How to recognize and reward employees for their hard work, even in tough times Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2010
How to recognize and reward employees for their hard work, even in tough times

The recession has caused many businesses to cut back on expenses in many areas, including raises. While your employees may deserve raises, you may not have the money there to provide them with monetary recognition. Despite spending decreases, it’s important to recognize your employees’ hard work through other means of compensation.

“Employees are concerned and consumed with the prospect of reduced salaries, temporary layoffs or job losses,” says M.J. Helms, director of operations for The Ashton Group. “Now is the time to retain your super stars. You can attract and retain employees by offering rewards in exchange for time and effort.”

Smart Business spoke with Helms about how to recognize employees, how to keep track of employee performance for recognition and rewards, how to help employees understand the recognition tools, and how to use these tools to leverage your company during the hiring process.

What are the benefits of rewarding and recognizing your employees?

Recognition helps reinforce the actions and behaviors you most want to see people repeat. An effective employee recognition system is simple, immediate and powerfully reinforcing. When employees feel like they matter, they’re much more willing to give their all for your company.

When you praise employees, you let them know you’re aware of their hard work. You acknowledge they’ve put forth a great effort to accomplish something and you’re celebrating that accomplishment with them. It shows that you don’t necessarily need to spend money to make someone feel valued and appreciated.

How can you recognize employees for their hard work?

Employee recognition is not just a nice thing to do for people; it’s a communication tool that reinforces and rewards the most important outcomes people create for your business. You need to show your employees the value they add to the team and point out specific instances where they went above and beyond the call of duty. Recognition, such as identifying one employee each month who has gone above and beyond, needs to be a planned activity. Giving someone a pat on the back in private may make that employee feel good for a few minutes, but taking time to recognize that person during a staff meeting in front of his or her peers will extend that good feeling into days, if not weeks. This also entices others to strive for the same reward. You can even do something as simple as having a Wall of Fame in your office to post pictures of employees and their accomplishments.

How do you keep track of employee performance so you know whom to recognize?

Reward those who make a difference. Keep a personal log of significant contributions your employees make to your company from day one. For example, how they saved the company money or boosted sales, how they handled a project successfully from start to finish or how they showed leadership under pressure. Use as many details as possible, with corresponding data. Remember to base their salary increase on the contributions made to the company.

If you don’t have the funds for bonuses or raises, you may want to consider offering other incentives like flextime, extra vacation time, stock options or telecommuting from home. Even if you cannot offer your employees pay increases, it’s important to show them you are sensitive to the tough times. Find ways to help them, short of spending more money on a raise right now, but always acknowledge they do deserve a raise if the money were there. Taking that approach and working with your employees will allow you to retain and motivate good employees.

You can also include employees in your company productivity planning; you might be surprised at the ideas they may bring forward. Those employees will feel more engaged and appreciated in the company, instead of discouraged because they are not receiving pay increases. Establish criteria for what performance or contribution in the meeting constitutes employee rewards. Ask employees to come to the meetings prepared with suggestions and ideas for increased productivity for the company.

How can you help employees understand the use of these recognition tools instead of pay increases?

There is always room for employee reward and recognition activities that build positive morale in the work environment — you just have to work on these programs. For example, you could have company lunches on Fridays, or prize drawings for those employees who met their goals for the week. Or give your team members who go above and beyond a new job title. Job titles don’t always mean more money, but sometimes receiving a title means more than getting a few more dollars in the paycheck. It show that’s you’re pleased with their performance.

How can you use these tools to leverage your company during the hiring process?

Point out to the potential employee your company recognition program and show you are committed to your employees’ well-being. A well-designed peer recognition program promotes organizational values. Candidates will want to work for a company that recognizes employees for their hard work.

M.J. Helms is the director of operations at the Ashton Group. Reach her at (706) 636-3343 or mj@ashtongrp.com.