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Rewards and Recognition During Covid-19 and the Holidays

As the year 2020 comes to an end, employers are figuring out how to support their employees after what has been a tumultuous year.  Employees who have been dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, and now the holidays, are feeling the stress. A report from employee experience software company Limeade, Workplaces in Crisis: Employee Care Missing the Mark, was released in October 2020 and based upon the input from 1,000 full-time U.S. employees the authors found:

  • 49% report having less energy for nonwork activities.
  • 42% said they were less interested in socializing with friends.
  • 42% were having trouble sleeping.
  • 33% reported using more alcohol or other substances than usual.

So, what should employers do to help to relieve some of the stress that their employees are experiencing, specifically during the current pandemic and the upcoming holidays?  Utilizing rewards and recognition programs will help. In the book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, author Bob Nelson 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:

  • Match the reward to the person,
  • match the reward to the achievement and
  • be timely and specific.

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 full organization meeting), leading ultimately to such rewards as raises, promotions and special assignments.

Daniels also recommends that leaders be held accountable for effectively recognizing employees and those organizations avoid using blanket or “silver bullet” approaches to motivation.  “Jelly bean” motivation – giving the same reward to every member of the organization – not only does not inspire employees to excel, but it may actually damage performance as top achievers see no acknowledgement of the exceptional job they have done.

Catherine Meek, President of Meek and Associates, offers guidelines to make reward and recognition programs effective:

  • The programs should reflect the organization’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, here are some examples of both short and long-term forms of rewards and recognition as well as informal and formal rewards that employers may implement in order to support and help to relieve some of the stress that their employees are experiencing, specifically during the pandemic and the upcoming holidays.

  • Check-in with your employees frequently either in person or via telephone and inquire as to how they are doing both personally and professionally. Make time for small talk and take an interest in what they are saying and experiencing. The frequency of communication with employees goes a long way towards helping them to feel like they are cared for by their employer.
  • Allow flexibility in jobs where that will work in order to benefit both the employee and the organization. As families are trying to find a new normal, especially with children who are home from school, employees may need to work during off hours in order to get their jobs done. Employees will not only appreciate this, but the employer may get more productivity in the long run.
  • Write hand-written notes to employees to truly express your organization’s gratitude for their service.  Hand-written notes are more personal compared to emails and show employees that that they are truly appreciated.
  • Encourage employees to use their paid time off (PTO), vacation leave, personal days, etc. even if it is in small increments and let them totally decompress from their job while away. If employees do not have any paid time off, allow them to take the time without pay, but only if that does not add to their stress.
  • If your organization does not have paid holidays. Offer to pay employees for the upcoming holiday for the normal number of hours that they would have worked on a non-holiday. This will be a welcome surprise and appreciated by most!
  • Offer additional paid time off days or floating holidays to be used at the choice by the employee. For those who have vacation times planned and/or use their paid time off for other personal reasons, this may be an additional benefit that is received positively by employees.
  • Hand out spontaneous rewards, such as gas, grocery, or restaurant gift cards, small office-related items, etc. in order to recognize an employee and/or team for excelling at something important within their job. Items that include the organization’s logo are always memorable gifts for employees.
  • Surprise employees with a personal gift for them and/or that may be shared with their families and have it delivered directly to their homes. Dessert or fruit of the month clubs are always welcome!
  • Conduct frequent video conferencing sessions with your remote employees and talk about personal things that are impacting their lives instead of just concentrating on the business at hand. Order lunch and have it delivered to their remote work site so that you may all have lunch together.
  • Host virtual health and wellness classes that are sponsored by your organization.  Classes like yoga, kickboxing, spinning, and Zumba are favorites and may get employees involved.  This also helps to build team dynamics by doing something together outside of work.
  • Stock the organizations freezer with ice cream, popsicles, frozen fruit, etc. and encourage onsite employees to indulge. This is obviously not the time to have a pitch-in lunch, but offering frozen snacks to employees is a nice gesture to help them escape from their work for a few minutes.
  • Conduct a virtual party for all employees. Set aside an hour of paid time for all employees to participate. Invite them to bring their favorite beverage or appetizer, wear a silly hat or sweater, or play a game that may be done virtually for all. Keep the mood light and fun and don’t expect that everyone will participate. This doesn’t have to be done for this upcoming holiday season and could be done at any time of the year. How about a Valentine’s Day or President’s Day virtual party?
  • Offer employees who have been with your organization for a long period of time, a month long paid or unpaid sabbatical to deal with their personal needs, as appropriate.
  • If the organization’s finances allow, give employees a discretionary bonus at the end of the year and gross it up for taxes so that they are actually getting the amount stated. Remember, if the bonus is expected, a nondiscretionary bonus, the employer may need to include the bonus amount in the employee’s hourly wage rate for the entire year, thus increasing any overtime hourly rate. Discretionary bonuses, or those that are not expected and do not have to be included in an employee’s overtime rate per the guidelines of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • Remember to prioritize well-being in the organization’s benefit plans. If the organization offers an employee assistance plan (EAP) through their medical insurance or as a standalone service, remind employees that the service is available to them and possibly for their dependents to use in a confidential manner at any time of need. Most EAPs also have referral services to legal, financial, and medical services, as needed.
  • Encourage employees to take mental and physical breaks and to exercise and participate in other non-work-related activities in order to reduce anxiety and improve productivity. While gyms and spas may be closed due to the pandemic, just getting outside and taking a walk, or riding a bike may be helpful?

Now is the time for leaders to show empathy and leadership more than ever.  Employees are obviously feeling a sense of heightened stress right now about their health, their families, their jobs, and possibly their financial futures.  Leaders who show that they are concerned and care are also able to help boost mental spirits. Proving effective rewards and recognition to all employees will aid leaders in making sure that they are not only supporting the appropriate mental health of their employees, but also helping to increase productivity within their own organizations.

During this holiday season and through the remaining months of the pandemic, keep the humanity of your employees in mind.  With so much going on, it can be easy to forget the personal struggles and stressors that people are feeling and dealing with on a daily basis.  The more that we keep this in mind, the more likely we will be successful in finding ways to support the most precious assets within our organizations, our employees.

For additional information on workplace rewards and recognition, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.

Written by:    Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP






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.