Dr. Ashley Whillans, from the Harvard Business School, puts it quite bluntly: “What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel valued and appreciated.”
Though it has always rung true since the first foundation stone of the corporate building was established, it shines more with ongoing pandemic situations where employees are feeling the trepidation of households and lack of office-like vibes.
It has put companies in a fire-fighting mode - that too at two fronts:
- First, they want to motivate employees to function at their maximum potential.
- Second, they want to retain the cream of employees.
And in an environment that is marked with avalanche-esque opportunities for skilled and experienced employees, retaining talented human crops is a Herculean task.
Undoubtedly, this is high time to recognize the importance of rewarding employees, and it begins with understanding what exactly it means.
What is Employee Rewarding?
Employee rewarding are the ways for an organization to show its appreciation for employees’ contributions. It usually takes many forms and may or may not involve monetary compensation. Companies should reward employees for things like:
- Exhibiting desired behaviors
- Going above and beyond expectations
- Milestones such as tenure
Why Employee Rewarding Matters?
Close your eyes and remember the schooldays when your parents handed over a note of 100 rs for your good marks. Or teachers called you in front of all the students and told everyone how good your essay was.
The fact that you still remember it speaks about the sentimental and psychological value you have attached to it. The desire in humans to be liked and appreciated is so high that even a neutral reaction at significant achievement can be perceived as a negative one.
Since your employees come from the same human species, they aren’t untouched by this utterly human craving. There are plenty of studies to rationalize it.
A survey asked: "What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?" The resulting answers are in the following image.
Money, freedom, and other concerns fade away, only to let the recognition emerge as a clear and thumping motivator. And as nothing can validate and publicize the employee recognition more joyously and memorably than rewards, rewarding is to a motivation game what fuel is to the engine.
When employees get rewarded, it gets reflected in their work. Both employee productivity and performance are 14% higher in organizations that actively practice rewards. And unsurprisingly, there is a close connection between employees’ productivity and an organization’s profitability.
According to Bain & Company, the best companies are 40% more productive than the rest and have operating margins 30%-50% higher than their industry peers.
Note that what gets rewarded gets repeated. Almost all employees say that they’re more likely to repeat actions they receive rewards for. The bottom line is when you motivate inspiring employees to do their best continuously through rewards, productivity skyrockets.
Satisfaction in employees is possible only when they are happy not just with the job but with the workplace as well. This factor is critical, as unsatisfied employees are mere clock-watchers, adding dead weight and thereby robbing your organization of creativity, energy, and innovation.
Unsurprisingly, rewarded employees aren’t just satisfied, but they are happy. And it directly means happy customers. Meijer, a U.S. family-owned superstore chain, observed that increasing the frequency of employee rewards from twice a month to twice a week led to a 5% increase in customer satisfaction. The writing on the wall is clear: Take care of your employees. They will take care of your customers.
Between posting a job description, screening resumes, interviewing candidates, negotiating packages, and paying referral or signing bonuses, the cost of finding a new employee keeps adding up. You can calculate the baseline cost, but much of the cost associated with turnover is hidden.
When an employee leaves, the respective team needs to absorb the extra work, creating more unsatisfied, unwilling employees. It hurts the productivity and the culture of an organization. Even if an organization hires a new employee, it needs to spend time and money on training and the right orientation. It’s a guaranteed drop in productivity.
Rewarding has proved an antidote to this all-too-prevalent malice. A study by Bersin & Associates found that organizations with rewards programs had 31% lower voluntary turnover than those with ineffective rewards programs. Clearly, all the companies, from biggies to beginners, want to stand high on the heels of rewards programs’ benefits.
Here are a few examples of the most fascinating and scintillating examples of rewards programs:
Zappos, a multinational e-commerce chain, is known for its stronger value-based work ethics, and its reward program is no exception to it. In sync with the company’s motto of “doing more with less,” its employee reward approach is based on a peer-to-peer format, where employees share low-cost, high-frequency rewards with each other.
It rewards employees with “Zappos Dollars” for training participation, either as learners or volunteers. Employees can redeem these dollars in the office via branded vending machines or donate them to a Zappos partner charity.
However, what makes it uniquely eye grabber is it is tailor-made according to the needs of the office location. At the company’s Las Vegas premises, owning a parking spot in the busy morning hours can be a real challenge. Once a week, employees are allowed to nominate a colleague for a special parking spot that is considered a “reward.”
There is a reason why Indeed named Apple the best private-sector employer in the U.K, and LinkedIn ranked it the sixth-best company to work for in the U.S. The crux of it was formed by its thoughtful, humane, and creative employees rewards and recognition programs.
One example is the holiday season. Apple surprised its employees with an extended holiday so that the entire workforce could take a week’s break. Instead of just one day off on Thanksgiving, Apple decided to offer paid holidays for three days in a row.
However, Apple converted this seemingly simple perk into rewards by customizing it according to an employee’s location and job role. Employees sweating out in different parts of the world would get paid time off during an equivalent holiday. Retail workers who put in extra efforts during the holiday season would get a similar reward at an alternate time.
3. Hewlett Packard
The IT giant, commonly known by its abbreviation HP, is known for rewarding employees and partners with cutting-edge and creative ways, and Project Everest is a prime example of it. In this gamified rewards system, product resellers get represented by an avatar climbing a mountain.
Every time a salesperson flags a scintillating sales achievement, the avatar would move up the mountain. The best performers were able to win televisions and tablets as they made their way up the mountain. The grand prize was the vacation of a lifetime.
It was a runaway success in two of the most important criteria of any reward program: participation and the ultimate revenue lift.
With over 80% of all Hewlett Packard resellers participating in the project and sales revenue increased 56.4%, it quelled all the doubts about the efficiency of the reward system, especially in its advanced gamified form, to lit the sales funnel unprecedentedly.
Rewards don’t always have to celebrate success. They can be used effectively to learn from failures and circumvent the trigger points of those failures. DirecTV’s F12 is a flaming example to be caged in this category.
After the IT project's failure for the second time in 12 months, DirecTV decided to redefine the idea of failure by creating a gamified learning platform to let the IT department create and view their own videos about failure.
Named "F-12" to indicate the company's 12-step "program to overcome failure,” it allowed employees to access the learning platform and complete assignments to view or create videos, take quizzes, and share or comment on videos.
The program ensured that employees would earn points and badges for this active participation. Top performers for each quarter earned prizes like iPads and iPods.
Since the idea of F-12 was to make employees embrace failure rather than feel embarrassed by it, it didn’t just alter their mindset about the dreaded word called failure. It made them more proactive and mentally tough enough to ride over past mistakes.
And that got reflected in numbers: User activity on the platform tripled, employees created more than 100 videos, and IT saw a 30% decrease in problems with IT rollouts. In addition, IT successfully launched its first defect-free enterprise project.
This video game company handsomely rewards their maverick performers on achievements with trophies, a shout-out on social networks, and a bonus. But they soon realized the importance of converting this one-off act of rewarding into a company culture by keeping it alive throughout the year.
The truth is, to keep the wheels of a company in motion, you want your toppers to repeat the same performance in the next year as well.
It explains why they go a step beyond - particularly to reward an employee at his work anniversary. The company immortalizes employees in an oil painting. Other gifts include custom-made samurai swords.
It's a tactical smartness because it gives employees a personal reward they will never forget and does it at the time when people are statistically most likely to switch jobs: their first work anniversary.
Propellernet’s dream balls have been a talk of the town for too long a time, and it rightly deserves that kind of sustained attention. It unerringly achieves the very soul and heart of any employee reward program: a deeper satisfaction for employees.
Every employee adds a ‘dream ball’ (indicating a dream) into the company’s Dream Machine. When Propellernet nets some scintillating achievement, which it believes is due to their able employees, a ball gets removed, and Propellernet delights an employee by making his dream a reality. Till now, they’ve granted a wish for an epic trek through Africa and staging a sci-fi rock opera.
With 5% of profits put into the ‘fun fund’ for other dream activities like pub trips and wellness activities like mediation sessions, it’s hardly a surprise the company has been voted as one of the UK’s Best Workplaces.
Amazon, the e-commerce monolith, has recognized the need for non-monetary rewards to turbocharge employee efficiency, and thus, productivity. With its reward program named FC Games, it turned warehouse tasks into arcade-style video games.
The goal is to reward employees for things like speed - absolutely crucial to delivery-focused organizations like Amazon. Those “gaming” performances or additional hours get translated to Amazon’s proprietary currency, which employees can redeem for stuff like T-shirts and water bottles.
During the holiday rush, Amazon offers more big-ticket items like gaming consoles and smartwatches. Considering the great response it got, Amazon is now expanding the program to facilities across 20 states.
By going beyond paid time off to volunteer and paternity leave, on top of a hefty 401k matching plan, the ideologues of MARS are leaving no stone unturned in showing how much they care for the holistic wellbeing of their employees.
Believing strongly in keeping their associates “motivated, productive, happy and healthy isn’t just important—it’s essential,” they are rewarding their employees with wellness through stress management, nutrition, physical activity, tobacco cessation, weight management, and on-site medical care.
With wellness and health as the mainstay of their rewards system, it makes sense why MARS was awarded its first-ever gold “Workplace Wellness Award'' by the Workplace Councils of America.
Of course, the aforementioned citations are the tip of the iceberg, as the business world is brimming with countless rewards programs that have truly become guiding lights—only to prove that running a successful reward program isn't rocket science.
Like all the essential things in life, they have to be mother-henned carefully and have to pass through unavoidable mental and practical processes, like:
- ✅ Debunking the myths around reward programs
- ✅ Setting the ideological and functional backbone of the programs
- ✅ Implementing them with utmost precision
Let’s dive into each segment deeply.
A. Myths Around Reward Programs
Despite being implemented by all the big businesses that have ever been known to humanity, and proved as a silver bullet in retaining employees and increasing productivity, few business leaders are still carrying a deep skepticism about the efficacy of reward programs.
It usually and always stems from myths, which are in abundance. Debunking them is of vital importance before you can start building a thriving reward program.
1. Only money can motivate employees
Many business leaders are still buried under the thought that employees only work for money, rendering reward programs a waste of time and money - two of the biggest resources of modern times.
Research shows that leaders cannot be more wrong in their assumptions. A study of employees who voluntarily left a company showed that 79% left not for more money but because they did not feel appreciated and rewarded.
It has psychological connotations also. Once the basic needs of humans are fulfilled, they aspire for higher things in life - and respect and recognition among colleagues and family usually top the list. In fact, a study found that software salespeople were happy to let go of almost $30,000 in bonuses for a gold star on their business card, signaling they'd made "President's Club."
The writing on the wall, then, is clear. Money is something but not everything, unambiguously highlighting the need for rewarding employees when it's due.
2. Rewards programs eat your time
Since managers and c-suite executives always suffer from time crunch, they believe that running and managing rewards programs will smother the administration department with time demands. Add to it their own time limitations—and they believe that they cannot participate in it, forcing rewards programs to go to the backburner.
Modern rewards engines like Plum are more than equipped to arrest these concerns, as they are born with that intent in the first place.
With its countless API integrations, platform agnosticism, multilingual operationality, awe-inspiring variety of rewards, and pay-only-for-redeemed rewards feature, it doesn’t just make sending and receiving rewards as simple as sending emails and thereby saving time.
But by taking away the logistics and wastage out of the equation, it eliminates the administrative overheads too. Consequently, it makes rewarding a low-cost, high-impact action.
3. Rewards programs have an unreliable ROI
One of the major reasons for leaders’ non-adaptability to rewards programs is that the ROI of rewards programs cannot be determined.
However, there is no dearth of studies accentuating the importance of rewards and recognition in generating a positive vibe among employees and translating it into bottom-line gains for businesses.
One study has shown that a simple expression of thanks by someone in authority led people to be 50% more productive!
Furthermore, Gallup's report suggests that engaged teams experience a 40% decrease in voluntary turnover. These statistics prove the return on investment of recognition is more predictable than leaders assume.
The truth is, the ROI of rewarding may not be an instantaneous thing. The culture of rewards takes time to bloom in organizational soil. But when it flowers completely, it has high-seismic effects on employee morale, productivity, and retention.
4. Reward is an IOU
Though rewards can up the bottom line like never before, that’s not the sole purpose of rewarding your employees. It should not be looked upon only as an IOU.
Psychologist Paul White has explained in his popular book on rewards that when employees think management uses recognition only as a tool to increase productivity and profits, it produces distrust. Consequently, shallow words of praise are exchanged as a token of gesture, making rewards look generic and fake. Naturally, it undermines the entire genesis of the program. The bottom line is, leaders will encash the tangible benefits of rewards if employees believe that praise is genuine and sincere.
Debunking these myths is crucial, for only those who genuinely believe in the power of rewards can germinate a well-planned and full-proof reward program. Once we have believers on board, we can move ahead to our next stage.
B. Setting the Ideological & Functional Backbone of the Programs
Every great strategy begins with a strong foundation - and rewards programs don’t fall too away from it. Before committing to anything, you must understand the basics of rewarding: What to reward, whom to reward and what are the essential characteristics of rewards. Broadly, it falls into four categories -
1. Creating a case for rewards
First of all, begin by establishing a business case for an employee reward program, and don't forget to tie it to your desired business outcomes. List out how rewarding employees contributes to business objectives. Convince your leadership that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Let your leadership understand the hidden costs and logistics of manual programs. Going to stores every time to buy gift cards for your team of five and handwriting notes for each person might look relatively simple and manageable to start.
But when your team grows exponentially, these manual programs become unwieldy, demanding a whole new level of planning, oversight, and consistency. Fortunately, rewards and recognition platforms can integrate with existing tools, automate rewards fulfillment, and manage rewards efficiently.
2. Build a team of enthusiasts
Once you receive a go-ahead from the management, you must engage in building a team that will sail your rewards program.
Pick people who will help conceptualize, promote, communicate, implement, and reinforce your organization’s new reward program. They must tick the following checkboxes of characteristics:
- Highly interested in the program
- Belief in the program benefits
- Have knowledge of rewards know-how
- Ability to prioritize and tweak the program as per the need
- Proven passionate task masters
3. Understand the characteristics of effective rewards
Before moving towards any rewards program, it’s necessary for everyone involved to understand the basic characteristics of effective rewards:
- Timely: Rewards are truly effective only when given in a timely manner. Note that the association between contribution and rewards weakens over time. Therefore, the aim should be to give rewards as soon as possible when the reason is there.
- Frequent: It’s a mistake to wait for the biggest and grandest achievements to reward employees. The truth is they are contributing daily and failing to acknowledge it regularly makes them feel undervalued in a company. Note that 71% of highly engaged employees work in organizations that recognize employees at least once per month.
- Specific: Rewards should be specific, as they help employees know which of their actions exactly aided their team’s goal. Also, specific rewards mean acknowledging the details and context of tasks, not just a cold and routine “thanks.” Eventually, it doesn’t come with a risk of coming across as insincere or unclear.
- Visible: Private recognition is great, but publicly rewarding an employee does wonders. Since everyone in the organization gets to know that your hard work is appreciated, it magnifies the impact of appreciation. It inculcates a feel-good factor among employees by earning respect in the eyes of peers. It’s, then, hardly a surprise that public rewarding via an award or a certificate topped the preference list of employees in the Gallup workplace survey.
- Value-based: Since it’s an article of faith that your employees work towards a common vision and values, rewarding your employees for reinforcing those values should find a deep root in your organization. If being humane is the guiding principle of your customer service, rewarding an employee who has gone the extra mile in that direction should be a deserving candidate in your rewards program - and not merely the one who has handled more customer queries.
In short, when you're rewarding your employees, keep in mind PEP, the acronym, to ace the activity perfectly.
- Personal - Rewards should highlight your employees’ unique character, personality, or skills. Non-personal rewards run the risk of being forgotten easily.
- Earned - Rewards should be based on merit. Personalized rewards shouldn’t necessarily be for fulfilling daily tasks. Any employee who is going beyond designated duties should be rewarded.
- Process - Ask yourself what the deserving employee did differently in the process. What was his unique contribution? What knowledge, skill, or talent did he apply?
C. Implementing Programs with Utmost Precision
Once you have fenced the foundations of the reward program, the natural progression is getting into the actuality of implementation.
1. Setting the right goals
Implementation should begin with uncluttered clarity about the purpose for you wanting to reward your employees. In short, you should outline the goals as clearly as possible in a fashion that can be understood by the leadership, management, and program users.
It holds the key to the success of your rewards program, as it decides the shape and the reshape it will take throughout the course.
Ensure that your goals must align congruently with your mission and vision. You should also consider which business drivers your program is trying to impact? (employee engagement, retention, alignment, performance, values/behavior-based leadership, etc.)
To help you out in zeroing on right goals, we have listed must-to-think goals for your program.
- To improve employee engagement.
- To create and instill a culture of recognition.
- To consolidate all recognition programs into one overall focused strategy.
- To align employees with your mission, goals and values.
- To recognise and reinforce desired behaviours.
- To recognise and drive desired performance results.
- To motivate individual and team performance, to positively impact employee performance.
2. Translate your goals into meaningful objectives
You should know at what point you can call your reward program successful. The only way to determine it is to establish measures and targets (with target dates) for each objective and clearly differentiate between qualitative and quantitative measures.
You can design a program ‘scorecard’ with clear measures to determine the success of your program at any time.
Here is how you can correlate your goals with objectives.
3. Define and profile your program participants
The “who” of the program needs to be determined quite early: Who needs to be rewarded and who is eligible for it. In a nutshell, it’s a separation of chaff from grains. It can be distilled out through thorough investigation by using the following questions -
- Who must participate in the program to achieve your strategic goals? It generally varies according to your goals.
- Are you planning it as an enterprise-wide program, or is it for a particular department of your business?
- Should some employees be excluded? For example, should suspended employees, employees on notice period, or employees undergoing disciplinary action or freelancers be included or excluded?
- Are there any restrictions in terms of who can earn tangible rewards? Some companies exclude certain levels of management from specific rewards.
- When the gig economy is at an all-time high, it is important to decide if non-permanent employees should be rewarded or not.
4. Fix your program period
As I have mentioned earlier as well, rewarding is a lifelong process - and it takes time to take root in your organization. Research suggests that it requires 3 years for any rewards initiative to become a key facilitator of change that you wish to see. That’s where your program needs to be flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of time and rewards trends.
5. Determine the budget
Since it can make or break not just the success of a program but the economic backbone of the whole organization, it must be done judiciously. The trouble is different companies have different monetary muscles, ruling out the one-size approach. However, some standards must be followed while fixing the final budget.
According to research done by WorldAtWork in their 2017 Trends in Employee Recognition suggested the following stats:
- Average is 2% of payroll
- The median budget is 1%
- The mode (most common response) is also 1%
We recommend between 1% and 2% of payroll if extrinsic rewards are to be included. However, if intrinsic rewards or competition-rewarding methods are implemented (a limited number of winners versus everyone has an opportunity to be rewarded), then the budget can be curtailed to 0.75% of payroll.
It must be understood that rewards programs take a while to become fully integrated into a company, and the budget uptake can be a few years. That’s why subsequent years’ budgets shouldn’t be based completely on the previous year's actuals, as the uptake should increase each year.
Clearly, deciding your investment in an employee rewards program is variable because every company’s needs are different. To illustrate how companies could approach budgeting, it would be on the following line:
It’s one of the main reasons why U.S. companies leverage non-monetary rewards to support their employee rewards programs. The 2018 IRF Outlook study also showed that 43% of respondents invest an estimated USD 250 per employee.
That’s why to keep the culture of rewards uncompromised throughout the year, you can think about the right admixture of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
6. Give your employees voice
If rewards are not enchanting and have no resonance with employees, rewards programs will never hit the ground running. That’s why you should never shrug off from conducting surveys to know which rewards rank high in the wishlist of your employees.
Note that giving employees a say in rewards redemption increases their personal interest in the program and makes rewards even more enjoyable and satisfactory.
Gift cards can come very handy in this regard, as it gives employees the freedom to choose what they want and when they want.
7. Visibilize your rewards program effectively
If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. Remember this principle and leave no stone unturned in ensuring that employees across all the files and ranks are well aware of your rewards program. And the key to it is effective communication across all the preferred communication channels.
It’s a must to understand that there are different types of workforces and they have their own preferred methods of communication. For example, manufacturing plant employees may find specialized kiosks as the best tool to get key updates, while administrative staff might prefer email.
8. Measure the effectiveness of your program
A well-executed rewards program is a multi-pronged enabler that positively impacts performance, productivity, and turnover. You can scrutinize it through survey tools, feedback sessions, and performance management software and see how close or far you are from the desired objectives of your program’s goals.
However, you can harness the gathered data well by using it for other business decisions. You can find out which teams are in silos, which employees need a booster of motivation, and what is the reason behind the non-participation of certain employees.
This holistic approach towards the rewards program will help you build a more cohesive and inspired workforce, the lifeblood of any organization.
9. Review and revive regularly
Nothing is perfect, and your rewards program is no exception to this axiomatic truth. Regardless of the research you put in and bring it to life through meticulous planning, a rewards program cannot satisfy all the employees.
A few will crib for the non-exciting rewards, while others may complain about the rewards criteria. What most you can do is continue with a program that is desirable for the majority of the employees.
That’s where taking regular feedback from employees will help you determine what value your rewards program holds in their eyes. Leadership feedback will let you know whether or not the program is affecting job performance and business outcomes in a planned way.
Once you are equipped with these insights, you can make amendments whenever they are desirable and possible. Figure out the admin time and cost it will need. This phase is extremely critical for the long-time success of your rewards program - especially when it dawns upon you that each organization is different and rewards programs must be tailored to suit that difference.
In a nutshell :
From Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs to modern assailing into employees' psyche, one thing emerges clearly: Employees don't work merely to feel the heaviness purse at the 1st date of every month.
Employees must feel valued and respected, and more importantly, there should be a soft undercurrent of the sense of purpose in their overall countenance. It doesn't just let them bury in their work happily but sprouts in them a nascent twig of innovation - making the organization thrive, not just survive. And that's where timely rewarding, comprising eclectic options to choose from, arrives like a comet.
However marred it may be with misconceptions - rewarding is costly, they have unreliable ROIs - its proven impact on the morale upliftment of employees and thereby on the bottom line of an organization makes it a must-to-have thing. For the effective implementation of rewards, companies need to understand what it takes to build a good reward program and check its efficacy.
This blog, with your regular and periodic glance at it, will prove to be your salvo in this context.
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