Recognizing Outstanding Performance

March 29, 2023
Being genuine with employee recognition in the shop can leave a lasting impact on your people.

High turnover is very prevalent in the job market. As minimum wage increases and expectations of employee treatment in the workplace change, many people aren’t willing to stay at a job that underpays or underappreciates them. In the automotive industry the turnover is even more prevalent.  

A major reason for high turnover in the automotive industry is the high levels of stress shop owners face daily while trying to meet quotas, as well as the frustrations that come with owning a shop. 

“Shop owners just don’t know a better way [to run their shop],” says Jill Meeuwsen, CEO of Synergy-Peak Performance Thru People, a staff consulting firm. “They feel like they need to make a bottom line. And they're frustrated with what they've been doing. So, they start being difficult and creating rough cultures.” 

Therefore, the rough culture created in shops leads to a negative chain reaction. 

“If you've got a poor culture, not only do you have turnover, but you've got poor efficiency, poor productivity, poor quality, all those costs are part of a culture of a poor business culture,” Meeuwsen says. 

Employee recognition programs are one tool that can help change a negative culture. Instituting recognition programs is an easy way to motivate employees and to help them feel recognized when they work harder.  

The rewards don’t have to be grand gestures; both Meeuwsen and DeWayne White, shop manager at Tom Bush Collision Center in Jacksonville, Florida, provided some examples of programs they’ve seen or implemented that help employees feel rewarded for a job well done. 

Special Award Program 

White recognizes his employees by implementing a special recognition award program.  

“We have an Employee of the Year award, and we have an Employee of the Month award,” he explains. “But the thing that seems to stand out a lot is the Special Award. Somebody [in the shop] notices that [a co-worker] is going above and beyond their normal scope of duties. We then get everybody together and recognize him. It's nothing big but it's a group recognition. It's in front of the whole shop and then there's a little $25 gift card that goes along with it.” 

White has noticed that his Special Award program has been the most effective employee recognition program for his shop. 

“Since instituted, the majority of the shop seems to want to earn one,” White says. “When everyone is trying harder everyone wins, especially our clients.” 

A Simple Thank You 

Meeuwsen believes that sometimes just a simple thank you goes a long way.  

“Some of my clients recognize great performance among employees by just putting a thank you note and maybe a Starbucks gift card or something in with their paycheck,” Meeuwsen says. 


Meeuwsen also suggests bonuses for employees. 

“My clients and I also talk about bonuses. Because it seems to be a very popular one. A bonus for a great performance or something like that,” Meeuwsen says. 

Although bonuses are a great way to recognize an employee, it’s not always the best way. Meeuwsen talks about her own experience receiving bonuses. 

“I'll tell you in my entire career, within auto body, which spans about 30 years, I've gotten a lot of big bonus checks, great big ones. I don't remember the bonuses,” Meeuwsen says. “You know if somebody gave me a trophy, I still got it sitting in my office, I'm looking at the trophies, right now. That for some reason I remember.” 


When instituting employee recognition programs, it is important for employers to remember that sometimes genuine sincerity is more important than a prize. Sometimes an employer’s sincerity is more memorable than a huge stack of cash.  

“It isn't always about money. It isn't always about public accolades. It's really about appreciation. And sincere appreciation,” Meeuwsen says. 

If an employer doesn’t know their employees, and just applies an employee recognition program because it’s another part of their job, the program won’t work.  

“Recognition programs start to really impact when employees trust and believe what their managers or leaders are saying,” Meeuwsen says. “If they just think that somebody's doing it because they must and it's the deal of the day, it feels insincere. That hurts more than it helps.” 

Get to Know Employees 

It is important to know your employees. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ formula.  

“Some people love to be publicly acknowledged,” Meeuwsen says. “Some introverted people cringe at that, so you can't just call everybody out. [Don’t] think that every piece of fruit out there is an apple because we're all different and what motivates us as people is different. [Therefore,] as leaders, you've got to be able to know your employees: What motivates them, what they like, what they don't like. Because if you call someone out on something publicly, and it makes them cringe, have you gotten where you want to go? No.” 

Be Purposeful in Conversations 

A great way to get to know your employees is to be purposeful in your conversations with them. 

“One of the things I have personally done is I try to start my day walking around the shop and talking with each individual about something other than work,” says White. “It starts out by saying, ‘Good morning, how are you doing?’ But then it gets into deeper conversations; you find out one of their kids may be sick or their mom's visiting from out of town, it allows open conversation and that’s how I like to start the day.” 

By talking to your employees and having conversations, you are validating them and showing them that you see them as more than just an employee. 

“We have to remember everybody is somebody, right? They're not just a body technician. They're not just a painter. They're not just a mechanic or a detailer,” says White. “Everybody's got a life and you never know what's going on in it, good or bad. So, it is important to find that out. It's always important to make sure everybody's getting recognition.” 

Invest in Leadership 

Recognition programs are a great way to improve culture within your shop. But it is important to remember that they are only successful if those in a place of leadership are sincere with their recognition. If an owner or manager does not know their employees and institutes a program that does not effectively work for the different personalities in their shop, then it is not effective.  

“Invest in your middle and higher-level leaders in your organization, invest in their development. That's the smartest money ever spent,” says Meeuwsen. “Because if those people that touch those other employees in your organization, if those people are doing it in ways like we've been talking about, your culture is going to be great. Your profitability is going to be five times what it would be if you didn't do it that way. You're going to be a destination employer.”  

If employers are taught to ask the right questions, to be sincere, and to care, then everything else will follow. Employee recognition programs are important for the culture of the shop, but sometimes a simple conversation, a simple thank you from an employer can go further than a trophy or an extra couple hundred.  

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