Profiles in Improvement



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The Recognition category measures the extent to which employees feel they are recognized for their performance and innovative contributions to the workplace.   

Changes in the office landscape like the adoption of hybrid work models accelerated by the pandemic have elevated the risk of disconnection between employees and their peers as well as between employees and their organizations. This makes formal and well-communicated recognition of employees even more important to maintaining a collective sense of mission and cohesion.  

Successful agencies have capitalized on feedback and communication mechanisms developed during the pandemic to build on existing systems and have created ways to improve cross-agency awareness of opportunities for employee recognition. They also have introduced ways to recognize employees equitably and highlight employees who positively contribute to areas important to the employee experience.  

While recognition programs should include the entire workforce, this year’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ®analysis shows this feeling of being unrecognized is most acute for employees in their 30’s and 40’s, and those who work in field offices.  

Improving Awareness 

Recognition is most effective when employees are aware of the opportunities for awards and the requirements to receive them. Both the Defense Technical Information Center and Department of the Army have included information about their recognition programs in orientation resources for new employees. The Army also issues policy memos and job aids to leaders and supervisors to ensure a wider awareness of recognition opportunities.  

The DTIC encourages the staff to nominate their peers and provides them with information about award opportunities. They have established a cross-agency digital resource that provides information about the various forms of recognition available for its employees both within the center and through its parent agency, the Department of Defense. These include forms, directions on how to nominate people and illustrative examples of past recipients. Recently, a group of employees nominated their supervisor who was chosen for one of the DOD’s Spirit of Service Awards after first learning about it through the DTIC’s resource.

It is also important to spread awareness when recognition is awarded. The Department of the Army creates communication tools for their command and sub-commands to inform employees on the different types of awards and upcoming award opportunities.  

DTIC also spreads awareness through monthly all-staff emails that highlight the awardees’ accomplishments as outlined in their supervisor’s nomination packet. The agency formally recognizes recipients on stage during quarterly town hall events that are also broadcast for off-site employees to allow for maximum participation. Directorates also recognize employees they have nominated and each nominee receives a monetary bonus. The DTIC’s Exceptional and Meritorious Civilian Service Medals are presented in formal awards ceremonies where awardees’ family and friends can also attend to recognize the employee’s accomplishment. 

“Based on feedback from commands, the Department of the Army developed a working group to review civilian awards. Through the working group, job aids were developed to support supervisors in sequencing and tiering of awards, granting multiple awards and creating a culture of recognition in the workplace.”

Senior official from the Department of the Army

Shaping Culture and Ensuring Equity 

Successful organizations have worked diligently to encourage supervisors and peers to ensure recognition is inclusive of the field employees and those in lower grade positions. 

One way to address equity is to use awards that are tied to consistent meritorious service like the Army Service Recognition Pin. This recently developed pin is awarded in three grades—bronze, silver, and gold—when the employee accumulates a successful rating for one year of service, 10 years of service and upon retirement. 

The Department of Homeland Security restructured its Annual Secretary’s Awards so that it is now a series of regional events instead of a centralized event in Washington, D.C. to improve recognition for staff at its field and regional offices. During these regional ceremonies, leaders recognize exemplary employees closer to where the work is happening. Traveling to these locations also provides leadership with an opportunity to see first-hand any issues or concerns that can be addressed and receive feedback directly from employees that serve the public outside the nation’s capital. 

Organizations use a combination of traditional recognition and peer-to-peer awards. At the DTIC these include an employee of the month, supervisor of the quarter, on-the-spot recognition, above-and-beyond honors, length of service and performance awards, all of which can be in the form of certificates, monetary awards, time off, challenge coins or medals.    

The Railroad Retirement Board maintains a program dedicated to recognizing employees for their contributions to the agency’s strategic work. Their more traditional recognition platforms include employee submissions to the Chicago Federal Executive Board’s annual Employee of the Year Awards and the agency’s own Award for Excellence program. However, a more recent innovation implemented in the Office of Administration is their “Kudos – If you see something say something” program. This attempts to capture peer recognition in a timely fashion through completion of an online form. Their Bureau of Field Service has also formed a workgroup to create a bureau-wide recognition program for its field office employees.

Recognition can also encourage improvement in the agency’s performance in other areas important to employee engagement. For example, the DTIC is introducing an Award for Achievement in Equal Employment Opportunity designed to recognize the integration of workforce development, diversity and a demonstrated leadership and commitment to EEO in the employee’s area of influence. Two levels of this award will be regularly given to a supervisor or manager and a non-supervisory employee. 

“I believe enhanced recognition efforts have helped the employees who came to us during the pandemic better connect with the agency and our mission — and see the important part that they play in its success — and helped reenergize longtime employees.”

Senior official from the Defense Technical Information Center

Part of an Improving, Holistic Structure 

Both the Defense Technical Information Center and the Department of the Army are seeking to build on their current improvements related to recognition in their organizations. In addition to communicating with command leadership and utilizing surveys like the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the Department of the Army gains feedback from their semi-annual Army People Synchronization Conference. They have also organized an Army Wide Employee Engagement Council. The council is made up of human resource and employee engagement leaders who meet regularly to facilitate discussions on best practices and collaborate on identifying and addressing trending topics.  

The Department of the Army engages in enterprise-level reviews of recognition and performance management data that is organized by the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for civilian personnel. This is done to identify trends in many aspects of employee engagement that may need to be addressed through action planning at the command level. Award data is incorporated into those action plans.  

The DTIC team often nominates people in partner agencies for DTIC recognition. This fosters collaboration. They have found those agencies reciprocate by recognizing DTIC employees’ accomplishment when working on joint projects.