Human Resources

  Best Em
 Practices A
For Pro


by Mary Griffin

   Layoffs, pay cuts and the general uncertainty of the economy have dramatically changed the workplace from earlier boom times. Few would argue that the downturn has taken its toll on our morale. Employees, doubting the stability of their jobs, may suffer from flagging productivity. What's more, with the market still tight for top talent, star players may be eyeing the door, particularly in troubled organizations.
   Facing these conditions, what's an employer to do?
   Employee achievement programs -- designed to reward and recognize employees for a job well done -- are considered by many employers to be an effective means of motivating and retaining staff.
   Employees of Gateway, the computer company, enjoy a program to recognize and reward their achievements, and report a high level of employee satisfaction. Intuit, the software and web-based services company, was recently recognized by Fortune's Best Companies to Work For, thanks to their culture which acknowledges employee achievement.
   In difficult economic times, achievement programs can be more valuable than ever.
   Clearly, while giving a pat on the back or a DVD player to an employee will not solve the problems of the current economic environment, a well-designed and carefully-implemented achievement program can help improve top-down communications, while rewarding your staff for their hard work and motivating them towards the future.
   When designing an achievement program, to elicit employee buy-in and participation, you must carefully define your policies.
   Above all, consider the objectives of your program: your program should reward and encourage exemplary behavior, but what kind of behavior? Do you want to improve factors such as productivity, quality, or teamwork?
   Further, your program should be fair, and you must be careful not to set unreasonable goals. Clearly, if you implemented a plan to reward for increased sales, only employees directly involved in the sales interface would benefit. Therefore, your programs should either have goals that all could attain, or different goals for different departments.
   What's more, you need to clearly spell out criteria for how employees can qualify for recognition. The more you define your criteria, the better, to reduce the chance of misunderstandings down the road.
   Now, the fun part � when considering what type of recognition to offer, think out-side the box. Forms of recognition should be defined by your company's culture, your employees, and, of course, your budget. Thankfully, with the wide range of award possibilities � and a little creativity -- you can create an affordable program.
   To help you get "in touch" with employee interests, you could appoint a team of managers and floor supervisors to brainstorm and help you define your rewards. Further, if you don't mind unveiling some of the secrets of your program, you can always survey employees directly to determine what types of recognition would inspire them the most.
   Employee awards can consist of either "intangibles," such as feedback and recognition, or "tangibles" such as monetary and merchandise awards.
   Intangible rewards include recognition from management, awards ceremonies or receptions, and newsletter or other announcements. Above all, regardless of the form of recognition, remember its function: to recognize achievement in a positive, genuine manner. Recognition should be offered in a significant and meaningful way, preferably in the presence of the employee's colleagues. Keep in mind, however, that more bashful employees might be embarrassed by these forums, so always offer an "out."
   Tangible rewards, on the other hand, raise some tricky issues, such as the question, �to cash or not to cash?'
   Critics are divided on the motivational value of cash. Some believe that cash is king; others claim that cash rewards do not correlate to motivation and have little "staying" power, since cash is soon spent � perhaps on quotidian expenses like bills or commuting -- and forgotten. Further, cash rewards are obviously costly, which creates a particular challenge for budget-conscious companies.
   Clearly, there will always be individuals who are motivated by cash rewards. However, if employees are driven solely by the promise of cash, your recognition program will fall short of its potential. However, if you can and want to offer cash rewards, you might consider a combination of both cash and non-cash rewards, to minimize the "cash driven" mentality.
   Non-cash options -- beyond the "traditional" mugs and t-shirts -- include gift certificates and the increasingly popular gift cards, a type of credit card with an assigned value redeemable for merchandise at a particular store. Perhaps the best thing about certificates and cards is that they allow the best of both worlds:

  • Choice, since employees can use them to get something they want
  • Staying power, since they encourage employees to splurge a little on an item which they will likely continue to associate with their award.

   Timing is another essential factor for rewards programs. While recognition can be offered on a spot, weekly, or monthly basis, accomplishments should be recognized regularly, as close as possible to when they occurred. The more timely you are in offering feedback, the better your chance of reinforcing good behavior. If you are stingy or hesitant about offering recognition, your employees will sense it, and you may weaken the impact of your program.
   Finally, after your achievement program is in place, follow through and monitor its success. To help justify expenses, track any improvements in areas your program intended to impact. Further, keep in touch with or survey your employees about what they think of the program, and make modifications where appropriate -- the last thing you want is an appreciation program that quickly runs out of steam.
   In all, creating a structured achievement program, being sincere in its delivery and maintaining its functionality can help retain and motivate employees, through tough times and beyond.