Five Elements of a Successful Employee Rewards Program
Cindy Mielke|July 6th, 2020
The foundation of every employee rewards program is built on the central idea that recognizing employees in a meaningful way will empower them to do their best work. What elevates an employee rewards program and makes it successful is the inclusion of five key elements that increase employee engagement and collaboration while building trust.
Well-Intentioned, Destined to Fail
A company introduced the Employee High Five program to much fanfare. The committee that designed the program provided notecards on which an employee could give a peer a High Five. Employees could also nominate peers for a monetary reward. The committee would then review nominations and approve the ones with validity.
This program, while good intentioned was destined to fail. Here’s why:
Filling out a note card created unnecessary manual friction
Nominating someone for a monetary reward made employees feel removed from the thank you
Lag time between when the reward was given and when the committee would meet to approve nominations
A disconnect between then committee and the reason for the reward—unlike the peer or colleague who initially gave it
Needless to say, very few High Fives were given out and many blank notecards ended up in the recycle bin.
So, what are the elements of a successful employee rewards program? Here are five to consider:
1. Simple Is Better
There’s a universal rule for engagement: Simple is better. A program will achieve greater participation levels if it has the following features:
Simple to administer
Simple to understand
Simple to use
Three Focus Areas
Strive to simplify an employee engagement program in these three areas:
Engaging with a rewards program should be as easy and natural as using a mobile phone.
Have you ever been excited to participate in something but then felt overwhelmed by the tedious fine print of the rules and decided to not participate at all? Overwhelming employees with a long list of rules can lead to negative feelings about the program, making them less inclined to participate.
It’s best to establish clear, easy-to-follow rules that make sense for your program and build a foundation of trust with employees. Remember, every great employee program keeps the positive impact on employees center stage.
Marketing (but not how you think)
A lot of time can be spent designing the look and feel of an engagement program, including coming up with unique names and fun campaigns, even though that isn’t what employees care most about. They simply want to say thank you, give a reward, and know their colleague received it.
2. Take it Out of the Manager’s Hands
A common mistake is involving managers and executives in the approval of each reward. This makes sense on the surface because no one wants a program to go wildly over budget or endure rampant misuse of the rewards. The danger with adding more levels of approval, however, is that the program will be used less.
Although companies trust employees with financial details, trade secrets, and expense accounts—it’s rare for a company to trust their employees implicitly with rewards. But by doing so, an engagement program has a better chance for success.
3. Have a Budget but Don’t Be Too Strict
It’s critical to have a budget because, ultimately, a rewards program is an investment. By knowing what a company is willing to invest, it can more easily measure ROI.
The budget itself isn’t the measure of program success, however. There are larger themes to evaluate as part of the ROI of your program, such as:
4. Give Gift Cards and Give Choice
A common misconception is that rewards programs should offer specific and unique rewards. Each company has a unique culture, so shouldn’t the rewards match that?
Although this line of thinking makes sense on the surface, restricting reward options isn’t what employees want. It’s said that the thought is what counts, but ask anyone who’s received a gift they didn’t want, and they’ll tell you differently.
Employees like options and want to be the ones to choose the reward that best fits their need. One way to ensure employees are satisfied with their reward is to give them the number-one requested holiday gift for more than 12 years in a row: gift cards. Our gift card catalog allows employees to choose the gift card they want—leaving them with a positive experience.
5. Measure Effectiveness
Establishing the purpose of an engagement program at the outset, and being clear about what success looks like, are key to measuring effectiveness. Examples of program goals include:
Improve employee retention
Increase employee participation
Raise the level of employee satisfaction
Improve cross-team collaboration
Once the program purpose has been decided, it becomes possible to build metrics around the program to measure whether or not rewards are helping to achieve it.
Cindy is passionate about the incentive industry. In addition to her role as Director of Channel Marketing here at Tango Card, she is a Certified Professional of Incentive Management who proudly serves on two industry boards. When she’s not working, Cindy enjoys spending time with her family—including three cats, two dogs, and a horse—and sharing her love of nature as a Nebraska Master Naturalist.