Effective instant employee recognition rewards

Kate Donovan explores the merits of using immediate rewards for exemplary staff conduct

Rewarding employees on the spot for positive behaviour can be a cost-effective way of demonstrating the kind of values and actions that an organisation wishes to encourage among its workforce. In turn, employees who feel that they have been rewarded for a job well done may become more engaged with the organisation and improve their productivity.

Rewarding staff instantly for positive behaviour can also help employees make the connection between their actions and the award, increasing the chances of repetition.

Instant reward means that employees do not have to wait to receive the value of their prize in their pay packet at the end of the month. An instant ‘thank you’ gesture need not be expensive for employers as suitable gifts can range from a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine, to gift vouchers, items from an online catalogue, or experience days.

When implementing an instant reward scheme, employers will need to decide whether they wish to cover the whole workforce, target specific groups, or adapt the terms of the scheme for different sections of the workforce.

Gifts, such as vouchers and experience days, which provide an element of choice for employees, can make instant reward schemes ideal for use across an entire workforce. John Sylvester, director of motivation, incentives division at P&MM, says: “If there is a consistent set of values across the whole organisation then [the scheme] should work across the business and not be confined to employee groups.”

If employers use separate schemes for different employee groups in an organisation, they run the risk of creating a fragmented workforce. Including an element of flexibility within a scheme, however, can ensure it meets the needs of a diverse workforce.

Catherine Forrest, business incentives manager at House of Fraser Business Incentives, says that before putting any motivation programme together, an employer should profile the target audience in terms of age, gender and interests. It should also ensure that the rewards it offers will appeal to any individual. “Offering the wrong type of reward will turn people off,” she explains.

Vouchers, which can be bought in bulk and stored on site until they are needed, are one option that provides employees with an element of choice in respect of their reward, as these can be spent on a range of products including: music, fashion, cosmetics, books, homewares and electrical goods. A slightly more generous option is to offer a choice of experience days which allow employees to take part in events that match their interests.

If a scheme is to operate effectively across an organisation’s entire workforce, it must have buy-in from top-level staff. “Involvement of senior personnel will be instrumental in driving forward any such scheme and in ensuring that the project is workable from an operational point of view. It’s also a good idea to elect a project leader to co-ordinate activity and answer queries,” explains Forrest.

Employers may find the best way to structure an instant reward scheme varies depending on the sector in which they operate. Paul Brown, incentives specialist at Maritz, for example, explains that instant reward plans do not necessarily work well among high-earners. Staff in the financial services industry, who are traditionally rewarded with large cash bonuses and salaries set at several times the national average, may not appreciate receiving a £25 voucher for a good day’s work.

However, Jonathan Haskell, chief executive officer at gift specialist Michael C Fina, believes instant recognition mechanisms can still prove fruitful in such organisations as long as employers carefully consider the rewards they offer to ensure that they have a sufficiently aspirational value. Haskell advises that high earners may appreciate options, such as a horse racing trip or a day at a golfing tournament.

Ensuring that the reward is suitable is one of many reasons why it is important to remember that although simple, cost effective and quick to administer, instant reward schemes should be carefully thought out. An unstructured delivery and format can de-motivate a workforce. “If you take things like wine and chocolate, you have to be careful, not everybody drinks [alcohol] and there are certain religious groups that need to be taken account of,” says Sylvester.

The award also needs to suit the behaviour that it is intended to recognise. Mike Davies, group client services director at motivational consultancy BI, says: “If you are recognising someone for a year’s performance as the top achiever in a high-profile sales environment, a £10 Marks & Spencer gift voucher is probably not appropriate, but if you are rewarding someone who has just received a compliment from a customer then maybe a £10 gift voucher is. You’ve got to find something that is appropriate and commensurate.”

Careful planning, therefore, is key, particularly if the scheme is intended to motivate an entire workforce. Poorly-structured plans can have a divisive impact and create confusing messages about what behaviours are being rewarded. “What happens quite often is that because there aren’t good, strong guidelines on what type of behaviour should be rewarded, one manager may be more generous than others and that can cause some unrest among the ranks,” explains Sylvester.

Consistency is also integral to the smooth running of a successful instant reward scheme. David Fleming, national account manager at Kingfisher Gift Vouchers, says: “If it’s just a one off, the meaning behind the reward may get lost in the commotion.”

The motivational impact of an instant reward scheme in encouraging positive behaviours throughout the workforce is as much about the delivery of the reward as its actual value. “Some of the budget should be invested in communication materials, and the programme launched with as much hype as possible,” Forrest says.

Creating a buzz when an award is made can attract attention and emphasise the reason for which the worker is being recognised.

Instant reward schemes, therefore, if structured correctly, can be a cost-effective way of thanking staff while adding an element of fun to the working environment. In order to obtain a successful scheme that motivates the workforce into going the extra mile, however, the plan must be carefully considered and well-executed and, once established, must not be run half-heartedly. “A lot of these schemes fall down because they reward people after two or three weeks, people forget about [what they have done]. Instant reward must be that – instant and on the spot,” says Haskell.

Sweetening the bag of perks

What to consider when launching an instant reward scheme:†

• Rewards don’t have to be expensive as long as they are valued by employees.†

• Be careful not to offend when giving gifts such as chocolate and wine. Vouchers can add flexibility and offer choice.†

• Creating a buzz around the giving of a reward can help reinforce the message behind it.†

• Schemes can be structured so the entire workforce can benefit as long as there is some flexibility around reward choice.

Case study: Punch Taverns’ thirst for immediate perks

Last year, Punch Taverns launched an instant reward programme for both its head office and pub employees to encourage staff to demonstrate the organisation’s values.

Through the scheme called Proud, which is an acronym of the company’s values: P – pride, R – respect, O – one team, U – understanding and D – do it once, do it right; area managers can reward employees when they see them doing something that is deemed over and above their job requirements.

There are four different tiers of awards, which include tax-paid cash, or scratchcards which give employees the chance to win a range of prizes including £25 or more to spend in one of the firm’s pubs, an experience day or a holiday.

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Anthony York, head of reward, says that staff behaviour is key to providing customers with a high-quality experience, so it is important to encourage employees to repeat positive behaviours. “That sort of [conduct] isn’t really recognised in any of our formal recognition or reward schemes so it’s important to have that behavioural piece in there and I think the impetus is to, as closely as possible, link behaviour to reward,” he explains.

York emphasises one of the key drivers of the scheme is that all employees are eligible. “One of our values is ‘one team’, and part of this scheme is that it applies equally from chief executive to pub cleaner,” he adds.