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Brad Callahan
Vice President, Business Solutions Group

3 Steps to Refresh Employee Rewards and Recognition Programs

Do you have the sense that your employee rewards and recognition program is losing steam? Maybe you’ve seen progress toward goals slowing, or you’ve observed a lackluster response to program rewards. Or, perhaps, you feel your program seems a little out of date. Any one of these observations become green field opportunities to reenergize your program with simple refinements.

To get started, I’d suggest three steps for fine tuning your program so it continues to inspire your workforce toward organizational goals.

1. Clearly define the difference between rewards and recognition. We’ve been working in this industry for a while, and find that managers tend to think about rewards and recognition as though they are one and the same thing. Unfortunately, this error in thinking leads to the inappropriate application of each preventing them from achieving their full impact. So, let’s return to what we know but don’t always put into practice when we talk about employee rewards and recognition.

Rewards are tangible and are given when the employee or team has achieved a defined goal or milestone. They take many forms: paper certificates; gift cards (plastic or, increasingly, ecard) redeemable for merchandise, dining out or an event; or pre-loaded debit cards. Whatever form they take, rewards are tangible, conditional, transactional and outcome driven.

Recognition is intangible. It’s the public acknowledgment of achievement and elicits a “feel good” response from the recipient(s). Interestingly, we’ve found that the good feeling of recognition has a halo effect that spreads to other employees, especially those working closely with the recipient.

We’ve also found that recognition becomes amplified when it’s showcased via social media, now commonly used to support of peer-to-peer recognition programs that we, and many of our clients, have in place.

2. Revisit your rewards with an eye toward workforce demographics and emerging new kinds of rewards. It’s possible that there have been some shifts in the make-up of your workforce in recent years. The most talked about is the growing influx of millennials. Your workforce may also be experiencing some changes in diversity.

Millennials value personalization (and crave all things digital). When rewarding the millennials in your workforce, go the extra mile to tailor rewards as closely as possible to the individual’s interests. More than other generations, millennials want to be known. The more  closely your reward aligns with the employee as an individual, the greater its impact will be.

As for millennials’ desire for all things digital, we’re seeing an explosion in items that appeal. From fitness trackers to digital rewards, like the option to download whatever song they want, there’s a vast array of digital options. Be sure you have plenty in your rewards program. 

3. Do the same with how you deliver recognition. If your workforce demographic is shifting toward the younger side, re-think how your organization delivers recognition. As a rule, younger workers are very comfortable with having their efforts recognized publicly and less formally. In fact, they seek it. Social media is a great way to deliver recognition to millennials.

The other point to remember is that more than other generations, younger workers expect instant and frequent feedback on how they’re doing, so a platform that enables the delivery of sincere, timely and relevant recognition is important.

Are you ready now to step back and take another look at your rewards and recognition programs? If you would like another perspective or some fresh ideas, contact a Marketing Innovators solutions expert. Our solutions team has the experience and creativity to ensure your program moves in the right direction to remain relevant.

Sources: “Employee Reward and Recognition Systems.” “Best Practices for Designing and Maintaining a Program—Designing Employee Recognition Programs.”

Blog: “Using Customers to Recognize Employees,” Dr. Bob Nelson. “How to Recognize and Reward Millennial Employees,” Jeremy Boudinet, May 30, 2016.