A business I visit regularly has a fantastic receptionist. Always ready with a smile, remembers everyone’s name and is willing to go the extra mile to sort out any issue.

I was delighted recently to hear that she had been nominated for an award for outstanding customer service and was going to have her achievements recognised at an all-staff meeting, followed by a slap-up dinner on the company.

So, here’s the question: Is this kind of recognition likely to motivate the individual in question, build her loyalty to the business and spur her on to even greater performance? Or would she really prefer a cash bonus?

Getting employee recognition right Cezanne HR blog

The research suggests it’s the former. Cash bonuses are only an effective motivator until it reaches the point where people actually feel they are getting fair reward for the job. Once that need has been met, other factors come into play – attention from the leadership team and praise from their immediate manager being among the top two motivators cited by employees.

So how do you go about designing a recognition programme that hits the right buttons?

Here are some of the ideas shared by World Duty Free Group and McDonald’s Restaurants at the recent Employee Benefits show:

1. Involve key stakeholders and employees

Running focus groups, which bring together employees from across the business, will help you identify how staff feel about your current reward and incentive programmes, what might need to change and what kind of initiatives will be appreciated. If getting everyone together at the same time is difficult, you could initiate a simple pulse survey instead to collect vital feedback.

Those who are working on the front line will understand the day-to-day tasks and interactions that take place, the challenges people are up against and what good performance really looks like.

2. Be fair and consistent

Research shows that if people perceive that employee reward and recognition schemes are unfair, resentment can quickly build. It’s important to make sure that everyone understand exactly what outstanding work or excellent customer service looks like, and ensure the criteria applies to functions across the business so that back-room staff or more invisible departments don’t get left out. Think about how to back it into your policy documents, or performance reviews.

3. Make employee recognition timely

Recognition is a vital part of successful people management, but it works best when it’s of the moment. Three months down the line, people may have forgotten exactly what it was they did for who and the opportunity to create a warm glow of satisfaction for a job well done will be lost.

Make sure that managers know the importance of immediate feedback – even if a formal recognition can’t happen immediately, saying “thank you” can make a huge difference to engagement, triggering chemical responses in our brains that not only make those receiving praise feel good, but those giving it too.

4. Take a tailored approach

Some people will welcome the opportunity to celebrate their success publicly while others, although appreciative of the recognition, may prefer not to make a song and dance about it. The same applies to any non-monetary reward you may offer.

A dinner with the senior team may be just what some employees want, while others may prefer to receive some kind of voucher they can use to treat their family. Try and include an element of choice and recognise that different people will appreciate different things.

5. Communicate clearly

If you are going to make the effort to introduce an employee recognition programme, you need to make sure that everyone knows about it. Reinforce the message regularly through whatever communication channels you may have – whether that’s via line manager briefings, on noticeboards, in the company newsletter or on your HR portal, which is included in our HR software.

Make sure everyone gets the opportunity to understand what they need to do to get that all-important pat on the back – and that those who are rewarded are celebrated in the right way too. Take particular care to ensure that employees who are field based or don’t have regular access to computers are not left out of the loop.

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Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.

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