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5 Gold Stars: How to Recognize and Reward Employees

Praise for a job well done never goes out of style. Check out these guidelines to creating an effective recognition and reward system for your employees.

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Posted On Sep 07, 2022 

Remember when your parents and teachers gave you a pat on the back for scoring 100% on your math test? It felt good – and because it raised your self-confidence, you continued to work hard and ace subsequent math tests. Praise for a job well done never goes out of style. Everyone from your financial analyst to your bookkeeper deserves the same kind of acknowledgement, and it’s important to reward employees.


An effective recognition and reward system provides employees with 3 things:


  • A fair return for their efforts
  • Motivation to maintain and improve their performance
  • A clarification of what behaviors and outcomes the organization values


Here are 8 guidelines for recognizing and rewarding employees you can use to help develop a successful program:


“Thank you” is always timely. It is as useful to acknowledge small successes as it is to recognize major achievements. It validates the importance of the work people do. And it starts a chain reaction: pretty soon more people start saying it to fellow employees, boosting morale and improving relationships as well as motivating others.


Nurture self-esteem


When you give people positive, specific, and realistic feedback about their potential, their efforts, and their accomplishments, their self-esteem goes up. They develop the confidence to set and meet challenging goals, overcome setbacks, and self-manage their work. Involve employees in designing your recognition program.


Employees take pride in a token award when it acknowledges they did a good job that impressed their boss and peers. One way to give your recognition program that kind of credibility is to involve employees in creating and administering it. If they design it, they know exactly what they and their peers have to do to earn rewards.


Specify reward criteria


Too often, awards for things like “innovation,” “showing initiative,” and “quality improvement” don’t define what employees need to do to win. Without that information, some employees are stymied before they begin. When a winner is announced, employees may attribute a co-worker’s success to favoritism or luck. Or, if you offer an award on an ongoing basis, such as “employee of the month,” they may begin to think everyone’s turn comes up eventually.


Foster intrinsic rewards


Intrinsic rewards, or the good feelings people get from doing their work, can manifest as enjoyment associated with completing tasks, excitement about given opportunities, and immense pride in doing a good job. Make sure people know their work is worthwhile, treat problems as opportunities for innovation, encourage people to try new ways of doing things, and let them know when they do a good job.


Reward the whole team


There are always some team members who give more and sometimes there are members who coast along the efforts of others. When coasters get the same reward as doers, resentment can occur. Some companies meet this challenge with a double-tiered system of rewards. What ties it together is that for individual rewards, the assessors are fellow team members. Overall, remember that employees can feel rewarded in many ways – not merely with cash. For top performers, increased responsibility and lessened supervision can be rewards in themselves, as can flexible schedules, additional time off, first pick of desirable assignments, and so on.


Reward everyone who meets the criteria


You could announce a contest, urge everyone to participate, provide plenty of reminders during the contest period, and announce the winner with a flourish. Then what? You’ve got one winner and a group of losers who discover their hard work did not pay off. For a positive impact, determine specific criteria, individual goals, and reward everyone who meets them. Publicize each accomplishment and acknowledge each achiever. As long as the criteria are meaningful, the more winners the better!


Recognize behaviors as well as outcomes


In most organizations, results earn rewards. That’s appropriate, but it lessens the opportunity to use recognition as a way to encourage poor performers to improve. Since they don’t produce many worthwhile results, they seldom get rewarded. By recognizing small behavioral shifts, arriving on time, correcting mistakes, helping another person, you can reinforce incremental improvements.


Individualize rewards


Give people what they want. Before you give a workaholic a week off, make sure it won’t feel like exile to that person. On the other hand, before you reward someone with an exciting new project, find out if the recipient will be thrilled or feel burdened.


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