The challenge of motivating employees to perform to their full potential is one that every workplace faces. Many leaders assume that money and other benefits or rewards are sufficient to motivate people to strive for excellence. This is true to a point, but rewards only go so far—people also want to be recognized for the good work they are doing. Once individuals feel they are fairly compensated, reward is less of a driver than recognition. Employees want to feel like they are making a difference when they come into work, and one way to facilitate this is by recognizing the ways in which they make a valuable contribution.
There is no simple formula for finding the right balance between reward and recognition, and individual employees will respond differently to various approaches. The leaders who take the time to understand this equation and refine it for their teams will benefit from a motivated, engaged workforce.
The Role of Reward
Most people work because they need an income. In a sense, this is the most basic reward —work is performed in exchange for compensation. In order for an employee to feel satisfied in their role and valued by the organization, they must feel financially secure. Until they feel that they are being compensated fairly and competitively, financial stress will keep them from being fully engaged because they may have to look for supplemental work or they may be constantly on the lookout for higher-paying jobs.
The first step in ensuring employee engagement is to pay them appropriately. Beyond that, rewards can also come in other forms, such as benefits and perks that include:
- Paid time off
- Continuing education stipends
- Transportation stipends
- Parties and events
- Gift cards
- Personalized gifts
Reward programs are most powerful when they are linked to business outcomes, such as receiving a glowing customer review, smashing a sales goal, or improving a process. These types of rewards are certainly valuable and appreciated, but they are not always enough to motivate employees to consistently go the extra mile. This is where recognition comes in.
The Role of Recognition
People want to feel recognized for their role in making a difference for the company. It may seem simple, but acknowledging an individual’s contribution to the larger organization goes a long way toward keeping employees engaged and motivating them to continue striving for excellence. On the other hand, if they don’t feel that their contributions are valued, they may seek out a new job where their skills and talents are recognized.
Recognition can be either private or public, and both approaches have value. When a manager recognizes an employee’s efforts on a one-on-one basis, it’s meaningful because the individual knows that leadership is paying attention and that their efforts are appreciated. When employees are recognized publicly, it validates their belief that what they do matters and gives them credit for their work in front of both peers and leadership.
As with rewards, linking recognition to business outcomes is a powerful practice. Remember that everybody in the organization plays a role in the success of the business, even when their work is not highly visible to others. In fact, these are the people who often appreciate recognition the most, so take the time to identify the employees who are quietly doing the work that helps keep the organization running smoothly.
Everybody responds differently to various types of recognition, so mix it up and try to be creative when calling attention to excellent work. Recognition can be delivered in a number of ways, including:
- Announcements in an internal newsletter
- A wall of fame
- Personal thank you notes
- Acknowledging an individual during a staff meeting
- A traveling trophy
- Naming personal successes in social media
- Celebrating work anniversaries
Another important benefit of recognition is that it can have a ripple effect, so celebrate the successes that you want repeated or replicated in order to inspire and motivate others. Giving coworkers the opportunity to recognize each other’s efforts can also be highly motivating to teams, so create some space for peers to celebrate each other.
Finding the Balance Between Reward and Recognition
Compensation and benefits are essential parts of motivation and engagement, but they are not the only pieces of the puzzle. Recognizing a job well done is a powerful way to motivate people to continue to do good work and to encourage others to do the same. Try a variety of methods to see what people respond to and tailor rewards and recognition to individuals when possible.
Recognizing the high performers in your organization is critical to keeping them engaged and loyal to the company. If you’re not sure who those people are, read our free guide: How to Identify and Retain High Potential Employees.