How to Reward Great Employees

How to Reward Great Employees, And Why it Matters

Christina Chau has worked in market research at Anheuser-Busch, Paymetric, and Memorial Hermann Hospital System. She is currently the Manager of Research Services at O.C. Tanner, a recognition-based company that develops employee recognition strategies and rewards programs that help companies appreciate people who do great work.

Chau enjoys researching the impact of recognition on employees and their companies. But, most of all, she enjoys living that impact every day.

“At O.C. Tanner, we’ve conducted research on employee recognition best practices for 80+ years,” says Chau. “Over that time we’ve learned that a variety of rewards and recognition is most effective in impacting employees. This includes verbal praise, written and email thank you notes, ecards, formal recognition and awards, symbolic awards, gift items. Recognition should include everyday on-the-spot recognition for extra effort, formal recognition for above and beyond work and results and celebrating careers over time.”

What it comes down to is, all employees just want more money, right? So a cash or monetary spot bonus is all that’s needed to keep employees happy? Not so fast. Research conducted by O.C. Tanner has shown that cash is fleeting, impersonal, and is usually spent on things like bills, gas, and groceries. Actual awards, whether it be from a selection of nice gift items, a piece that is symbolic for the company or achievement, or even personal notes and gifts, are much more memorable and lasting.

“We hear stories all the time of employees who received a watch, clock, grill, or other item from their recognition program and think about their company and achievement every time they use it,” says Chau. “The best types of awards are ones that employees would not buy themselves, and consider more of a luxury item.”

Appreciation and recognition are not just nice things to do – they are necessary to impact a company’s bottom line.

“Research shows that employees who are recognized for their work are more engaged, work harder and smarter, are innovative, stay longer at their companies, treat customers better, the list goes on and on,” says Chau. “Companies that don’t recognize and reward their employees face big risks – disengaged employees, high turnover, and a culture that is not conducive to great work.”

According to a whitepaper produced by Globoforce, a leading provider of social recognition solutions that specializes in helping companies build strong cultures of engaged employees through the power of thanks, a common and costly mistake some companies make in their approach to recognition is constraining it to hierarchy and departmental silos. This was outlined in the white paper An Expert’s Guide to Building Culture & Engagement through recognition.

“If managers are the only distributors of recognition—and can thank only their direct reports, you miss huge opportunities to measure and manage your culture,” says Darcy Jacobsen, content analyst, Globoforce. “A great recognition program empowers and inspires all employees to recognize peers, managers and subordinates—across departments and geographies—wherever appreciation is deserved. When you give employees permission to recognize anyone in the organization, you make everyone keepers of the company culture, and you foster a true culture of recognition, the report states.”

The best workplace employee recognition and award programs go far beyond money, says Dr. Bob Nelson President of Nelson Motivation, Inc., a San Diego-based management training and consulting company that specializes in helping organizations improve their management practices, programs and systems, and author of 1501 Ways to Reward Employees.

“The best way to reward employees is to thank them when they do good work,” says Nelson.

The No. 1 proven principle of management is that “you get what you reward” says Nelson.

“What is reinforced gets repeated whether it’s desired behavior or specific results,” says Nelson. “It sends a message both to the employee about what’s important – as well as everyone else who sees or hears about what was recognized.”

Nelson also says simply keeping employees engaged and involved in key aspects of their jobs and departments can go a long way to keeping employees satisfied. Do that by considering these tips:

  • Communication: Prompt answers to their questions, information about how their job fits into the goals of the department and company, what’s going on in other areas of the company, the company’s marketing plans and vision.
  • Asking them for their input and ideas and allowing them to pursue ideas they have for improving things, saving money, better serving customers/clients.
  • Inclusion in decision-making, especially if those decisions will affect them or their work.
  • Learning and development opportunities to learn new skills and meet and work with others in the organization.
  • Supporting them when they do make mistakes: focusing on what they learned over what they did wrong.

Simply taking an employee out to lunch and thanking her for the great job she’s been doing is a terrific reward,” says Vicky Oliver, author of Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots. Sometimes sending an employee to a class he wants to take can also convey the message that he’s doing  a wonderful job, adds Oliver. Depending on the nature of the business, even giving worker a plum assignment, which costs nothing, conveys the message. If a worker’s job is consistently excellent, a new title costs nothing and says thank you in a relevant way.

“You want to encourage your best workers to shine without discouraging your B players,” says Oliver.

A report by the Society for Human Resource Management, Future Insights: The Top Trends for 2014, highlights key developments transforming the practice of HR, including nine top trends affecting employee compensation and benefits. According to the report, organizations will consider a broader mix of total rewards—such as career development and growth, work autonomy, innovation and other intangible rewards—to supplement the traditional cash compensation and benefits, in order to recruit and retain the best employees.

Finally implement an employee recognition program – and make sure your entire staff – not just executives and managers – is aware and able to participate.

“You can build the greatest recognition platform in the world, but if people don’t know about it, it’s all for nothing,” says Jacobsen. “Build a solid communications plan around your recognition program. Make sure that employees understand the company’s recognition philosophy, and get new employees excited about the program by making sure recognition training is part of your standard on-boarding process.”

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Matt Krumrie

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Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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