Employee Rewards Programs: Work Smarter to Get Your Employees Working Harder

By Christopher Wallace

As hard as it is to find good help these days, sometimes it’s even harder to keep it. Even with high unemployment rates, you are not guaranteed to hold on to valuable employees if you do not convey how much you appreciate them. One of the best ways to recognize the worth of your staff is through an employee rewards program. If your business has already instituted some sort of rewards system to incentivize excellence from your people, you are already ahead of the curve!

But creating the program is only as good as the degree to which employee motivation and productivity increases as a result. If only there was a way to quantify the success of your own employee rewards program. Well, you’re in luck, because someone else has already done the lion’s share of the heavy lifting for you.

Recently, Amsterdam Printing conducted a survey of 1,277 business customers. Fifty seven percent of them indicated they had some sort of employee recognition program in place. Amsterdam asked both employees and managers to comment and rank various aspects of the programs to determine what works and what doesn’t. Although many different facets were discussed, several overall themes emerged: employees wanted to be rewarded and managers noticed increased productivity when workers were recognized for their efforts.

Positive Work Environment Translates to Increased Productivity

Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that the highest positive correlation between recognition programs and increased productivity came through programs that improved an individual’s working environment. Think about it: it’s hard to get anything done when you’re absolutely miserable or in an environment that hinders progress throughout the day. Accordingly, when the company sponsors events or programs that aim to improve one’s working conditions, increased productivity naturally follows.

It’s effective because it’s a nice little circle: when your employees want to be there, they’ll invest more of themselves in their work and because of that. The company turns back around and rewards them for it, which only motivates your employees to continue their good work to keep their positions within your so obviously appreciative company, and well, you get the idea.

Morale Must Haves (and also some things to avoid!)

In the same way that effective employee rewards and incentive programs improve productivity, nothing will kill employee motivation faster than “rewards” that don’t work or impact the working environment in a negative way. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are designing your employee rewards program.


Make sure the scope of the program and the criteria for success are clearly defined and uncomplicated. When the rules and conditions are easy to understand and everyone is on the same page about which things earn them what, there is little room for confusion and hurt feelings when all is said and done.


Not only should your program be clear, but it should also not change before it has concluded. For example, Amsterdam’s survey revealed that the number one thing people wanted to be recognized for was “Performance Excellence” (by a whopping 69.5%). If you have a program in place that has historically awarded prizes for performance excellence, you can’t switch mid-stream and suddenly decide to promote “Flexibility” (much lower on the list of preferences, receiving only 22.8% of the popular vote).


And speaking of popular votes, if it becomes clear that the program you have in place is really a front for the company “popularity contest” in which only the “cool kids” ever win anything, the majority of your employees will start to feel insecure about their own merit and worth to the organization. In addition, you are creating the perfect breeding ground for suspicion and resentment. This is easily avoided by making sure your team managers know to spread around the rewards and to switch gears if the same person is consistently earning the honors.


This is not to say that a person who is clearly superlative should not be rewarded for being amazing; rather, the trick is in developing a program designed to reward the superstar in us all: we all excel at different things and are important in different ways. If you include enough factors for consideration, you increase the likelihood that different people will win each time you award the honor, and you highlight their success due to the quality that makes them unique.

The Most Enticing Rewards

Now that you have determined that you do indeed need an employee rewards program, what should you offer as incentives? Without fail, Amsterdam’s survey revealed that people still respond to the classic monetary prize: cash, gift cards and bonuses always work. The employees also indicated that they value personalized gifts and employee perks, such as a desirable parking space or paid time off.

There are also priceless rewards that don’t cost a company anything other than a moment of time. For those businesses without the means to convey lavish gifts, a good old-fashioned pat on the back still goes a long way to let those around you know that you appreciate them.

For those of you with a program already in place, what are the most effective rewards for your employees? If you are going to develop a program now, what sorts of benefits do you plan to include?

Author’s Bio: Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of custom business pens and other promotional products such as imprinted clothing, mugs and customized calendars. Christopher regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.

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