How to Make Effective Employee Rewards and Recognition Programs

In an ideal workplace, employees are motivated each and every day simply by the desire to do their best and help the company succeed. The prospect of an eventual raise or a promotion doesn’t hurt, either. But we all need a little extra nudge sometimes.

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

However, the wrong recognition program (or a failed 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 and inspiring others in the organization.

What are Employee Rewards and Recognition Programs?

Recognizing employees for going above and beyond can give them that extra push and reinforce workplace morale. There is a wide 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.

There are several companies who are in the business of providing 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.)
  • Redeemable points
  • Charitable donation in employee’s honor

The options are virtually limitless, but they’re not all effective. You want to make sure you’re rewarding the right types of behavior or goals—avoiding the appearance of playing favorites—making sure the behavior rewarded is in line with your company culture.

Don’t Get Burned by Recognizing the Wrong Things

Employee rewards and recognition programs must be transparent, fair, and supportive of good teamwork in order to be successful. It’s okay to gamify these programs, but there are limits. You want to avoid sowing mistrust or even sabotage among your employees. For example, employees may be reluctant to help a co-worker if it means they’ll have a better shot at winning a given recognition program.

One way to incentivize the right behaviors, in line with your values and company culture, is to reward cooperation and teamwork. This is easier said than done, but you might choose to reward an entire team at work instead of just one individual employee. Anonymous employee feedback or recognition of colleagues who have gone above and beyond could also be a way to encourage cooperation rather than competition.

Keep in mind that awards ceremonies have the potential to cause discord among those who aren’t recognized. Just make sure you’re basing the award or recognition on measurable data or efforts that can be clearly conveyed to the team. Creating the wrong incentives could cost your business valuable resources.

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 necessarily vetted leads) or closing multiple low-dollar sales? Their numbers might look good for the program, even if what you really 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

There’s no one size that will fit every organization. For example, some companies may simply be too small for team-based awards, while others—particularly large corporations with multiple locations—will need to ensure that any such incentives and rewards make sense across the entire organization.

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

  1. Base recognition on specific results and behaviors. In addition to awarding performance, this will provide examples for others in the organization.
  2. Avoid top-down recognition. Peer-to-peer recognition is often more effective because peers have a better idea of what their coworkers do on a daily basis.
  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.