Employee rewards can be a bit of a contentious issue in some circles - there are plenty of people who believe that the threat of punishment is a much more powerful motivator in the workplace than rewards can ever be. However, the more the scientific community looks into it, the clearer it becomes that offering employees validation by means of a reward program promotes employee engagement, while a system based on punishment leads to a toxic work environment that can severely affect even the most solid company's bottom line.
Here's some hard evidence...
The benefits and pitfalls of reward VS punishment has been studied by neuroscientists for ages. Here’s one study on how it affects information-integration category learning, and another on how it affects motor learning. There are countless others if you want to read up some more. In the end, what it all boils down to is push VS pull. Let’s break it down shall we?
Cognitive science shows us that when you want to motivate someone to do something, reward is your best bet, while punishment is best used to deter people from certain types of behaviour. Think about it this way - in life, when you want something nice (a cup of coffee and a lekker rusk, a hug from your GF, some time away at a pretty lake cottage), you have to take action. You have to put on the kettle, play nice with your SO, or find a great deal on accommodation and book time off. When we anticipate the nice stuff, a 'go' signal is triggered by dopaminergic neurons hidden snugly in the midbrain, which in turn stimulates the motor cortex, leading to action.
On the other hand, when we try to avoid bad things (e.g. lunch with the mother-in-law, paying traffic fines, getting stung by a bee) we are wired to stay put (e.g. dodging phone calls, driving in circles around roadblocks, leaving the flower-gazing trips up the West Coast to folks that are less inclined to anaphylaxis). These signals also make their way from the midbrain to the cortex, but unlike the 'go' signals that inspire us to action, it is meant to inhibit it. So it results in a lack of action.
So, if your goal is to inspire your employees to be more productive, you can see how it would be more beneficial to leverage some good-looking carrots rather than an irksome old stick.
Here are a few ways in which employee rewards can up the ante on the motivation levels at your business in 2020:
1. Employees are happier
You know what most high performing employees have in common? They are happy in their working environment and, as a result thereof, they do great work. A well-tailored employee recognition and rewards program is a wonderful team-building tool because when there is a sense of shared celebration and camaraderie among a group of people (rather than a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog vibe where everyone is hustling to get ahead) cohesion naturally follows.
Additionally, employees who are happy at work tend to be happier at home, because their families don't have to deal with hours of pent-up rage and frustration. And when people are happy at home they are able to give their all at work because things are on an even keel. It's pretty easy to see how this happiness spiral counts in favour of the employer, right?
You can read more here 👉 Improving employee satisfaction is great for your business! Here's 4 reasons why
2. The good ones stick around
When employees receive recognition in the form of rewards for a job well done, they are far more likely to stick around. At a time when South African companies are reporting a serious employee retention problem (47% of the 22 000 young professionals surveyed by Universum SA in their annual research for 2019 said they were ready to move from their current employers) it is more important than ever to find ways of keeping your start players on the field. One of the key outtakes of the survey mentioned here was that our workforce wants to be engaged in meaningful, fulfilling work. This is about more than just job security and compensation - it’s about adding value and feeling valued, and that’s where employee rewards come in.
3. A culture of self-improvement emerges
The best employees are those who are continually seeking to build out their skill sets and better themselves. When you do it right, employee rewards can be used to leverage a culture of self-improvement. Incentivise continued learning by rewarding those who focus on upskilling, and provide exciting rewards based on this same principle - e.g. lunch or a mentoring session with a highly regarded heavyweight in your field, or the opportunity to travel abroad for a congress, etc.
4. Morale is boosted
Employee motivation and productivity is greatly influenced by how management is perceived to handle employees. When your workforce knows that their efforts will be recognised, morale is automatically boosted. Instead of spending their lunch hour sharing war stories of being overlooked of mistreated, your employees will be slapping each other on the back about their latest achievements and brainstorm to come up with the next great blue-sky idea. There is so much positivity to be enjoyed in spaces like these!
5. Recognition increases trust
A well-managed employee recognition and reward program has the potential to increase trust and respect from both ends. Employees are far more likely to view their employers as fair and trustworthy when their efforts at work receive positive feedback, instead of functioning in an environment where the main motivation to excel is rooted in avoiding a tongue-lashing or public humiliation. Similarly, when management and HR teams are trained to be on the lookout for positive behaviour, rather than rooting out unwanted behaviour, they will naturally view things from a more balanced angle and place more trust in their employees to perform to the best of their ability.
You can read more here 👉 How employee recognition and rewards will transform your business
Now that we’ve laid it all out like that, it has to be said that rewards only work when it is doled out in the right way. You can’t just fill a drawer with gift cards and hand it out like candy. There has to be a system of checks and balances to ensure that the program works in line with your business goals.
Here are a few top tops on designing a rewards program that really works:
1. Make sure it’s in line with your company missions and goals
First things first, you need to decide what kind of behaviour you want to encourage with your employee rewards. One of the most tricky things that needs to be accomplished is avoiding the situation where your workforce is rewarded for simply showing up. There needs to be clear guidelines on what gets rewarded and how. Employee rewards need to be specific and clearly related to company priorities.
2. Offer the right kind of rewards
Speaking of types or rewards, when you’re tailoring your program, it helps to check in with your employees on the kind of carrots they prefer. Ideally, you want to have a system that allows each person to choose their reward from a list that has been predetermined beforehand. This can include everything from wellness experiences and outings, to gift cards, movie tickets, online shopping vouchers and more. The best way to know that will work for your particular employees is to ask them - put together a survey or ask them in person.
3. Enable yourself to measure the results
Another characteristic of a solid employee recognition program is the ability to measure its effectiveness. You also need to know what you’re measuring and keep tabs of your progress consistently so you can recalibrate immediately if you notice that one of your key performance indicators are not being ticked off.
So, to sum it all up - employee rewards boost productivity because your workforce is happier, retention is improved, a culture of self-improvement emerges, morale soars, trust in management skyrockets and the need for punishment diminishes. However, if you want to your rewards program to work, you need to ensure that it is in line with your company's missions and goals, provide your employees with the right kind of rewards, and that the results thereof are measurable.
If you’d like to take some tangible steps towards making employee rewards a part of your employee engagement strategy in 2020, take a look at our eBook outlining the 10 steps you need to follow to build a recognition program from scratch. Simply click the button below to get started 👇.