The research is clear – employee recognition appears consistently near the top of things that motivate employees to do their best work.
For many workers, it means more than even a financial reward. And research indicates that cash rewards can actually be counter-productive if they aren’t combined with other ways of recognizing hard work.
A Wharton School study showed that relying solely on cash rewards encourages:
- resentment from hard-working staffers who wind up earning less
- workers who cut corners, and
- a lack of unity, as most employees are only interested in taking part in activities that directly contribute to them earning more.
The study found organizations get better results when they:
- provide more autonomy to employees who’ve proven they can manage themselves
- offer the opportunity to earn certifications or attend seminars, trade shows and/or conferences, and
- hold public recognition ceremonies.
And that’s good news — every HR pro knows how tough it can be to find the budget and leadership buy-in for even occasional cash rewards.
But it’s still a challenge keeping recognition and reward programs fresh. So how do you keep your workforce engaged and committed to your organization’s goals?
Here are five great ideas straight from HRMorning’s readers.
1. Peer recognition
We put a lot of effort into making our new hires feel welcome, but we also knew we needed to focus on keeping our current employees happy to hang onto them.
So we formed a “Fun Raising” team, dedicated to creating fun employee-recognition and appreciation activities.
The team puts on events like pop-up escape rooms, free ice cream days and company spirit weeks.
The program got a terrific employee response, but we wanted to help our workers show appreciation toward each other as well.
Kudos for colleagues
We launched “Kudos for Colleagues” with a huge kickoff event and an all-day drop-in party in the HR department. But the Kudos Cards were the most important part.
Employees fill out the cards with the name of a co-worker and what makes them awesome at their job.
A pleasant surprise
A randomly-chosen monthly winner receives a trophy and prize to share with their department.
We profile the winner in our employee newsletter and post their photo on a “wall of fame”.
And everyone who receives a nomination gets the card with their co-worker’s compliment.
Fun, but effective
Since starting Kudos for Colleagues, we’ve received at least 40 nominations each month. Sometimes, we’ll get as many as 100 out of an employee pool of about 500.
With employees recognizing and complimenting each other, our workplace is really supportive and positive.
Managers report morale and enthusiasm are strong and that they are seeing employees going above and beyond in providing customer service.
And we can measure the results in concrete terms, too: retention is vastly improved since we started the program.
(HR manager, Champaign, IL)
2. Power to the people
Studies show that employees want to work in an environment where they are being recognized regularly for their significant achievements and strong performance.
But our annual employee engagement survey scores for employee recognition were consistently lower than we wanted. We needed a new, unconventional way to reward and recognize our employees for extraordinary performance.
Superheroes and superheroines
Realizing that our top performers demonstrated many of the characteristics/behavior of famous superheroes and super heroines, we came up with The LOOT Awards (a.k.a. The LOOTies), which stands for the League of Overachieving Talent.
The LOOTies allow employees to reward and recognize anyone for anything anytime, irrespective of the person’s level, seniority, or department.
If someone witnesses extraordinary performance, great collaboration, or anything that reflects our company culture, they can log into the secured site and, in a matter of 5 minutes, recognize those extraordinary efforts for all to see.
There are three different ways we recognize employees, two of which must be approved by our leadership:
- P-Cubed (Powerful Performance Points) Award: Employees can be nominated to receive a certain number of powerful performance points or PPPs that can be redeemed for merchandise, VISA gift cards, or donations to charity (some of which we match).
- P-Squared (Performance Perks) Award: Employees are nominated to receive a specific perk, such as days off, a dinner for two or an iTunes gift card.
- Chants & Cheers (C & C) Award: These awards don’t require approval. They give peers and managers the chance to say, “You rock,” “Job well done,” or “Way-to-go!” right when an employer earns that recognition.
The program was a hit from day one.
(Senior VP, People and Culture, San Francisco)
3. Individual attention
We had a serious turnover problem – and we didn’t know why.
When we had turnover problems in the past, companywide morale boosters usually seemed to right the ship.
But those employee recognition ideas weren’t working anymore, and we were losing staffers at a rapid clip.
Looking at the type of employees who were leaving, we realized that the majority were younger – Millennials, Gen X, Gen Z.
That gave us an idea about how we could tackle the problem.
Brought it to a smaller scale
The solution: Instead of trying to prevent turnover at a company-wide level, we instructed managers to focus more on individual young employees and how supervisors can help them stay engaged in their jobs.
For one employee, the solution was to allow him to start projects from scratch and see them all the way through to completion.
Another worker said her job satisfaction rose considerably when she had the opportunity to mentor a new staffer who was just learning the ropes.
The goal – to keep staff members challenged – worked perfectly.
The proof is in the numbers: That extra attention has slowed turnover considerably.
(HR manager, Atlanta)
4. Monthly employee recognition reports
We wanted to improve our company culture by promoting daily successes of our employees.
Previously, we used a private Twitter feed for employee recognition. We were looking for the next step beyond our homegrown employee recognition program.
Our strategy: We wanted to produce monthly reports on top-recognized employees and send those out from within Yammer, our in-house communication network.
We found an employee recognition app that was easy to use and allowed us to send employee “shout-outs” through Yammer.
To personalize the experience and incentivize corporate behavior, our vendor helped us come up with custom badges that represent our values, such as Hero Maker, Ducks in a Row and Knowledge Whisperer.
These values can be tracked and promoted through the app. Plus, the app helps staff send and track recognition.
Corporate well-being and staff attitude continue to be high.
Best month ever
Within the first month of using the app, we reported our best month ever in revenue. Even with a remote staff, company culture is going strong.
We now send over 200 recognitions a month – double what we sent out before.
Not to mention, our sales have increased by 40% since we started our program!
(COO, Jenkintown, PA)
5. An experience bonus instead of cash
In years past, we’d given out holiday bonuses or gifts to our employees, but we really wanted to do something more meaningful in terms of employee recognition.
One of the core values of our company is customer experience, and we wanted that to be reflected in what we offered our employees.
We came up with an “experience bonus” program to give our employees the opportunity to cross something off their bucket lists that they might otherwise never do.
All employees who’ve been with us for more than a year get the annual bonus.
There are no guidelines other than the money can’t be spent on an item, it can only be used to pay for an experience.
They let us know what they plan to do and when they are doing it, and we deposit the bonus into their accounts.
The hardest part was coming up with the amount of the bonuses. It had to be financially comfortable for the company but enough that employees could do something truly special. We settled on $1,500.
After that, it was as simple as getting the word out about the program and transferring money into accounts.
Variety of experiences
When we said the experience could be anything our employees wanted, we meant it, and it’s been fun to see what people do with their $1,500.
An avid skier fulfilled a dream of going to a ski resort in Austria.
Another employee traveled to East Africa and helped launch a charity that has raised over $4,000 for a local orphanage.
A third bought front row tickets to take family to a Justin Timberlake concert.
Defining company culture
Employees come back from their experiences excited to share their adventure. We constantly hear people discussing what they did with their bonuses and what they plan to do next.
And not only is it a morale booster, but it’s also helped us attract new talent.
Younger workers are a huge part of the workforce now, and many of them value experiences over material things. The experience bonus is a unique employee recognition benefit that also gives candidates a preview of our company culture.
(Head of global insights, Provo, UT)