How NOT to Reward Your Employees: Common Pitfalls of Recognition Programs...and Simple Tips to Fix Them
Over the last few decades, employee recognition programs have emerged as an important HR strategy. The popular theory behind these programs holds that formal recognition is a great way to reward top-notch performance, boost motivation, and improve employee satisfaction.
While this explanation may have a lot of common-sense appeal, experts caution that the process of developing an effective reward system can often be a bit more challenging than it may seem. Human motivation is often a very complex and delicate phenomenon. In fact, recent studies have even shown that a poorly-designed reward program can actually hurt team performance.
There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Reward
It's always noble to recognize a job well done, but don't count on reward programs to boost motivation and performance unless you've done your homework and developed a smart, targeted, evidence-based program.
Many employers seem to believe that all rewards are equally effective. However, the research literature very clearly rejects that idea. Without a few key elements in place, your employee recognition program is unlikely to have a positive long-term impact.
The good news is that with a few small tweaks and tune-ups, you can dramatically increase the efficacy of your employee recognition program. Whether you already have a program in place or it's still in the planning phases, use this list of common shortcomings as a reminder of how not to reward your employees.
Try not to reward on a fixed schedule.
Many employee recognition programs are so predictable that you could set your watch by them. Often, rewards are distributed to everyone during the holiday season or annual reviews. Researchers say that this predictability saps much of the motivational power from rewards. Even though it might increase the logistical complexity of administering your program, try to do away with hard-and-fast schedules.
Steer clear of "empty" rewards.
Many organizations reward all of their employees equally and simultaneously. Although this approach offers parity and fairness, it won't do much in terms of boosting performance or motivation. When an employee goes above and beyond the call of duty, recognize their specific achievement with a timely and meaningful reward. The sooner, the better -- research shows that quicker rewards have much more impact.
Avoid the appearance of inconsistency.
Nothing can sink a reward program faster than the perception that the system is unfair. Try to recognize every employee for outstanding achievements, whatever that may be. However, this doesn't mean you should settle for a one-size-fits-all approach to rewards. Let's face it -- your star team member can accomplish more than an unseasoned rookie will be able to pull off. Reward each individual for exceeding what you expect from them personally.
Don't resort to irrelevant or impersonal rewards.
There's no surer way to undermine your employee recognition program than to mass-distribute generic corporate gifts. The proverbial gold watch will do little to show your true appreciation for your employees. As much as possible, try to tap into each team member's interests, lifestyle, hopes, and dreams when you select a reward. The more personalized your effort is, the more it will impact employee satisfaction, motivation, and performance.
You don't have to dismantle your entire employee recognition program and rebuild it from the ground up to significantly improve its effectiveness as a motivating tool. With just a few small changes, you can avoid these all-too-common pitfalls and reap the benefits of a high-impact reward program.