I work for a small software company. A new system being instituted as a part of performance reviews is to ask if you want to recognize any coworkers for their contributions. The people with the most "recognitions" are awarded bonuses of sorts. At this point I'm not sure if this is gift cards, money etc. Management feels this is a good way to find the top employees who have gone above and beyond and performed well.

My concern is that this will turn into a popularity contest to get the most votes. People will try to do high visibility things and neglect the lower visibility items. Someone can do well in a few of these items and poorly elsewhere and still be recognized.

Are my concerns valid, or is this a good system? How can this system be improved? Should I mention my concerns rather than "participating" in this process? If so, how?

Edit: On the whole my company is very reasonable, so legitimate concerns will likely be addressed. Also, the chance of people gaming the system is probably lower than it might be in some companies, but at the end of the day, more coworkers are only human.

  • This somewhat reminds me of how things were at microsoft. I am sure there are big player incidents and the reasons why they were bad written up in books to learn from. – PlasmaHH Apr 19 '16 at 14:40
  • Better systems usually consist of a standard form where the recommender is made to clearly explain why they are commending the employee. Having a simple system where you can only click to recommend is open to abuse. – John Apr 19 '16 at 15:00
  • One of previous employers had something similar only it was used to be able to award someone for something noteworthy immediately rather than waiting until the end of the year. Peers couldn't give each other gift cards at will but you didn't have to get more 'votes' than your peers to get one. – BSMP Apr 19 '16 at 15:16
  • Note that in any workplace it's appropriate and helpful to send a note to someone who has helped you more than usual, copying their manager, and these informal plaudits definitely figure into performance reviews. Making the thanks more structured doesn't change that a lot... – keshlam Apr 19 '16 at 15:17
  • Welcome to the site Necreaux. I've taken the liberty of retitling your question so it contains the key issue and, to be honest, to increase the click-bait factor. Please edit it again if you feel it's too much. – Lilienthal Apr 19 '16 at 17:43

Summary: Performance reviews are a key part of management and only managers are really qualified for it. Gamifying the review process is a terrible idea.

Your concerns are very valid. Even if the potential problems you mention, like people gaming the system, don't actually take place, the mere belief that they could be present is poison for morale.

Suppose you've got nothing but star performers and all of them get great feedback. Some employees can be more likeable than others or, as you say, do more visible work and will thus get more recognition. Management has already locked itself into a set number of "rewards" which means that a lot of great employees will feel left out. The potential problems of this are numerous:

  • employees feeling unappreciated
  • resentment for people who got rewards who didn't deserve them as much (even when they definitely did!)
  • employees can't accurately judge each other's work or responsibilities (this is part of the problem for the previous point)
  • promotes the belief that only the star players can build their career
  • managers replacing honest feedback and close monitoring of performance with a gimmick like this

And there are probably any number of things that don't even occur to me. The bottom line is that there are so, so many downsides to this problem that they vastly outweigh any perceived benefits, especially long-term. I'm a strong believer in rewarding performance, but that is an essential part of a manager's duties and shouldn't be turned into a game. And this is assuming we're dealing with a team of high performers. In reality every team will have people who are merely adequate, struggle or who aren't performing at the level that the position demands. These people should be managed, not be indirectly and invisibly punished by such a reward program.

So yes, you should definitely give your feedback on this. You've already articulated your points well in your original question and you're free to borrow some of the issues I've raised to argue your case. I'd suggest doing a further online search on this topic as there are dozens of blogs and articles on this topic and it's possible that there's actual research as well that could also strengthen your point.

One thing that I always recommend doing in a situation like this is to argue against this as a group. Many of your colleagues will share your apprehension and it's always better and more efficient to raise things like this as a group.

One final note and something that I recommend you mention is that their original plan is actually a good one. It's rewarding and useful to have colleagues give feedback on each other or recognise their achievements. Whether this recognition should be passed on, passed on anonymously or reserved for management can be debated but it's a great concept. It should definitely be optional but it's a great idea to encourage people to think about it before or during a review. It's attaching "rewards" that's the real problem here.

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  • You seem to think managers have some sort of omniscience which allows them to know everything their employees do. In my experience, they rarely have anything close to that knowledge. I've often been the "team player" who does things like un-jam the printer, help people with software they don't understand, or clean the microwave when it gets disgusting. These never rise to management's attention, but (hopefully) my co-workers appreciate the way I help make things flow more smoothly. – GreenMatt Apr 20 '16 at 14:16
  • @GreenMatt Seems like you've missed my point. I'm not saying that coworker feedback is a bad thing, I'm saying that turning the review process into a popularity contest is a terrible idea. And the value of admin work aside, a performance review requires work from both parties. If your manager isn't aware of some key role or service you're providing, you can just tell him that yourself. – Lilienthal Apr 20 '16 at 16:11

A couple places I've worked have had "peer awards", where any non-managerial employee can nominate any other (non-managerial) employee for recognition. Usually (but not always) this is accompanied by a monetary bonus. In my experience, they have worked well - the people receiving the awards have been deserving of them. There may have been others deserving recognition, but often it comes in another year; someone getting nominated year-after-year is likely to win eventually.

Not knowing anything about your employer, we can't say how this will go there. It's possible that some of your concerns could be realized. However, I think most people will tend to be honest about this. Hopefully your management has some safeguards that will prevent the gaming of the system that would get awards for people within a buddy circle.

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