Employee recognition a vital part of workplace culture: Ask HR

Some companies have monthly department birthday celebrations. This is not as personal, but it can help with team building. (Photo: Getty Images)

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: My company has stopped recognizing employee birthdays and other life accomplishments. Isn’t it important for a company to offer such recognition? – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: People remember how you make them feel. Recognizing team members is one of the most basic and fundamental things we as business leaders, people managers and HR professionals do.

I suggest you speak with your HR department to better understand this decision. A conversation would allow you to offer a compelling justification in support of recognition.

Behind the decision might be several factors, including cost. If this is the case, ask if your company’s leadership has considered sending an email, making a phone call or personally congratulating someone on a life event. These efforts are free but can have significant value to the person on the receiving end.

It’s also possible that leadership sees recognition as a lesser priority. Employee recognition often falls to the HR department, which has significant other responsibilities.

Some companies opt to have monthly department birthday celebrations. This is not as personal, but it can help with team building. If you suggest this, make sure that the gesture has meaning, a leader participates and individuals being recognized are named and celebrated.

When organizations don’t mark life accomplishments, they sometimes do so out of fear that they will miss one or appear to be discriminatory.

Additionally, some life events should not be shared publicly. Being cancer-free after five years certainly is a significant event for an employee, but an employer could violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and privacy concerns by broadcasting the news.

So, whether it’s important for a company to mark employee life events could depend upon the nature of the events and specifics involved.

What is most appropriate is recognizing work-related milestones such as work anniversaries, promotions or the successful completion of big projects. These efforts can be made personal by singling out employees for their accomplishments while focusing on the values of your workplace.

Recognition is a vital part of a healthy workplace culture. It should begin with recognizing jobs done well, celebrating achievements toward advancing the company’s mission, capturing stories that are inspiring and sharing the lessons teams have learned.

After all, an exceptional team is coached, trained, rewarded – and recognized – for the things that make a team great.

Q: I was subpoenaed to testify in court. My employer informed me that I’d have to use vacation or personal time to comply with the court’s request. That doesn’t seem right, as attendance is mandated by a governmental entity with punishment for not showing up. Is it? – Mark

Taylor: Generally, employers are not required to pay employees for time off for court proceedings. But there may be exceptions.

If employees give ample notice and request time off for a court-related absence, employers in most states are prohibited from taking adverse action against them.

An example is Virginia, where I work. Employers in the state are not required to pay employees for time away for a mandated-court appearance or jury duty, but the employer is specifically prohibited from penalizing employees for such an absence.

Other states handle this differently. In California and Georgia, employers are required by law to provide regular pay and benefits during mandated court appearances (at least for a period of time).

Because laws vary from state to state, seek guidance from your company’s HR or legal department to determine the specifics for your situation.

Society for Human Resource Management CEO Johnny C. Taylor (Photo: Delane Rouse)

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