The Real Reasons Employees Work

By Arnold Sanow

Although money is important to employees, what truly motivates them to perform at high levels is the thoughtful, personal kind of recognition that signifies genuine appreciation for a job well done.

The best way to provide recognition and appreciation is through the use of rewards. To make your rewards work, follow these basic guidelines.

Employee Reward Guidelines

  • Design rewards based on the individual’s personal preferences. Get to know each employee well and find out what they think are meaningful rewards.
  • Rewards should be based on what was actually done. For example, if someone has given you an idea that has saved you money, that person should get a bigger reward than someone who just did you a small favor.
  • Rewards and recognition should be given as soon as possible after the desired behavior. Reward and recognition that come long after the achievement do little to motivate the employee.

35 Reward and Recognition Ideas

To help you provide the recognition, appreciation and rewards that truly motivate, here are 35 inexpensive but effective ideas — or reminders — that you can use immediately.

Give Verbal and Visual Recognition

  1. Say thank you. This is so easy, but often overlooked.
  2. Smile. Keep the workplace friendly.
  3. Give recognition in front of peers during meetings.
  4. Manage by wandering around (MBWA). Get out from behind your desk and see what your employees are doing. It shows you care and are interested in what they do.
  5. Invite employees to your home for a special event and recognize them for achievements and milestones in front of their significant others and co-workers.
  6. Praise them. Each day your goal should be to catch employees doing something right so you can tell them how much you appreciate it. This makes them feel valuable and valued.
  7. Give credit where credit is due. One of the best ways to achieve results is to give credit to the appropriate employees.
  8. Encourage employees to recognize the good work of their fellow employees.

Provide Written Recognition

  1. Share a letter of praise from a customer or vendor directly with the employee who delivered the service.
  2. Create a wall of fame. Post letters on the company bulletin board from customers and vendors who praise an employee, team, or service.
  3. When paychecks go out, write a note on the envelope recognizing an employee’s accomplishment(s).

Ask Questions and Listen Carefully

  1. Listen to your employees. Listening tells you what employees need; it keeps you from making mistakes; it wins their respect; it enables you to negotiate successfully with them; it raises their self-esteem; it minimizes their frustration and it communicates that you care.
  2. Listen to employee ideas and act affirmatively on those suggestions.
  3. Ask your employees what non-monetary rewards they would like to have and, if possible, provide them.
  4. Go to lunch with each of your employees on a quarterly basis. Ask the question, “What do we need to do to keep you with us?”

Provide Opportunities for Growth

  1. Provide training to employees. Invite speakers to present at your company. Send employees to local workshops and seminars.
  2. Ask employees what they are interested in learning more about, and seek out ways to help them achieve it.
  3. Provide a tuition reimbursement program, even if it’s a partial reimbursement.
  4. Pay for the tutoring of an employee’s child.
  5. Offer comp days to volunteer for a charitable organization.

Offer Small Perks and Bonuses as Thank Yous

  1. Bring in beverages and snacks as a thank you. Do this often.
  2. Provide free lunches to employees when you see them doing something above and beyond.
  3. Let your employees know they are VIPs! Arrange discounts with local theaters, restaurants, sports events or other things important to them.
  4. Conduct an out-to-dinner program for employees. Award dinners for two for doing something special like coming in on a day off or working through a break. You could also provide dinners to employees who get praised by customers.
  5. Give employees rewards or gift certificates for customers they bring in.
  6. Offer rewards for great ideas. If it saves money or brings in business, give the employee a percentage of the savings or profit or offer extra paid time off.
  7. Send a gift certificate to a spouse with a thank-you note for his or her support during an employee’s overtime.
  8. Give employees who recruit new workers a cash bonus or extra paid days off.

Get Together Often

  1. Have family day. Encourage employees to bring in families to the see the office or plant one afternoon. Follow up with a picnic. What you spend in a half day’s down-time will be rewarded many times over by family goodwill, and of course, word of mouth.
  2. Have regular meetings to let employees know what is going on in the company. It’s important that everyone feels they belong.
  3. Order a pizza or a huge submarine sandwich for a communal lunch.

Be Thoughtful and Lead by Example

  1. Walk your talk. Lead by example: Do what you say you’re going to do and keep all your promises.
  2. Involve employees in decisions that directly affect them. This shows that they are an important part of your business.
  3. Go out of your way to help employees. A little extra effort or some personal inconvenience goes a long way to show your staff that they are important to you.
  4. Remember birthdays … provide a birthday card, cake or gift.
  5. Be sympathetic to personal problems.

These are just a few of the strategies you can use to motivate and help retain excellent employees. Modify them or add your own to this list to suit your company culture. Remember, everyone is different, and what motivates one person may not motivate another. In fact, giving the same reward to every member of the company doesn’t work at all. It may actually damage performance because top achievers will see no acknowledgment of the exceptional job they have done.

Arnold Sanow, MBA, CSP is a certified speaking professional focusing on customer service, communication, getting along, presentation skills, team and leadership development.
Originally published: Sep 7, 2011

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