Are You Motivating Behaviors That Matter? Rewards and Recognition Programs That Work

Posted on January 2, 2011 by VITAL WorkLife

According to the Labor Department, output per hour at US nonfarm businesses rose 5.2% from mid-2009 through the end of 2010. Employees have been doing more with less—and the strain is beginning to show. Watson Wyatt's 2009/2010 US Strategic Rewards Study found that employee engagement levels for all workers at the companies surveyed have dropped by nearly 10%—and by 23% for top performers.

How do you motivate discouraged employees during fiscally-challenging times? The answer might surprise you. Ask an employee what they value more—interesting work, full appreciation of their work or wages—and wages will typically come in third. Despite more than 40 years of research on employee motivation, ask managers and supervisors what their employees value most—and they'll almost universally respond "wages." Need more evidence? Here's some of the most recent research:

Management guru David Meister studied the correlation between employee attitudes and financial performance in 139 professional services firms—covering 5,500 people in 15 countries—and found that financial performance, evaluated by margins, profit per employee, revenue growth and profit growth over a two-year period, is directly linked to employee satisfaction. He estimates that by raising employee satisfaction by 20% a company would raise its financial performance by more than 42%.

According to White Water Consulting, frequent thanks and praise can achieve the same impact as a 1% pay increase.

"It's clear that rewards and recognition are great motivators," notes Liz Ferron, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "Yet not all reward and recognition programs are equally effective."

Recognition & Rewards That Work: Establishing Best Practices

The most effective reward and recognition programs are aligned with the organization's strategies, mission and values—and those strategies, mission and values drive the criteria of what behaviors or contributions will be rewarded. With awareness that recognition is valued most when it comes from someone's direct supervisor or manager, many organizations are replacing outdated, formal reward programs with inexpensive and more effective vehicles for individual and team recognition.

A good recognition program doesn't have to be expensive. As a manager or supervisor, you can change the culture in your team or work group by simply:

  • Making time at team meetings for people to share success stories
  • Offering regular, timely, verbal positive reinforcement
  • Passing along positive feedback from others
  • Providing recognition in an e-mail and copying a member of the executive team
  • Recognizing effort, as well as achievement
  • Recognizing and celebrating your own successes and accomplishments
  • Encouraging your reports to recognize one another by implementing a "caught in the act" program

"Recognition is one of the most effective tools managers and supervisors can use to motivate employees," notes Ferron. "Yet, research shows that only about 40% of workers ever receive any recognition for a job well done."

Other low-cost, high-impact rewards might include:

  • Offering flexible scheduling, or an opportunity to work remotely
  • Increasing PTO in lieu of raises your company might not be able to afford
  • Allowing for unpaid time off when appropriate
  • Offering a yoga class or wellness seminar at work

"It's important to match the reward to the employee, keeping in mind generational and individual differences," says Ferron. "Younger employees tend to value additional free time, older employees like to have their company loyalty and tenure acknowledged, but even there don't assume that one size fits all."

Make Your Workplace More Rewarding: Take Advantage of Your EAP Benefit

Need advice, inspiration or coaching on how to motivate your employees? Call 800.383.1908 and ask to speak to an EAP counselor or check out the helpful online tools and information available at the VITAL WorkLife website, including the articles listed below:

  • Creative Ways to Motivate Employees
  • Developing Self-Motivated Employees
  • Dos and Don'ts For Building A Can-Do Workforce
  • Giving High Fives
  1. To find these articles, go to, click on member login and enter your user name and password.
  2. On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
  3. In the shaded area at the top of the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Working," pull down to "Effective Manager" and explore the articles in the category "Employee Motivation and Recognition."

"Motivation For The Behaviors That Matter" an One-Hour Seminar

Efforts to motivate and engage employees are more important now than ever. The strained economy of the last few years, and the need for complex and rapid organizational changes, have left many employees less productive and less passionate about their work.

Designed for managers, supervisors and HR professionals, this session will assist participants in motivating employees for increased productivity, creativity, health and success.

VITAL WorkLife senior consultant Liz Ferron, MSW, LICSW, will provide tips for utilizing low- and no-cost incentives, rewards and recognition programs that appeal to all generations and levels within the organization, as well as establishing a work culture where employees can thrive. You'll learn to:

  • Recognize current workplace stresses and their impact on employees
  • Understand the important role of direct supervisors and managers in motivating employees
  • Identify motivational strategies for fiscally-challenging times

Date and Time: Wednesday, April 13, noon to 1 pm CT

Cost: $59

To Register: Space is limited, so please register as soon as you know you'll be able to attend by clicking here.

This program has been approved for 1 (general) recertification credit hour toward PHR, SPHR and GPHR recertification through the HR Certification Institute. Please be sure to note the program ID number on your recertification application form. We will provide these numbers to you upon request and completion of the program. For more information about certification or recertification, please visit the HR Certification Institute website at

Pathways to Well Being Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908

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