Professor Evelyn Williams says Employers Should Give the Gift of Gratitude

2.1.2012 Article, Faculty News, General

Motivate high performance by promising rewards
by The HR Specialist: Compensation and Benefits
Reposted from Business Management Daily

Employee recognition programs aren’t quite as popular as they once were, but the 86% of businesses that use them find that rewards and in­­centives can still spur sales, improve retention and employee loyalty, and raise productivity during an era of slim pay raises and uncertain bonuses.

In fact, the Incentive Research Foun­­dation (IRF) reports that incentives of all stripes can attract and retain good employees, boost team performance by as much as 44% and increase individual productivity by an average of 22%.

A 3% dip in the number of companies using the programs since 2008—as re­­ported in a 2011 WorldatWork survey—doesn’t suggest a permanent decline, says Alison Avalos, research manager for the trade group. Instead, she notes, “The data suggests that, even with a recession, recognition programs remain an important component of employee rewards.”

The top recognition programs, the WorldatWork survey found, were:

Length of service (90%)
Above-and-beyond performance (79%)
Peer-to-peer recognition (43%).
A notable change since ’08: More organizations are using incentives and recognition to motivate specific behaviors or achieving specific goals.

Plan for recognition
Organizations with the most successful recognition programs have a written strategy for them. Typically, their plans set goals that advance the organization’s objectives, establish a budget for incentives and outline the kinds of formal and informal recognition programs managers may tap.

Communicate it to employees
Letting employees know which incentives are available to them and what they have to do to earn them will boost participation.

Tips: Use bulletin boards, posters, videos, the company intranet, websites, email, social media, manager memos and employee handbooks to spread the word about upcoming contests, nominations and other programs.

Avoid creating a sense of en­­title­­ment by tying rewards to performance that matters to the organization.

Offering a variety of formal and in­­for­­mal recognition programs helps moti­­vate employees who appreciate public recognition as well as those who prefer a private pat on the back for a job well done.

Saying “thanks” doesn’t come naturally to every manager, so it’s important to teach execs and even employees how to give recognition and why it’s important. Trend: The WorldatWork report notes that most organizations do not provide managers with any training around incentive programs.

Measure success
The only way to be sure incentives and recognition are working is to collect data to prove it. Trend: Measure employee satisfaction both with the programs and with their jobs once they have participated in a program. Track retention and productivity among employees who are eligible for the programs and those who aren’t.

The best way to find out if your em­­ployees think the incentives you offer are worth working for is to ask them.

Tip: Take surveys, invite feedback and start conversations about your organization’s incentives and recognition programs so you’ll know if you’re giving employees meaningful awards.

10 tips toward a recognition program that drives performance
If you’re starting or updating your rewards, incentives and recognition programs, consider these 10 tips:

1. Go with the tried and true. Organi­­zations hand out certificates and plaques more than any other recognition award, followed by cash and gift cards, says the WorldatWork study.

2. Consider online rewards and recognition programs. They allow HR to consolidate budgets and administration and make it easy to offer nearly unlimited reward options—everything from brand-name merchandise to charitable donations to green products. Trend: Using social media like Facebook and Twitter to publicly recognize employees is especially important to younger workers.

3. Peer-to-peer rewards programs let colleagues either nominate each other for awards or even hand them out to each other.

Tip: Peer rewards encourage workers to acknowledge each other’s achievements, especially among team members.

4. Focus on individuals. Some re­­searchers say group incentives—those that go to the whole team if it reaches its goal or to the whole staff if a company reaches a benchmark—don’t motivate as well as in­­­dividual prizes. Although everyone might have contributed to the win, not everyone did so equally, the thinking goes, so the superstars feel their rewards should be greater.

Tip: Celebrate success as a team, but hand out individual incentives to those whose extra effort was most instrumental.

5. Offer getaways. Companies with incentive budgets over $100,000 often offer travel as a reward, notes a separate report by the Incentive Research Foundation. Trend: Flexible programs allow employees to choose from a huge selection of rewards, ranging from merchandise to family vacations.

Tip: Employees value rewards that include spouses and children. In addition to vacations, consider sponsoring a movie night or other social gatherings that welcome family members.

6. Switch it up. Employee tastes and company goals change over time, so your organization’s recognition and incentive programs should, too.

Tip: Devise a strategy that’s flexible enough to change when something’s not working or if something better comes along.

7. Give the gift of time. Many em­­ployees will go the extra mile in exchange for flexible schedules or the chance to telework. Trend: Offer flex as a reward to boost productivity for those who want to set their own work hours.

8. Offer face time. Many high-­performing employees consider one-on-one time with a top exec a perk worth working for.

Tip: Got a team of overachievers? Dangle lunch with the CEO or 18 holes with the board president, and watch productivity soar.

9. Say “thanks!” It doesn’t cost anything. Evelyn Williams, associate vice president for leadership at the Wake Forest University School of Business, says the best gift you can give employees may be gratitude.

Tip: List an employee’s accomplishments to show you’ve noticed extra effort. Pair that with a handwritten note or card giving personal and specific feedback.

10. Sweeten that “thank-you.” There’s no need to go overboard. In an employee survey by corporate incentive provider Parago, 64% said a prepaid gift card worth $50 or less would meet their expectations (55% would settle for $25).