Reward and Recognition Programs Boost Employee Productivity

Many employers are strong believers in taking care of their employees and recognizing their contributions in order to achieve the company’s core values. Let’s be honest: We love a great reason to celebrate each other as professionals and as human beings… quality work, strong sales from referrals, work anniversaries, birthdays, marriages, interns, veterans, positive client feedback, babies, charity events.

Much of this celebrating involves food and/or team building activities. I can’t tell you enough, it’s an investment that pays off in spades: improved employee morale results in better customer service, lower turnover, higher productivity.

Do you have to spend a lot of money to run an effective recognition program? No, but you do need a little creativity and a sense of what motivates your employees. Before you spend the next week scratching your head over how your employees would like to be recognized, why not ASK THEM DIRECTLY? Believe me, I’m very appreciative when my husband asks me what I want for my birthday, because if it was up to him, I’d end up with a leaf blower.

As you get a good feel for putting together a rewards/recognition program your employees would appreciate, you’ll find that many of these things can overlap to create a steady stream of positive vibes throughout the year. And don’t think that implementing any of these will change things overnight! Remember what I said earlier, this is an investment and it will take time before you see any noticeable changes.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider, some of which have been implemented at Scherzer International with great success:

Company apparel/gifts – Love that swag! I send my husband to his work daily with an insulated lunch bag sporting my employer’s logo and not only is it useful, it’s been a conversation starter at his office. You never know where the next client referral will come from!

When designing company swag, pleeeeeaaaaase make sure the design has cool vibes emanating from it. We’re talking religious-painting-halo-vibes-cool. It should make people WANT to be seen with/wearing it.

The best ones I ever saw were the t-shirts and baseball caps made exclusively for the employees at the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. They were participating in a 5K charity run and it was amazing to see people inquire about where they could get a shirt or hat. The design was simple, but very straightforward. You guessed it, they were black with a white chalk body outline. The designs for the general public are less morbid but still quite popular. I know, most companies wouldn’t want to be associated with death, but hey, kudos to the Coroner’s Office folks for making the best of a service everyone’s dying to use at one point. (Oooooh, sorry about that, couldn’t resist.)

Employee discounts – If you sell goods that your employees can use, offer great discounts to them at cost or a little bit above. Have extra inventory that you need to move out? Offer them to your employees before you donate. It gives employees a chance to use the products and show them off to family and friends which increases the company’s visibility.

Charity work – This works best when some paid time is set aside to do charity work. Team building for the betterment of humanity–it doesn’t get any better than this. Additionally, this is a wonderful way to toot your company’s horn when you have everyone wearing company swag at a charity event. See what I mean about overlapping your efforts?

Charitable donation – A thoughtful donation to a charity of an employee’s choosing in honor of their loved one’s passing can make a huge impact and lets the employee know you care.

Charity gala guests – If you or your company is affiliated with any charities, it’s a great idea to invite employees to any special galas as a way to appreciate their contributions and to help them appreciate the impact of community involvement.

Monthly/annual lunches – This is when we have team building exercises (fancy word for games) and bond over food. In November we have a potluck style Thanksgiving-themed luncheon. It saves the company some money and encourages hands on participation. That is what I call winning! Just make sure you have a paper/online signup sheet that asks for what is needed like appetizers, main dish, sides and desserts. Without one, you might end up with eight different cakes. Well, that might not be a bad thing, eh?

Casual day/themed weeks – You can have hat day, sports day, work out day, beach day, Halloween dress up day… anything fun that could make people smile. Just keep in mind that some themes might be tacky or downright offensive. And even if your employees see nothing wrong with a theme, the general public might when they see social media content posted by your company and/or your employees on their personal accounts.

Steer far away from polarizing themes like politics. Especially politics. Halloween can be a harrowing time with unfettered creativity. Remember that uproar this past Halloween caused by a dozen or so teachers who thought it was a good idea to dress up as Mexicans and a border wall? Yeahhhhh, don’t allow stuff like that. Let your employees ask themselves: Will this costume potentially create an avalanche of bad reviews on Yelp or Glassdoor?

Coffee shop/local park meetings – Anywhere that can provide a nice change of pace and environment. If it’s a beautiful day, meet up at a park or coffee shop and soak up the fresh air or lovely aroma of coffee. A relaxed setting helps get the creative juices flowing! You know that boxy font used to imprint every credit card? It’s called Farrington B and it was first drawn on a napkin at a hotel, not in a conference room or cubicle.

Holiday decorating/employee competitions – Look on Pinterest and you will see some VERY amazing office holiday displays. This can be a perfect team building experience that can span over the course of several weeks as anticipation builds. Encourage your employees to be resourceful/frugal in the materials utilized if at all possible. Emptied shipment boxes were very scarce in October around here. Don’t be too draconian about the use of some office supplies for that. It’s supposed to be fun, and telling someone not to use a paper clip to hang up string lights sounds petty, you know what I mean?

Birthday cards – Have cards signed every month. Then designate a day to pass those cards out and order some cake!

Wellness perks – Flu shots, yoga classes, these go a long way to keep employees healthy and balanced which means better productivity. Some companies even subsidize gym memberships. If your company isn’t in a position to do that, consider paying for Costco memberships, which brings me to my next point…

Costco warehouse memberships – I sometimes think these things are more highly valued than flexible spending accounts simply because there are more opportunities to utilize the savings in an immediate way. You can even buy gym memberships at a highly discounted rate.

Scholarship – A simple gesture of making a tuition contribution is a fantastic way of recognizing an employee who works extra hard, especially if they are going to graduate with new skill sets that will benefit your company.

Dog days – There are fewer things around here (besides babies) that will get everyone to smile when we have a doggy visitor. One of our employees sometimes brought his little pug who napped quietly on his desk while another employee brought his high energy pup for short visits to say hi to EVERYONE. And not one person could resist smiling, either. Just keep in mind some employees might be allergic to dogs.

Pet bereavement day – You’ve heard all those stories about people who wouldn’t leave their pets behind during a natural disaster or decline to stay in a homeless shelter because their pets weren’t allowed. It makes sense to acknowledge the loss of a family member. Ever have a pet pass away? You’re a mess! How productive can you be at work anyway when you lose your fur baby?

Time off – Reward an exceptional employee with some time off which is to be used within a week. Fifteen minutes here and there won’t appreciably impact productivity. But to leave a little early to get a headstart on traffic means a little more precious time spent with family.

“Caught you Caring” cards – Instant recognition for “catching” someone in the act of… being great! Just have some cards handy that you can fill out what you observed on the spot for exemplary work, professionalism, kindness.

Social media shout out – Did your employee help facilitate a big project? Receive compliments from a client? Pulled someone from a burning car? Adopted five cats? It can be anything as long as the employee doesn’t mind being identified online. It’s just a fun way to feature individuals to give more personality to your company.

Share client praise – These are like little nuggets of gold, aren’t they. It feels great to provide a quality product or service that impresses a client enough to give great feedback. Why not share the love with everyone?

VIP parking – It can be issued for the week, month, however long you decide. This is a very easy and convenient gesture to thank a deserving employee.

Peer recognition – Give employees a forum to recognize each other. We use as a means to not only send each other “cheers” but we also use it to administer surveys and send comments/suggestions anonymously. Though not 100%, we have very good participation rates throughout the company, especially when we have concerns that motivate us to speak up… sort of like during this past midterm election season. Whoops, no politics. Sorry.

Traveling trophy – It circulates around the office every month for a contest won by a team or individual. One of our employee’s young son won a contest once by a landslide during a luncheon. I suspect his cute game face was too strong for us to resist.

I do want to leave you with these caveats when acknowledging employees:

Try to avoid putting overwork as an activity to be admired. There are times when work is overwhelming and everyone needs to put in the extra overtime, but try to reward the team effort and the dedication to get that big project done instead of emphasizing the exhausting and morale-sucking workload. The end results are the same as far as productivity, but it’s the emphasis on the right aspects of the work. We want to admire each other’s work ethic, not necessarily the task accomplished.

Reward employees for going above and beyond, not for fulfilling a basic job expectation. Some rewards programs can actually demotivate an employee, believe it or not. It depends on how you implement the rewards program. A research paper published in 2013 by Harvard Business School assistant professor Ian Larkin along with professor Lamar Pierce and doctoral student Timothy Gubler from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis suggests that sometimes rewarding employees can backfire.

The study focused on an awards program where the idea was to improve attendance and punctuality. Employees with perfect monthly attendance were entered into a drawing for a gift card to a local restaurant or store and then a higher value gift card drawing every six months for all employees with a perfect attendance record during that time period. Attendance and tardiness dropped, but only when employees were eligible for the drawing. Upon even closer examination, the stellar employees with good attendance and high productivity suffered a six to eight percent decrease in productivity which was an indicator they might have been wondering why a reward program was being implemented for a behavior they were already exhibiting. See the difference?

So those were just a few ideas on rewards and recognitions. As you can see, a lot of them don’t require any money or very little of it. It just takes time, effort, and consistency but it’s well worth it!