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Making Employee Reward and Recognition Programs Effective

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Recognizing employees for superior performance and rewarding them can be challenging if you don’t have a strategy in place. It’s not as simple as giving out Thanksgiving turkeys to those who have passed their quotas or done outstanding work. The best managers design their recognition programs from a wider perspective – one that takes into account the mission, objectives and values of their organization. Studies show that basing rewards on employee actions and performance is more effective than cultivating an entitlement culture where employees are given things just for showing up and sticking around. And research suggests that the way you give awards and recognition may be as important as what you give.

What to Give

Whether you decide to give engraved trophies, monetary bonuses or days off, what you choose to give should reflect your business. If your company highly values attendance, giving days off could send the wrong message. “Sometimes it’s good for managers to broaden their horizons and get off the beaten path when they’re rewarding workers,” says workplace consultant Mark Ramundo. He recommends tailoring rewards to reflect personal tastes. For example, if a team member loves going to movies, free tickets are a gesture that recognizes this personal preference. Be careful with relying too much on traditional, formal gestures like birthday cards and plaques – they can lose the power to convey significance over time. “Gift certificates and vouchers are a good idea because the recipient is being given the power to choose,” suggests Ramundo.

How and When to Reward

Rewarding people in a group setting at a staff meeting or an awards gathering can be highly effective. Their peers get a chance to see a team member recognized and it reinforces a company’s sense of community. It’s important for managers to keep in mind that there are some people that may be uncomfortable with public praise. Instead of forcing them into the limelight, honor their wishes and reward them in private. If you feel it is important for colleagues to be aware of the recognition, ask the recipient’s permission to inform others. Time is of the essence when you are recognizing exceptional workers. If you reward someone too late, they could feel overlooked and slighted.

Delegating Rewards

Why should managers be the only people with the power to recognize exceptional performance? Many companies have adopted programs that allow employees to reward their fellow workers for a job well done. Boeing employees are allowed to give their co-workers “instant rewards” when they do something that merits recognition. Examples include voluntarily mentoring others and being consistently friendly with the public and peers. “These peer to peer programs empower employees and can send positive messages to managers who may be overlooking overachievers,” says Ramundo. Boeing’s rewards are worth $10 or less, but what they symbolize is far more valuable for the company and its workers. If you feel like your company’s merit system is outmoded, a peer to peer setup may be just the thing to kick start your rewards program.

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