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Ditch Your Participation Awards... and try this instead

In Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” the villain is a boy without powers who’s jealous of the super hero protagonists. His evil plan is to give everyone powers. During the climax of the film, he proclaims:

“When everyone is super, no one will be.”

When everyone is special, nobody is. When everyone is given a trophy, first place might mean a little less. Many people are frustrated with participation awards today: a Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison recently made headlines because he took his kids’ participation awards away, saying they had to earn real trophies.

Millennials are often criticized for being spoiled by this kind of recognition. They were on a team, so they got a certificate. They were at a tournament, so they got a trophy. The child who actually wins may get an award, but there’s also one for the kids who won second, third, eighth, and twentieth. Today these awards are often portrayed negatively because they make people entitled.

While the Millennial generation is not inherently entitled, the concept of participation awards does deserve a second glance, particularly in the workplace. People shouldn’t be rewarded for showing up and participating; that’s their job, and a salary is their reward.

But there are ways to do more than just participate in your career. Take control and make an effort to actively contribute to the company’s culture and growth. No matter what, make sure you’re still producing and hitting every goal, because all the effort and participation in the world won’t matter if you stop achieving.


1. Move boxes

Be willing to help in any way possible, no matter what your job title is or how menial the task may be. Co-workers should know they can ask for help, even if it’s just moving boxes in the office. You don’t have to be a pushover; but be generous with your time and resources. In turn, coworkers will know you’re reliable, trustworthy, and will help however possible… with a smile.

Every office needs more people like this. They make an office’s day-to-day functioning easier, and they fill the office with a sense of collaboration. It’s possible to become that person! Simply pick up a box.


2. Build bridges

Different departments within a company sometimes can become silos: Accounting focuses on their own work, Marketing looks after their own, or Sales works only toward their personal goals. The teams can start to feel divided.

Cross these boundaries: whether it’s staying late to help the sales team make calls or putting your skills to use on a peer’s project, try to look at the bigger picture. Understand that companies succeed or fail as a whole, so every team’s goals matter.


3. Volunteer…for everything

This doesn’t necessarily mean joining lots of charities (although this is helpful to do, too!). Instead, be the employee involved with everything at work. Sign up for the office fantasy football league, join committees, and be the first to volunteer for new initiatives or activities. Be incredibly involved…while still producing and hitting your goals.

Volunteering shows how much you care about the company and your peers. Even if you have commitments outside work, demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond to help the company grow and thrive.


4. Become a company cheerleader

No matter how big a company grows, every success matters. Whether someone closes a $10 million dollar deal or they hit all their goals for the week, their efforts should be recognized.

Pom-poms aren’t necessary, but you should still celebrate every success, big and small. Always be the first to cheer, and be the loudest. Inspire co-workers to support each other, and bring an energy to the office every day that others can feed off.


5. Brainstorm big ideas

Never stop thinking about what could be done better at the company. Never settle for “how things are always done,” and motivate your peers to do the same.  By creating an atmosphere of innovation and creativity, you show that you’re engaged and committed to the company’s success.

Encourage everyone on your team to brainstorm: listen to each other’s ideas, offer feedback, and act on the good ones. Even if the company doesn’t adopt any of these ideas, the effort will get noticed.