Employee Recognition & Rewards: 11 Ideas To Improve Retention #SHRM19


People do better work when they feel appreciated and valued. That’s why it’s important to recognize and reward employees for their efforts and contributions. 

But recognition and rewards are also really hard to get right. As a business owner, I’ve struggled for years to properly recognize and reward employees. Slip a gift card here. Write a thank you note there. Buy an anniversary ballon, give a raise, verbally recognize an employee at a company meeting...the tactics are endless. 

As I’ve learned, without the right strategy, sometimes these efforts can be misguided and have adverse effects.
So how do companies get employee recognition and rewards right? I traveled to Las Vegas to speak with companies on this topic. Here’s what they had to say when it comes to improving retention through employee recognition and rewards. 

Anonymous Feedback 

Organizations should seek to understand engagement and satisfaction both at the team level through pulse surveys, and at the level of each individual making up those teams through anonymous feedback. Every employee is the same. Many top performers may also be introverts, and so it’s important to create that sense of psychological safety that allows them to voice opinions and concerns in a way that reflects their personalities.

Listen, learn, and then work to improve the areas that need it. That approach won’t just help retain top performers, but it will also help create an environment that raises the bar for performance in all talent.

  • Justin Fragapane, Content Marketing Strategist, Officevibe

Leadership Buy-In

Where many companies succeed or fail begins at the top. You need leadership buy-in which must trickle down to senior leaders. If the CEO of your company is your Chief Evangelist Officer, you are well on your way to success.

Then, as you experience that success, layer in other initiatives such as pursuing health and wellness, learning and development, and community investment initiatives that your organization can promote, recognize and reward through your recognition and cultural communication system.

Presto - happy and engaged team members!

  •  Tom Short, Chief Customer Officer & Founder, Kudos

Peer to peer recognition

Peer to peer recognition has to be a staple in an employee recognition and rewards program. Managers can’t do everything, and peer to peer recognition is more authentic.

If we empower each employee for recognition, it becomes a moving tool that gives employees ownership of the culture. When there’s a platform that determines what we’re recognizing for, there’s real growth and movement. 

Identify specific things relevant to company like core values that should be recognized. Be strategic about the recognition items. Communicate it early and often. And then, constantly evaluate it because peer to peer recognition is not a set it and forget it thing.

  • Ashley Hurney, Director of Marketing, MTM Recognition 

Campaign Driven Recognition

Companies used to give 5 year, 10 year, 20 year service rewards. Employees today aren’t reaching those milestones. Instead, there is a trend of companies running anniversary campaigns to reward employees for reaching 1, 2, 3 years of service. Recognition campaigns are what smart companies do today. 

Campaigns aren’t just anniversary focused. Companies are being more creative with their campaigns. You have organizations doing quarterly awards, holding top performance competitions, and boosting morale with a holiday campaign - even Cinco de Mayo! 

There are also companies who rely on managers to run recognition campaigns. Companies give managers a budget, and they force them to spend it on rewarding and recognizing the employees they manage. The small things lead to a surprise. And that’s the stuff that matters. 

If you’re paying an employee $100k, what’s a $100? Show appreciation to employees. The small things have a huge impact.

  • Hani Goldstein, CEO & Co-Founder, Snappy

Drivers of Employee Retention 

Throughout our 20 years, we’ve done many client employee exit interviews. We find three primary drivers of employee retention: employee / manager relationships, growth / promotional opportunities (especially with Millennials!), and work/life balance & culture. These three elements can make or break an employee relationship – sometimes within days of someone starting a new job! It’s essential that all employers pay close attention to these, enhance as appropriate, and not be afraid to bring in outside expertise when needed. The dollars spent on an outside consultant may be far less than the cost of turnover over a year.

Alternative to Cash Awards

Cash awards frequently fail to accomplish the desired impact that a personalized or branded gift card can make.  For example, a $50 cash bonus tends to go through payroll and after-tax funds are quickly forgotten as they simply co-mingle with the household checking account.  Gift card brands may be carefully selected to promote quality of life experiences, such as dining, travel, or shopping. And the gift value of these experiences is often shared by the recipients friends and family fostering support for the employer relationship.

What were once creative strategies for gift cards are fast becoming common practice among HR and business executives.  Spot micro bonuses, safety awards, attendance, health & wellness, birthdays, new child, and work anniversaries recognize employees instantly and cost-effectively.

  • Richard Corso, CRO, PerfectGift.com

Centralized SaaS-Based Technology 

Recognizing achievements in the workplace is so much more than just a website or a shipment of merchandise.

There are some administrative challenges to employee recognition. For example, understanding how much you are currently spending on recognition if you run a decentralized program, and creating a reliable data flow for enterprise-level programs that may reach across multiple global and domestic locations. Meeting these challenges is made much easier through centralized SaaS-based technology available to us now. 

Recognition programs have the potential to unify workforces under common goals like never before, while serving as a vital touchstone for the entire employee experience. It’s not a “flip the switch” program. Getting the maximum benefit takes a strategic design and engineering process with regular measurement and maintenance. There is a science to the success.

  • Cord Himelstein, Vice President of Marketing & Communications, HALO Recognition

Process-Based Recognition 

The biggest challenge in rewarding employees is effective recognition. The traditional approach to recognize employees is purely result-based: Employee of the Month, Long-term Service Awards, and Achievements. These still work great but with the modern workforce, employees can have multiple job descriptions or be handling different projects. Recognition solely by the result isn’t enough in the current workforce. To overcome this, combine “process-based recognition” and “result-based recognition.” This is often not easy, but is a better structure for employee recognition that aligns with workforces today.

Choose Your Own Gift Card 

A huge challenge for rewarding employees is finding something that fits everyone’s wants and interests. They often think they need something complex or expensive for employee rewards, which always ends up being very time consuming. HR already has so many responsibilities that their time is so valuable and already stretched so thin. Allow your employees to choose their own gift card. This ensures there is something for all your employees, no matter how many or how diverse they are, and keeps things super simple for your HR team. 

  • William DePeri, Director of Marketing, Giftogram

Recognition Is Not Entitlement 

Getting employees to understand that recognition is not entitlement is a big challenge. To overcome those challenges, companies should focus recognition on behavioral change - what gets recognized gets repeated. Recognition can drive the behaviors that organizations need to see for the best success. Be real. Be direct. Be sincere. A thank you can go along way in engaging an employee. 

  •  R Scott Russell, Director of Engagement Strategies, C.A. Short

Appreciation Items

Tangible items with a functional purpose - “appreciation items” like ear buds or drinkware - are another way to ensure employee happiness through recognition. These appreciation items have more meaning because they can be used and enjoyed for a lasting amount of time that goes beyond the spend of something like a gift card. 

You can recognize employees through compensation and title. But appreciation items show that you are able to give employees the recognition they want to receive. 

Interested in learning more about employee recognition and rewards? Review SHRM’s vendor directory of rewards and engagement companies, or jump in the conversation on social media using the #SHRM19 hashtag.



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