The very word conjures up images of money-a bountiful sum in cash or checks, a generous amount, richly deserved, paid in return for good works of some kind. But in today’s economic and employment environment, giving someone a cash reward for work beyond the call of duty-a raise or a bonus-often has less impact than the employer intended. It simply isn’t as surefire an “employee retention tool” is it seems to be. Giving monetary rewards is like giving cash as a wedding present-useful, no doubt, but not very personal and not very thoughtful. Cash rewards are one-dimensional. They mainly address the employee’s financial needs, contributing only by implication to her or his needs for emotional fulfillment and psychological satisfaction.
Bonuses and raises can trigger ill will among those who don’t get them, threatening workgroup or department team spirit. Any company-including the company wooing your best people-can easily match a cash reward. That can result in a bidding wars that end up seriously distorting a company’s salary structure. Cash rewards nibble away at the bottom line. And if they don’t do their job-motivating or retaining the good employee-they’re money wasted. But the biggest reason of all is that monetary rewards for work well done often aren’t what employees really want, even though they may not realize that. How can this be? Isn’t money what we all want and need? Well, yes, obviously. We all need money. And there is and always will be a role for bonuses, raises, cash gifts and stock options. But when we go beyond the call of duty at work, we want something else, according to Bob Nelson, in his book “1001 Ways to Reward Employees.”
What we want-more than anything else–is recognition. This contention has been proven in numerous studies. The best way to motivate people to perform at the highest levels, the most effective tool for building and maintaining employee loyalty is “the thoughtful, personal kind of recognition that signifies true appreciation for a job well done.” Unfortunately, most companies are not good at giving recognition. Few business schools teach how to praise, recognize and show appreciation. “Most managers do not understand or use the potential power of recognition and rewards,” says Nelson. “This is true even though 33% of managers themselves report they would ratherwork in an organization where they could receive better recognition.”
For most of the 20th century, only the most creative and imaginative managers and executives got it right. But now any manager can deploy an arsenal of recognition techniques to keep her or his people and motivate them to do even better. All he or she needs to do is pick up a copy of “1001 Ways to Reward Employees” and keep it close at hand. It has been proven that this book is filled with superb ways not only to give employees the recognition they deserve, but also to build a satisfying relationship between managers and theirpeople.
One of the chief concerns, of course, is employee retention-no easy trick in today’s economic and employment environment. Nelson’s book names three principals that apply to giving recognition, and all three contribute to employee retention: Match the reward to the person. Start with the employee’s personal preferences. Some, for example, might valuetime off above all else. But others might not know what to do with extra time off. Match the reward to the achievement. When someone has been working on a difficult project for six months and brought it to fruition, a hearty handshake and a clap on the back just won’t do. But that same reward may be just what the doctor ordered when an employee solves a tricky problem in
Be timely and specific. If you wait until a few weeks after the achievement to offer your recognition, you won’t be doing much to motivate or keep your employee happy. Likewise, if you offer praise without connecting it to the achievement, you will create confusion, not motivation. Nelson puts recognition rewards into three categories: Informal rewards, including no-cost and low-cost recognition, social rewards, time off, cash, merchandise, trophies and celebrations; Awards for specific achievements and activities, such as outstanding employee awards, productivity or quality awards, awards for suggestions, customer service or meeting sales goals, attendance and safety awards and group or team awards; Formal rewards, which can include reward programs, contests, special events, self-development, promotions, stock ownership, benefits and charity.
The bulk of Nelson’s book is devoted to specific reward suggestions-1001 and one them, at least (seems like more). These range from the thoughtful to the clever to the downright Volunteer to do another person’s least desirable work task for a day Have the company president make a thank-you call Name a space after an employee (the Suzy Jones corridor, for example) Buy lunch for the person and three coworkers of his or her choice Rent a sports car for the employee to drive for a week Thank people who recognize others When you hear a positive remark about someone, repeat it to that person as soon as possible, even if you have to seek him out Give the employee a pair of tickets to her favorite sports or cultural event Nelson presents many of these ideas not just as bulleted items but as case histories from a wide variety of companies, including Cellular One, Xerox, Boise Cascade, Merle Norman Cosmetics, MCI and hundreds of others.
His ideas are not just theory. They are effective in the real world. If you were of a certain mind, you might suspect these recognition techniques are manipulation in disguise and perhaps for some managers, it starts out that way. But the word manipulation implies tricking someone into doing something in your interest and not in theirs. Nelson doesn’t see it this For Nelson, recognition is a way of doing something good in response to another person’s good works. It is also a way to build trust, create a warm and supportive environment and give employees another reason to appreciate their companies. It’s a way to put the work relationship on a personal level, on a human level.
Of course, to fine-tune rewards and recognition, it’s important to know what employees are thinking and feeling, what they want, what would mean something to them. One way to do that, Nelson says, is to create a “reinforcer list” with the help of the employees, tapping into their ideas about the recognition they’d value. In a way, Nelson’s book provides a thread of harmony to a song to determine how employees feel about their bosses and their companies and then structurethe working environment with these perceptions in mind. That’s why we heartily recommend this very useful book. Bob Nelson, “1001 Ways to Reward Employees.”