5 Tips to master employee recognition and rewards schemes

July 2nd, 2017 at 4:59 pm in #, #, #, #, #, Culture Change, Culture fit, Employee Engagement, Employee turnover, Employer brand by welovework

Guest blogger for We Love Work

Joshua Karl – Freelance HR Consultant


I was in IKEA a few weekends ago with my sister. Both of these occurrences are very weird as I hate anything to do with DIY and she hates shopping, but I needed a new chest of drawers and although she wasn’t aware at that moment, I needed her to put them up. Following the maze round, I overheard a dad with his young son and he kept up a constant stream of chatter saying things like “Great job pushing the trolley, Mikey, you are so smart.” “Good work putting the wallpaper in the trolley.” It went on and on – child did something; dad responds with a positive affirmation, the child does something else; dad reacts. This is so awesome and equally tiring to see in action. There is a giant metaphor unfolding in my mind as I’m equally contemplating what finish to get the chest of drawers in.

Sitting at my desk the next day I started thinking that we’re becoming a culture in which people expect to be rewarded for drawing breath and taking up space, which makes the job of anyone tasked with employee retention a difficult challenge indeed. If many of your employees expect routine and social praise and “badges”, how can you recognise extraordinary achievement? That led me to think…When should recognition and reward be linked?

In many organisations, recognition and financial reward are joined at the hip.  An employee does something above and beyond and receives a gift card or a lunch with the boss; a team achieves a goal and is rewarded with a party or a bonus payment. These rewards, however, can backfire; they tell the employee that he or she is worth n (£’s) to the organisation for some level of effort.

Personally, this approach misses the point of recognition: people are motivated by more than money. People crave positive feedback, the recognition they put in extra effort, acknowledgement of leaders and peers, the glow that comes with knowing an achievement has been seen, appreciated and celebrated.

Financial reward is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the equivalent of recognition. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s a short term solution. Neither is constant praise for average work. Recognition is a key tool in employee retention programs for a reason: people need more than constructive feedback and positive affirmation. They need recognition of extra effort. They need to “feel” it. This will never go away as a basic human need.


An effective approach to employee recognition encompasses these key points:


  • In the moment – as much as possible, be timely. Catch people doing exemplary work and acknowledge their efforts.  Don’t be knee-jerk – showing up for work on time does not count in most cases. Be specific, descriptive and measured.
  • In context – recognition is most effective when it’s given in the context of a larger goal or business-results-focused activity. Random affirmations are much less meaningful than those tied to a business goal. An employee who lands a big contract by putting in the extra effort needs to know you noticed, and understand the employee’s effort to ensure business success. This matters!!
  • Appropriate in volume/scale – think back to the dad in IKEA. Was the praise he doled out appropriate in scale and volume? Not really. Here again, randomness is not your ally. Recognition should match effort and results, or it loses meaning. This is where the complexity lives.
  • Authentic, not automatic – you have to mean it when you give employees recognition. This is my chief worry about automated recognition systems – they remove the human touch so important to effective recognition. Can we find a smart balance?
  • Tied to the employee’s perception of value – people know when they’re valued, and they should have a good idea of their value to the organisation. Monetary rewards can skew this notion of value, linking it to cash when it should be linked to appreciation of extra effort and smarts. Money is appropriate much of the time, but it’s not the only – or even the most effective motivator. Treat employees as valued team members, not as numbers. Most of the time it’s the best way to really recognise a valued player.

Joshua Karl is a freelance HR Consultant with 12 years’ experience specialising in creating the environments where people bring their best selves to work through change management, reviews of business modelling and rebuilding effective employee relations working across a variety of sectors in SME up to large multinationals. Joshua can be contacted directly on 07984 871 739 or hello@blackopshr.co.uk

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