Your "Rewards" Aren't Appreciated By Your Employees

Last Updated May 20, 2011 6:31 AM EDT

This post is for managers. Individual contributors already know this information, but for some reason, as soon as people are promoted (or laterally transfer) into a management job, they forget this information. So, here is a reminder:

A pen with the company name on it is not a bonus. It does not make your employee feel fondly about your company or your management skills. It is a pen. You are supposed to provide pens as part of the standard office supplies. Put the company logo on them if you want. Give pens away to customers so they'll have your phone number handy. But, your employees already know the phone number and just want to be able to write with a reliable instrument.

A supply of coffee mugs in the break room is handy, but they are not a reward. Your employees will drink coffee or water or Diet Coke regardless of whether the mugs have your company name scrawled across the front. They might think the mugs are cute, but they will not consider them a reward.

The reason why that clothing store offered you $50 gift certificates for $25 each is that they know that almost none of your employees will redeem them. This should be a hint that it is a bad reward. Rewards should be, well, rewarding. And trying to convince your employees that they are being rewarded with the ability to get a new pair of pants from a store they don't like is not a real reward.

Rewards for "everyone" that only benefit a few. Lunch is a great thing to provide from time to time, unless you always do it when you're in the office even though a good portion of your employees work other shifts. This causes resentment amongst the unblessed masses.

Mandatory Celebratory Dinners are not appreciated. When everyone has been working nights and weekends to get that big account, don't make the celebration something that requires everyone to spend yet another evening with people from the office.

I feel so much better now. I could come up with a longer list of rewards that aren't appreciated, but I'm afraid some managers would just tune me out. In fact, I'm sure that right now, there is someone sitting in a corner office going, "She's wrong. My employees loved the Christmas bonus mugs! They told me so themselves."

Well, duh. You're the boss, so they aren't going to say, "Boy, this is what you got us? Mugs with the dumb logo that you had your 3rd ex-wife design? Seriously? Jerk." No, they talk about that amongst themselves. Keep in mind what employees really want.

Verbal and written praise. This is even cheaper than the pens. Tell your employees that they are doing a good job, and give specific examples. A 2007 employee survey said that this was the top non-monetary reward desired by employees. Taking the time to pull someone aside and say, "Thanks for your work on the Jones account. You really blew me out of the water," is a reward that is appreciated. Publicly saying that at staff meeting is even better. However, a patronizing, "good job" on everything your employee does is not a reward.

Money. I'm talking real money here, not the gift certificate kind. Employees want raises and bonuses. If the business honestly cannot afford either one (and before you nod your head to that, check your own bonus check) then see above or below. Otherwise, get out the checkbook. Remember it would cost you more to replace good people than it would to give them raises and bonuses.

Time off. If everyone busted their buns to get a big project done, hand out an extra vacation day to be used at their leisure--and then make sure you don't pressure your employees not to use the time off. Or close shop on a Friday afternoon. This shows that you recognize they put in extra hours to get the work done. Your employees want the company to succeed. Show them that you recognize that their work does just that. (And if you close shop Friday afternoon, make sure this is considered paid vacation time, not just go home early time. Your non-exempt employees who get a smaller paycheck will not consider this a reward.)

Flex time and telecommuting. If your employees are good performers, let them have control over when and where they do their work. Yes, some jobs must be done in the office, and some jobs must be done on a specific schedule. Some, but not all. If your employees express interest in these types of schedules, give it some serious consideration and grant it where possible. Independence is a great reward.

Employee rewards should be something they actually want. Don't let the so called "employee rewards" catalogs convince you that your employees will be happy with a clock. Give them what they really want.

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Photo by Stephen Cummings, Flickr cc 2.0