Employee Reward Program Dos and Don’ts

by: Nichole Gunn June 7, 2011

Studies have shown that employee incentives can be effective motivators and create employee engagement. But, Incentive Magazine shows what can happen if incentive programs are improperly implemented, or implemented without careful thought.

Programs haphazardly thrown together can have the opposite effect of what is intended and needed. These programs can actually create negativity and hinder employee performance. Rewards that draw attention to specific employees, such as ‘employee of the month,’ can foster anger and jealousy among the staff, reports the magazine.

Another factor to take under consideration is that productivity initiatives have the potential of easily going off track. Competitiveness may end up leading to a disregard for both safety and company policies. This can be one of a number of unwanted results from carelessly designed employee incentive initiates.

Kerry Patterson, author and international corporate consultant, explains that incentive and rewards initiatives need to be planned and researched very carefully. Doing so will ensure that implemented programs recognize and support positive work related performance, not negative or unsafe actions. Time and careful consideration must be taken to thoroughly identify and evaluate unforeseen negative results that may arise. This must be done prior to implementation to help ensure continued positive productivity and avoid a future decrease in motivation.

Rather than awarding big rewards to a few individuals, Patterson suggests awarding smaller rewards on a more frequent basis, and to award them to a larger number of employees for recognition of notable performance. This eliminates the need for the worker to feel pressured to be exceptional, which should help reduce any desire to ‘break the rules’ to succeed. It will also limit negativity and jealousy directed at the ‘few’ who might receive over-the-top rewards. Keep it simple; a gift card or a gift certificate to a local restaurant is a good place to start.

Money is not necessarily a motivator. According to the Daily Mirror, human resources expert Professor Kishore Kumar Sinha said, "Contrary to the common perceptions, people don’t run behind money all the time. People are result-oriented too. If they get good results for their work, they will be further motivated."

Along with careful consideration of the incentive program’s design and structure, employers should think about what rewards they will offer. Employees appreciate recognition, but that recognition would be more effective if individualized. Employee Joe, who is an avid basketball fan, would much prefer tickets to a Knicks game, rather than a soccer game. In another scenario, you wouldn’t want to give a box of pastries to an employee who is diabetic. In short, keep the rewards personalized; it will make them much more rewarding.

A final word of advice from Patterson is to make sure the award is actually deserved. One consulting company desired to reward a team “for breaking the company's productivity record within an eight-hour shift.” What might have been an admirable accomplishment, the team shoved safety and quality standards to the side to achieve the goal. Along with an achievement, behavior and protocol must be factored into determining if an employee or team deserves recognition.