Reward and recognition programs are meant to motivate and engage employees, but if they’re not implemented correctly, they can end up doing more harm than good. So what are the pitfalls to avoid?  

Basing rewards on performance alone

Rewards should not be based just on performance but effort, enthusiasm and other attributes too. After all reward and recognition should be about reinforcing your organisation’s culture and values and these won’t always be about performance. This is why many employers link rewards directly to their core values.  These tend to focus as much on softer, value-based attributes such as ‘integrity’ as they do on performance. Doing this ensures that your reward and recognition strategy really supports your company culture, rather than just acting as another incentive for hard work.

Making it all about money

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that recognition – in particular praise from management, leadership attention or having the opportunity to lead projects – is a better motivator than cash. If employee rewards are purely financial there is a risk that they are mistaken for salary or bonus, with the emphasis then being on monetary value, rather than the act of recognition. Moreover, some of the best rewards don’t cost a penny. For organisations with high earners there is also the risk that a cash reward – if it’s not deemed generous enough – could end up de-motivating employees. A banker earning £300k may not appreciate a £150 voucher, but very much value a thank you letter and bottle of champagne from the CEO.

Losing sight of team moments

Team moments are a crucial part of recognition and though digital, social recognition tools now form an important part of many recognition strategies, organisations should not lose sight of the importance of face-to-face presentations as an effective form of ‘social recognition’. This is particularly important for those organisations with a large mobile or flexible workforce for whom team moments can be difficult to facilitate. This can be a real challenge but could have a notable impact on an organisation’s recognition culture.

Letting managers get in the way

Managers are crucial to the success of staff engagement strategies such as reward and recognition, yet we sometimes hear stories of them getting in the way. Some may not be naturally good at formally recognising the efforts and achievements of their team, whilst others will give the impression that they don’t want to spend budget. As such it’s crucial to get them engaged from the outset, communicate the benefits of recognition to them and involve them in the process.

Being generic

The best employee rewards are those that are tailored to the individual. Employers have access to so much data these days – from anecdotal (via peers and managers) to automated (via online benefits platforms which provide insight on buying patterns and preferences) – that it is easier than ever to ensure that you are rewarding your team with something that they really value, whether an extra hour at lunch, or a day out at the races.   

It’s also important to consider the age demographic of your workforce and how that might impact which rewards are appropriate and effective. Workplace anniversaries, for example, are a great way of recognising employee loyalty, however though the traditional ‘long service award’ may be suitable for older generations, it may no longer be applicable for many millennials for whom moving jobs every few years has become the norm. For younger generations think about recognising their 1-year anniversary, it’s still an important contribution and will help them feel valued.

Being unfair

Fairness is a critical factor in keeping staff motivated and there is evidence to suggest that internal inequities are much bigger de-motivators than external factors. Make sure that rewards appear equal, that there is a clear and logical decision-making process involved and that this is communicated to effectively to your team.  

Forgetting about delivery

The way employee rewards are delivered can have a major impact on engagement levels. People are more likely to engage in things that are pragmatic and userfriendly and online portals and apps allow for reward and recognition nominations to be made and redeemed quickly, easily and on-the-go. Again, it’s important to consider your audience here. For millennials, as digital natives, recognition must be instant, be integrated with social media and allow for celebration via ‘chat’ platforms such as Yamma and Facebook. Baby boomers, on the other hand, may be more engaged with different platforms (Linked In, firm intranet) or face-to-face delivery.

Jamie King is Director of Global Reward at Xexec, a provider of reward and recognition programs, employee engagement and customer loyalty schemes.


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