How to Create Effective Employee Rewards and Recognition Programs

In an ideal workplace, employees are motivated every day by the desire to do their best and help the company succeed. The prospect of a raise or a promotion doesn’t hurt, either. But we all need a little extra nudge sometimes. That’s where employee rewards and recognition programs come in handy.

As a manager, you have an important role to play. When properly devised and implemented, these programs can help create incentives that motivate your workforce to be more productive and innovative.

However, the wrong program (or a lackluster rollout) won’t help your company and may even backfire. Success should be its own reward but acknowledging your employees’ accomplishments can go a long way toward keeping them motivated.

What are Employee Rewards and Recognition Programs?

Recognizing employees for going above and beyond can give them an extra push and reinforce workplace morale. There are a variety of programs designed to provide this extra push, but they all aim to recognize and reward top-performing employees for a job well done. And when one employee is rewarded, others are encouraged to step up their efforts.

Several companies provide outsourced employee recognition programs, but there is a lot that employers can do on their own as well. Examples include:

  • Employee of the month award (with a corresponding plaque on the office wall)
  • Lunch with the boss
  • Themed team lunch
  • Extra time off or half day
  • Recognition among peers (in a meeting, website, newsletter, etc.)
  • Gift cards
  • Charitable donation in employee’s honor

Don’t Get Burned by Recognizing the Wrong Things

Employee rewards and recognition programs must be transparent, fair, and supportive of good teamwork. It’s important to avoid sowing mistrust or even sabotage among your employees. For example, employees may be reluctant to help a coworker if it means they’ll have a better shot at winning a recognition program.

One way to incentivize the right behaviors, in line with your values and company culture, is to reward cooperation and teamwork. You might choose to reward an entire team instead of an individual employee. You could also encourage cooperation rather than competition by letting employees anonymously nominate their colleagues for awards.

Keep in mind that awards ceremonies have the potential to cause discord among those who aren’t recognized. Make sure you’re basing the award or recognition on measurable data or efforts and rewarding people who make a positive impact.

Consider the example of a sales team given points for either each call they make or for each sale they close. What if they’re just dialing random numbers, not vetted leads, or closing multiple low-dollar sales? Their numbers might look good for the program, even if what you want are quality high-dollar sales and long-term relationships with each customer which may require more time on the phone and follow-up calls.

How to Recognize Top Employees the Right Way

No one strategy will fit every organization. For example, some companies may be too small for team-based awards, while others—particularly large corporations with multiple locations—will need to ensure that the incentives and rewards are applicable across the entire organization.

Still, there are fundamental, research-based practices for implementing winning employee rewards and recognition programs at any workplace. These include:

  1. Base recognition on specific results and behaviors. In addition to rewarding performance, this will provide examples for other colleagues.
  2. Avoid top-down recognition. Peer-to-peer recognition is often more effective because peers have a better idea of what their coworkers do daily.
  3. Share stories of success. A prize is nice, but sharing their success story with peers (preferably in a company blog or newsletter) keeps employees engaged.
  4. Make it easy to recognize coworkers’ achievements. Some programs allow employees to award their peers points for a job well done.
  5. Align recognition programs with your values and goals. Tying an award to a specific company value or goal helps reinforce your mission.

Get Help Making Your Workplace More Rewarding

Keeping your workers engaged and focused on your company’s goals is a never-ending job. Implementing effective employee rewards and recognition programs can give you just the push your team needs to reach their full potential. If you’d like more suggestions, sign up to receive advice on the best recruiting and hiring strategies, management techniques, and more, delivered straight to your inbox.