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Show me the rewards

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RewardsRecognition and rewards are key to attracting and retaining employees, says Donna Sizemore, who asserts that an effective rewards programme is the missing piece in the puzzle of employee retention and motivation.


It was a dark and stormy night. Or, more likely, it’s a normal workday in your company, and management is mystified about why the best employees keep slipping through their fingers. They’ve offered more money, flexible schedules, on-site childcare — but nothing seems to hold employees. Now, they’re looking to HR for answers.

It’s time to think seriously about what will keep and attract good people. Maybe it’s time to consider employee recognition and rewards. We’re not talking about a token coffee mug thrown in after five years, but a substantial, meaningful rewards and recognition programme. Companies with such a programme say it’s the missing piece in the puzzle of employee retention, motivation and attitude.

Feeding the rabbit within

Let’s begin by taking a look at Sharon, a young British woman just entering the workforce. According to CIPD, over the next several decades she will change careers at least once, and will change jobs about eight to 10 times. Many of her job changes will be for just pennies more an hour.

“We’re not talking about a token coffee mug thrown in after five years, but a substantial, meaningful rewards and recognition programme.”

Ask her why she jumps ship every few years and chances are Sharon will admit that she’s not seeking riches and power but recognition of her professional contributions.

Unfortunately, most organisations have no idea how underappreciated their workers feel, and many still wonder why so many employees leave. While many of these companies compete for employees with pay, promotions and other enticements, too often employees are looking for something simpler: they want recognition. Ignore that human longing for ‘carrots,’ and you fall prey to a hard statistic: 79% of employees who resign their positions cite ‘perceptions of not being appreciated’ as a key reason for leaving, a 1997 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management showed.
For a company trying to stay ahead in a competitive world, this decline in employee commitment could be the difference between corporate success and oblivion.

The good news

Some of the UK’s best companies have discovered that they can build employee commitment and productivity by making frequent, powerful emotional connections with their people. They have found the correlation between employee recognition and corporate success and are benefiting from well-documented increases in employee satisfaction, productivity and profitability.

But what makes up great recognition?

1. Strategic alignment

While it may sound mercenary to some, recognition is used for one reason — to drive more business. It’s a fact of life: every year costs rise, employees want raises, shareholders demand greater returns. This means the company must make more money every year. Thus, carrots should be dangled to:

  • Improve profitability and productivity by helping employees understand company goals and what’s in it for them if they help meet those goals (It’s vital to communicate often and be specific)

  • Reward achievements that further corporate values. Reward often with informal rewards and after special achievements with formal, lasting awards

  • Build a culture of recognition and make sure good employees know they are valued and needed. The formula is simple and time-tested: satisfied employees equal satisfied customers

2. Great presentations

Skillful award presentations can turn ordinary, garden-variety carrots into solid gold. Remember back to the Beijing Olympic Games, when the unlikely heroine Rebecca Adlington won the first women’s olympic swimming gold for Great Britain in 48 years. As she approached the finish line, Rebecca recalled that the only thing that kept her going through the agonising pain was the thought of standing on that medal podium, listening to her national anthem and having the gold medal placed around her neck. She won gold in the 400m and 800m freestyle events in Beijing and set a new world record.

“Corporate recognition awards can truly be enduring symbols of achievement, but the best organisations have learned that they must make a recognition event something memorable.”

Later she stood on that medal stand, her head buried in her chest, tears streaming down her face. What people remember, what Rebecca will always remember, is the presentation. What’s more – back home in the UK, she was appointed OBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list.

Corporate recognition awards can truly be enduring symbols of achievement, but the best organisations have learned that they must make a recognition event something memorable — with almost as much ceremony and emotion as an Olympic-medal event. Employees work just as hard for organisations as Rebecca did training for the 400m and 800m freestyle swimming event. Every now and then, they want to be set up on a pedestal and have someone thank them for their contributions. They want to feel that someone is aware of the ‘thousand little things’ they’ve done over the years that no one has ever acknowledged.

For presentations, remember to:

  • Talk about the company. Keep focused on the company’s goals and how the employee contributes to the organisation’s success

  • Be specific about the individual. Employees will replicate what they have been recognised for

  • Highlight the award. Just as Olympic medals carry significant meaning to an athlete, corporate awards that feature your logo or symbol can also have immense meaning to your employees

3. Symbolic meaning

When people devote most of their waking hours to a company, they want to feel a connection. Your company’s logo can help make that connection.

A corporate symbol can be featured on a recognition award in a variety of ways — through engraving, stitching or embroidering or through the use of an emblem made of precious metals. In fact, when employees receive awards featuring their corporate symbol crafted in gold with diamonds or other fine gems, the awards become, in effect, corporate ‘gold medals.’


Donna Sizemore is VP of O.C.Tanner Europe.

2 Responses

  1. Almost every research done on human capital shows there is a lin
    Appreciation is basic. As humans we need it and we respond to it. By extension that makes appreciation basic to the success of companies, too.

    Almost every research done on human capital shows this to be the case. While there are many ways to show appreciation, purpose-based, value aligned employee appreciation programme that is simple, objective and automatic is the best way to communicate to your employees they are valued. And it is misleading to conclude that every company that has a successful employee reward programme has contributed to the economic mess.

    With the current economic climate when fear and doubt replace employee trust and encouragement, an employee recognition programme that communicates trust is a great people management tool. For many organisations including ours it’s made a big difference!

    Thanks for this article, it articulates what we’ve come to accept as a great management tool.

  2. It is becoming more and more obvious that reward schemes are res
    It is becoming more and more obvious that reward schemes are responsible for the increasing mess that we are finding ourselves in.
    In order to achieve funding for their schools our teachers are no longer able to teach because their time is now spent fulfilling government metrics rather then educating our children.
    The NHS are crippling themselves trying to do the same thing and today we are hearing the heads of the banks who precipitated the current financial crisis blaming their whole sorry mess on the rewards culture that drove the bankers to collect the rewards and ignore the long term stability or viability of the Worlds Economy.

    If we are going to learn anything from the current crisis it must be how destructive the reward system is.
    We have known this since before W Edwards Deming told us to ignore the extrinsic motivators (Rewards) and concentrate instead on the Intrinsic motivators (Pride)

    The usual defence for a rewards system is that it failed because we were not using the right reward system.

    Alfie Kohn in his meticulously researched book “Punished by Rewards” is very clear.
    From free pizzas to encourage children to read, to million pound payouts for merchant bankers,

    Rewards do not work.

    Rewards always encourage the wrong behaviour.
    We encourage the use of Rewards at our peril.

    Peter A Hunter
    http://www.breakingthemould.co.uk

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