8 guidelines for recognizing and rewarding employees

Surveys of U.S. workers consistently show that employees want more than a paycheck from their jobs—they want to feel safe, secure and appreciated at work.

Good recognition and rewards provide employees with three 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 eight guidelines for recognizing and rewarding employees, according to an Adecco management report, that managers can use in their departments:

1. 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 will be stymied before they begin.

When a winner is announced, employees may attribute a co-worker’s success to favoritism or luck. So make the criteria for rewards as clear as possible.

2. 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 lot of losers who discover that their hard work did not pay off.

For a longer-term 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!

3. Individualize rewards. Generic rewards create generic results. 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.

4. Say “thank you” frequently.
“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 work people do. And it starts a chain reaction: Pretty soon more people start saying it to more people, boosting morale and improving relationships as well as motivating people to work well.

5. 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 into employees with confidence to set and meet challenging goals, overcome setbacks and self-manage their work.

6. Foster intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are the good feelings people get from doing their work: enjoyment of the task, excitement about the opportunities, and pride in doing a good job.

You can’t hand someone an intrinsic reward, but you can create an environment that encourages these feelings.

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 have done a good job.

7. Reward the whole team. For team accomplishments, it’s important to reward the whole team, or you foster competition, not cooperation, among team members.

Still, some team members may give more effort—and get more results. In contrast, some team members may coast along on the efforts of others. When the coasters get the same reward as the doers, resentment occurs.

One option: Meet this challenge with a double-tiered system of team and individual rewards. Key point: The individual rewards are based on judgments from their fellow team members.

8. Remember: You get what you reward.
Since one of the things rewards do is clarify for employees what the organization really wants, employees quickly determine the company values.

If you are looking for teamwork, be sure you aren’t rewarding competition. If you want people to resolve problems, don’t reward them for covering up complaints. If you ask for initiative, you may even need to reward people for doing things in unconventional ways.

The bottom line: 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.

The point is that employees must indeed feel that they are being rewarded for both working hard and getting results.

What’s important to employees?

Percentage of U.S. workers who say each factor is “very important” to their job satisfaction:

 Job security                                                   59%
 Benefits                                                          57%
 Compensation/pay                                      53%
 Feeling safe at work                                    53%
 Communication with senior mgmt.          50%
 Opportunities to use skills/abilities          50% 
 Relationship with immediate manager   47%
 The work itself                                               47%
 Meaningfulness of job                                 45%
 Flexibility to balance work/life issues       44%

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, 2008 Job Satisfaction survey.