became a frustrating time for me as an employee, it lead to all of the characters in my book The Vocational Shrink and the Ten Levels of Workplace Disillusionment came from this experience.  For the past 21 years, I’ve worked as a recognition consultant helping clients optimize their use of recognition and incentives with a training-based approach.  My team introduces an Umbrella Strategy that allows our clients to minimize existing costs, enhance results and prove it.  It’s a very timely approach during this challenging economy.

 Q2) What are some of the most common reasons people become disillusioned with their jobs?


Depends on who you ask, and that’s part of the problem.  Research overwhelmingly points to employees being engaged initially by emotional factors; primarily being Loved and Respected.  However, employee surveys and focus groups always come up with Cash as the prime motivator.  This leads to management giving employees cash, gift cards and gift certificates, thinking they are doing a good thing.  What they’re actually doing is insulting and “buying off” employees, so they get a subtle resentment and minimal performance improvement. 

 It’s like asking a group of 3rd graders what they want for lunch expecting to get a balance meal.  Kids want candy and employees want cash.  It’s the wrong question and always gets the wrong answer.

 Q3) From your research, what do employees want most from their companies?


If you ask employees “off the record” they work for money, but are motivated and energized by genuine appreciation and autonomy.  You see, money is a Level One need in Maslow’s Heirarchy, so while it’s important, it not motivating.  Self Esteem (Level Four) is where most employees reside today, so feeling valued and kept imformed is what gets them engaged.  Then, they immediately become interested in doing things to help “their” company, because they feel better about the place and the people they work with.

 Q4)  Is company loyalty a thing of the past?   And when is time to move on?


Back in 1993 when IBM had their first layoffs in history, loyalty began to be questioned.  As is usually the case, the pendulum swung too far, so companies treat employees as if they’re not loyal and they respond in kind.  My findings are that the majority of employees (about 80%) do not want to run the company or become entrepreneurs.  Most want to trade a fair day’s work for a fair days pay and feel good about themselves in the process.  Then, they want to go home and participate in other aspects of life that are equally important, like running a Boy Scout Troup, coaching a Little League team, teach a Yoga Class or taking part in other activities that are personally rewarding.  Loyalty is definitely alive and well and that’s what we help our clients tap into.

 Q5) What are some simple steps supervisors can take to improve morale in their departments?


The first step is to “Make it Real”.  What we mean by that is to be open, vulnerable, genuine and believable with their people.  The key to this is in training them to both understand and appreciate Recognition as a tool that is personally beneficial; in other words, see what’s in it for them.  By appealing to their own self-interest, supervisors will automatically be more enthusiastic and interested in using proper recognition and incentive tools often and effectively. 

 Q6)  Is it all up to the employer?  Shouldn’t an employee be responsible for his/her own attitude and performance?


The old-school approaches use carrots and sticks to threaten employees into performing.  This goes hand in hand with autocratic management style that says, “Hey, I’m paying them, then should show up and do their job without sniveling!” This is based on a theory that employees are basically lazy and you need to crack the whip.  Today’s employees tend towards being more engaged from the start and will respond quickly to being trusted, respected and not micromanaged. The reality is, about 20% of a company’s employees are self-motivated.  Another 20% will never be high achievers.  The secret is for the company to work with the middle 60% to help them improve their attitude, morale and performance.  That not only drives high productivity, but will generate significant ROI; we’re seeing as much as 23 to 1 with some of our clients. 

 Q7) Has the workplace changed over the years, or do the same basic principals apply when it comes to job satisfaction?


The biggest change is that today we have four distinct generations in the workplace.  Each is different in how they perceive their work, but they have one thing in common – they all want to be honestly appreciated, respected and challenged by competent managers.  That’s the main thing we discuss in our training; how to get managers to use genuine, honest, relaxed and positive communication to let every employee be all they can be, not out of fear, but because they feel like it.

 Q8) How does high turnover impact a companies bottom line and, in turn, the economy? 


Depending on recruiting and training costs, it can cost as much as 400% of annual salary to replace an employee.  Reducing turnover impacts the bottom line significantly and quickly, but there are additional benefits that are harder to measure quantitatively.  Lower turnover yields a higher overall level of experience, less mistakes, higher levels of cooperation and creativity.  From the manager’s standpoint, it makes their staff easier to manage, so they can concentrate on higher value activities, as they should.

 Q9) Can you provide an example of a situation where your group turned employee morale around?


I had one client who was so frustrated with employee interest in their recognition program that they were considering discontinuing it all together.  Personally, in their case, it would have better to drop it than do their other considered alternative – give cash.  We were able to train their manager team to make recognition more meaningful, which took the pressure off the awards to carry the total message.  This saved them money, got far better employee reaction and improved the culture overall.  This is not uncommon, as employees are very quick to decide whether you are using recognition to show appreciation or to manipulate them to do more work.

 Q10)  Closing remarks.  What’s the No. 1 message you would like to leave with our listeners?


There is an old theory called The Peter Principle that says managers tend to get promoted to one level beyond their highest level of capability.  What this means is that most managers are stressed out and doing everything they can to just get through the day.  With a little bit of training, however, we can help them use recognition and improved communication to make their job easier while attracting and keeping highly productive employees at the same time.  It’s the true Win-Win-Win scenario that everybody is looking for, and in this economy.  It’s the most important way to survive in business today.

 Thanks for being our guest.  If you want to learn more about all aspects of  employer/employee relationships and recognition programs you can visit John’s website at:
or email him at:

Recognizing Todays Employees

By John Schaefer, February 25, 2010 10:58 pm

Improve Morale, Productivity and Performance While Saving Money in the Process

After 21 years helping clients recognize and reward their employees, we’ve seen a lot of changes. Today, there are four distinct generations in the workplace and engaging them effectively is a growing challenge for the whole management team.
That’s why we’ve created Schaefer Recognition Group and are launching this educational newsletter series. Our goal is to offer HR executives a variety of unique and effective ideas on how to best motivate, recognize and incentify their employees and train managers; with particular focus on the younger people.
Our goals with this online tool are simple and straight forward:
1. Each will be short, so you don’t need to invest a lot of time to get the information. We will include three sections –
a. A brief article featuring some timely facts and helpful ideas regarding a relevant recognition, incentive or training topic.
b. A case study introducing a creative, new award or program idea that we are working on with one of clients.
c. The Vocational Shrink’s Recommendations – featuring some suggested reading and helpful training ideas to improve the communications between your employees and their supervisors.
2. We won’t be pitching you stuff or trying to sell you products. We know that recognition is all about employee perception, and the awards are the last step in a successful strategy. This is about sharing what we’re learning every day and providing you with concepts that you can use right now and test for yourself.
3. Our staff is open to your input, so we can go find the answers to your most pressing recognition concerns. If it’s a problem for you, you’re probably not alone, so let us use our sources and experience to find some practical suggestions and we’ll offer it to all of our readers.
That’s it, a to-the-point, no-nonsense, resource that will keep you up to date on the best ways of getting the most out of your most valuable asset – people!
Please feel free to share this with your associates and friends at other firms who might find it useful. And don’t hesitate to let us know how we’re doing and what information we can provide that will make your life easier, your business more profitable, and your employees happy to be on your team.

Left Brain In-and-Out Sourcing

By John Schaefer, February 15, 2010 3:36 pm

Analytical, logical and sequential American thinkers make up the highest ranks of most major American information companies. These left-brain characteristics (rooting from an early industrial revolution world) are becoming hard on the typical American business’s pocketbook, but there are emerging options. China is now the number one English-speaking country in the world. Their knowledge of the English language, their population and their enormous capacity for linear, left-brain tasks make their services the obvious choice for U.S. companies who are looking to outsource to reduce costs.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is in-sourcing manufacturing and distribution operations from international companies. This means foreign companies are outsourcing the skills their domestic labor force is not cut out for. These foreign companies need right-brain, lateral thinking American workers to make all of their communications and deliverables culturally relevant for the Western market.

As author Tom Friedman puts it in his book, The World is Flat, this is a new, competitive frontier. Every member of a workforce has to use the strongest tool in their toolbox in order to compete. For the American workforce this means supporting training that focuses on pattern recognition, intuition and visualization. The most valuable U.S. workers are the people with skill sets that are extremely difficult to outsource: vision, lateral information processing, creativity, whole thinking, etc. (all extremely crucial traits of excellent management).

Best-selling author Daniel Pink’s 2005 book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future and his new book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us offers a similar insight. He justifies his prediction based on the fact that while American companies can outsource low-level clerical, computer technology, and “knowledge worker” skills, it’s the creative, high-touch, high-concept, artistic skills that will be needed in the future. Pink suggests that:

“the defining skills of the previous era- the “left brain” capabilities that powered the Industrial Age—are necessary, but no longer sufficient. And the capabilities we once disdained or thought frivolous—the “right-brain” qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning—increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders.”

Bottom line: The whole world is becoming one massive labor force!

Every organization absolutely requires a healthy balance of left- and right-brain-dominate thinkers so tasks get done (left brain) and so that the tasks that are being done are relevant (right brain). Don’t cultivate a company culture that favors one over the other. Instead, get the most out of your labor force.

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