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Plan to Reward and Recognize Your Employees in 2014

The last several years have been financially challenging for many employers. There has been little money left after paying operating expenses, payroll, etc. to use to reward and recognize employees for a job well done.  What employers fail to realize is that they don’t necessary need money to reward and recognize employees.  Employees understand when finances are limited and respect employers even more when they find creative ways to reward and recognize them. However, when extra money is available, it is always a good idea to remember that employees are an asset to your organization and you should reward and recognize them accordingly.


If you have not had the opportunity to read Bob Nelson’s book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, I strongly suggest that you do so soon.  The job market is beginning to return to where it was prior to the recession of 2008-2009 and employers are beginning to lose their high performers to competitors and other industries.  So, what is your organization doing now to try and motivate and retain its high performing employees?


Nelson’s book focuses on both informal and formal rewards and recognition.  As Aubrey Daniels, a leading authority on performance management explains, “You reinforce behaviors and reward results.”  So, for informal or spontaneous rewards, you want to:

1.) Match the reward to the person.

2.) Match the reward to the achievement.

3.) Be timely and specific in giving the reward. 


Informal rewards are either no-cost recognition or low-cost rewards. Some of the most effective forms of recognition cost nothing at all. The power of positive reinforcement is all that some employees need to foster even greater motivation.  Employees want to feel that what they do makes a difference in the organization.  So recognizing them for a job well done is important and should reflect their achievement.  Ideas include:

  • Placing a thank you note on the employee’s office door for all to see.
  • Managers volunteering to do an employee’s least favorable work task for a day.
  • Simply publically thanking the employee for a job well done.
  • Providing the employee who has made a major contribution to the company with a bravo card to place in their office or placing all bravo cards in the break room for all employees to view.


Part of the power of informal rewards comes from the knowledge that someone took the time to notice the achievement or accomplishment, sought out the person responsible and personally delivered the praise in a timely manner.  Public recognition activities, paid time off, providing free company merchandise and apparel, bringing in food at lunch time and fun and entertaining celebrations are all informal rewards that don’t have to cost much money for the organization and will reward and recognize employees for their accomplishments.


According to Nelson, other types of informal rewards may include cash, cash substitutes and gift certificates or cards. The problem with giving cash is that employees may use it to pay a bill and will simply forget that it was a reward.  Cash substitutes are coupons or points that may be traded for products, items that employees need or want. Giving cash substitutes allows the employee flexibility in deciding how to use the reward. Examples of cash, cash substitute and gift certificates or cards include:

  • Write on the spot checks to employees who are doing a good job.
  • Present in-person to every employee a $25 check on their birthday or anniversary date.
  • Offer silver dollars or gold coins for good work, safety record or attendance.
  • Periodically give $20 bills to an employee or groups of employees who excel.
  • Place small amounts of cash with a personal “thank you” note inside an employee’s drawer.
  • Provide gift certificates or cards to restaurants, grocery and retail stores, movie theaters, gas stations, etc. to employees who do something that is above and beyond what is expected in their jobs.


According to Nelson, formal rewards are a company’s initiated programs most commonly used to maintain motivation throughout the organization.  They include things like: multi-level reward programs, contests, special events or travel, education or personal growth opportunities, advancement and increased responsibility, stock ownership, involvement in charity and social responsibilities and health and wellness benefits. Most formal rewards require more administrative responsibility and a greater expense on behalf of the company. Examples include:

  • Have a system where employees may be awarded coupons or points for doing a good job. Managers distribute the coupons or points to employees who excel. Employees may then redeem the coupons or points for different items as a reward, e.g. company merchandise, televisions, DVD players, sound systems, coffee makers and other small appliances, watches, etc.
  • Hold a contest to select employees to appear in company commercials or advertisements.
  • Provide season tickets to a local sporting event or concerts.
  • Provide points to be used towards a Caribbean vacation only to be taken during cold months of the year.
  • Allow employees to volunteer at a local homeless shelter, community center or food bank during work hours and pay them for their time.
  • Provide memberships at a local fitness center.

Formal rewards are useful for formally acknowledging significant accomplishments, especially as they span a long period of time.  They can also lend credibility to more spontaneous, informal rewards used daily by managers in an organization. When determining rewards and recognition a good rule of thumb to follow is:  For every four informal rewards (e.g., a thank you), there should be a more formal acknowledgment (e.g., a day off from work), and for every four of those, there should be a still more formal reward (e.g., a plaque or formal praise at a company meeting), leading ultimately to such rewards as raises, promotions and special assignments.


Implementing both informal and formal rewards and recognition takes time and administrative energy in order to make them effective.  Catherine Meek, President of Meek and Associates, offers guidelines to make reward and recognition programs effective:

  • The programs should reflect the company’s values and business strategy.
  • Employees should participate in the development and execution of the programs.
  • The programs can involve cash, noncash or both.
  • Since what is meaningful to you may not be meaningful to someone else, the programs should encompass variety.
  • The programs should be highly public.
  • The programs have a short life span and must be changed frequently.


So, if you plan to increase your reward and recognition events in order to motivate and retain high performers during 2014, make sure that you pick up a copy of Nelson’s book today.  This is one of the best resources on the topic that you will find, is an easy read and it will provide you with many ideas that will assist you with motivating and retaining your workforce during 2014 and beyond.


Written By: Kristen Shingleton Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP

President, New Focus HR LLC


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New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.