3 Research-Backed Tips to Reward and Engage Employees

A young worker gets to be the first in the elevator as Employee of the Month as others look on angrily

Everyone wants to be recognized for their contribution and a job well done. But the reward needs to be meaningful, relevant and proportional to the effort. It doesn’t look as though the winner of the above Employee of the Month cartoon is happy about her reward…nor do her teammates. She looks dismayed; they look angry. This is not the reaction you want when a reward is due.

We know from our most recent employee engagement study how important effective employee recognition can be. Survey results showed that as many as 65 out of 100 employees at highly engaged companies were confident that they would be recognized when their work contributed significantly to the organization’s success. Employee Reward and Recognition programs that are well conceived and well implemented encourage ever higher performance levels and increase employee engagement.

Here are three research-backed tips on how to make Employee Reward and Recognition programs work to engage, not disengage, employees.

  1. Forget the tchotchkes (an inexpensive souvenir, trinket, or ornament).
    They have little value. Instead, try simple and meaningful acknowledgment. A sincere pat on the back for extra effort may be enough. Some employees might prefer being saluted more publicly for their good work…at a team meeting or even an All-Hands session depending upon the importance of their contribution.Acknowledgment is important, too, in tough times. One organization we work with is facing a major change as they are about to be acquired by a larger overseas company. There is a lot of angst in the work force. How will their lives be changed? Will they still have a job? Will they have to move? None of the questions may have answers as yet but simply recognizing that times are difficult can help to better unify and align the group. Stay close to the team so you know when they are struggling and can support them. Acknowledge that the uncertainty of the future is stressful and that you will keep them updated as soon you learn more.
  2. Remember that rewards have little meaning unless they are tailored to the recipient.
    For example, granting a hard and conscientious worker more flex time may be far more appreciated than a simple cash bonus. If you know your team members as individuals, you can design a meaningful response to their over-and-above-the-call contribution. It could be as simple as a bouquet of flowers on their desk or cookies to share at afternoon break. Be creative and consider the individual.
  3. Recognize underachievers too…not in a public way but in the spirit of helping your employee improve performance.
    This may sound counterintuitive but remember how bad it feels to work alongside a low performer who coasts while you put in consistently longer and harder days? It does not take long to get discouraged and feel disengaged. Why should you even try if no one seems to care?Good managers understand that low performers need recognition in the form of clear expectations, targeted support, measurable accountability and aligned consequences. Everyone needs to know that if their performance is not improved over a specific period of time, they will be asked to leave. Don’t risk losing your high performers because you’re not doing your job of recognizing and correcting your low performers.

Keep your employees engaged and pulling in the same direction with recognition that matters and solidifies their commitment to the organization’s mission.  You will know when your reward and recognition program is working to increase employee engagement when employees rate the following questions highly:

  1. The organization makes investments to make me more successful.
  2. The leaders of this organization value people as their most important resource.
  3. Considering the value I bring to the organization, I feel I am paid fairly.
  4. The leaders of this organization are committed to making it a great place to work.
  5. I am always thinking about ways to do my job better.
  6. If I contribute to the organization’s success, I know I will be recognized.

Use this free diagnostic to check the health of your employee engagement program.

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