Effective Ways To Reward Employees

Got some performance problems and looking for a quick fix ... like finding new ways to reward employees, so they'll do what you want fast? Well there's some good and some bad news.

Yep, dangle those carrots in front of their noses and you'll probably get people to do things differently ... but you won't get them doing it for the long term. And, it is unlikely you'll ever get them to perform at the peak of their capability.

To inspire people to consistently ... especially over a long period ... give their best requires, far more than any single reward program can deliver.

There are probably two main reasons why you want some employee recognition ideas or are looking for ways to reward your employees.

  1. Because you want to say thanks for a job well done, or
  2. To induce people to perform at a higher level than they might otherwise.

Whilst on the surface it may seem, that "to say thanks" is the more noble reason for introducing an employee reward program, both of the above reasons have flaws and challenges.

Ultimately, both reasons keep alive the transactional leadership model found in many command and control style organizations: 'Do this and you'll get that'. It's a form of control and manipulation ... it just so happens that the cuffs are golden.

Find Ways To Reward Employees That Avoid Someone Standing in Judgement

Of their very nature most reward programs, require someone to stand in judgement over:

  • who 'deserves' to be rewarded,
  • what should be rewarded ... effort or results,
  • whether the team or the individual should be rewarded,
  • how much the reward is worth.

How does it feel to you when you are being judged? When you are waiting to find out if someone else has decided if you've been 'good' enough to 'win' the prize?

How much more powerful is it, when an individual takes responsibility for judging his/her own performance, against the goals/standards/targets they've previously set?

In fact, in one company I worked with, we were frustrated that all the employee recognition ideas and programs we had tried seemed to just end up not delivering what we hoped.

So, we set up a reward program that enabled people to choose something that they would like to reward themselves with, when they felt they deserved it.

It was up to the individual, to communicate to his/her team, what s/he did and what s/he was going to reward him/herself with. Certainly it led to some robust discussions among team members!

But, ultimately the program was about them accepting self-responsibility for monitoring their own performance and rewarding themselves accordingly.

And, yes they were a long way down the path of self-reliance. We could have as much contemplated this system when they were at Stage 1 of team maturity as if we would have contemplated flying them all to the moon!

There are many ways to reward employees that result in short term improvement.

Certainly, from your own experiences you will know that given enough inducement, (or threat), you can generally get people to change their behavior and their performance. So, in the short-term, absolutely reward programs do work. (You can strengthen your understanding if you download the e-book "How To Motivate Employees".

What About Ways to Reward Employees That Give Long-Term Improved Performance?

What happens when you run out of rewards? Or when the reward becomes an expectation rather than an unexpected gift? Will you continue to get the performance level you desire? Probably not. This is where, and why, the vast majority of reward programs fail.

A leader who is committed to the long-term success of his/her business will dig deeper ...

Will want to answer questions such as:

  • Why do I need to bribe my people to perform at a higher level?
  • What is it in our systems, our procedures, our culture our set-up that is causing us to feel the need to put in a reward program?
  • How can I design the work so that people find reward in simply doing the work, rather than needing an external motivator?

Are these easy questions to answer? Of course not! Which is why most organizations look for quick and easy ways to reward employees. Reward programs which provide almost instantaneous results ... but generally not long-lasting solutions.

It is far more challenging to look at what may be causing people to under-perform, and then change systems, so that the work people do, provides them with the intrinsic desire to perform at high levels.

The Ways To Reward Employees That Go Far Beyond Reward & Recognition Programs:

To encourage your people to be intrinsically motivated, rather than relying upon external bribes, you could look at making sure your work environment has great strength in areas such as:

Work Content

  • Meaningful
  • Variety and Diversity in what they do
  • Challenging Work
  • Involvement in Decision-Making


  • Opportunity for Advancement or New Career Directions
  • Regular and on-going Training & Development
  • Employment Security


  • Flexible work hours
  • Ability to Work from Home
  • Excellent Employee Facilities


  • Base Salary
  • Bonus
  • Share Ownership

Does Praise Improve Performance?

Dam**nd if you do dam**nd if you don't!


Praise is a mixed bag. Most people want it, but ultimately they also resent it. Subconsciously they'll be thinking "Who are you to make judgment about me!"

One of the measures of self-esteem, is whether a person requires praise in order to feel good about their performance. Unfortunately, most people's self-worth is so poorly developed that they don't trust their own opinion of their worth, and seek acknowledgement from others.

One of the greatest gifts you can give to your people is to guide them in how to value their own opinion. To be able to value their own praise for a job well done. Then they won't need to look for external recognition.

I used to say to the team members that reported to me: "You need to get good at acknowledging yourself and your own efforts. Because, as a self-managing team there often won't always be a 'boss' around to give you, positive feedback or even notice how well you've done." Read more about bringing a team through the stages of team development from Start-Up to Self Managing.

So, even though we'd love it, if people would self-praise more... we still need to do so. Use these guidelines, to praise, but in a way that inspires and empowers.

Praise Guidelines

  1. Avoid putting yourself in the judges seat. For example, rather than "I am so pleased with ..." it is far more empowering to say "You must be so pleased with ..."
  2. Praise the person's behavior not them. Rather than, "You are such a great team player", it would be better to say, "You support the team well when you ..."
  3. Adding to the previous - make it specific! The person should know exactly what it is you are praising. Rather than, "You are well prepared for meetings" it is stronger if you say, "The meetings run smoothly because you have prepared the agenda, posted it early to attendees and you make sure whatever materials are needed are on hand."

Ways To Reward Employees Who Have to Do Boring Tasks

Many people work in jobs that are not necessarily the best paying in the world, but remain because they love the job they are doing and/or the environment in which they are doing it ... you may have to wonder why.

Certainly in every organization, in fact in every society, there are tasks that are inherently boring, repetitive or even distasteful. Rather than manipulate a person through rewards into performing the task, it is much more respectful and certainly less manipulative, if you:

  1. Acknowledge that the task is probably one that is not intrinsically desirable
  2. Remind the person how this task fits into the bigger picture and its importance
  3. Empower the person to manage how the task will be performed

Read Part 2 of this article where we take a look at the things to be aware of that could cause any reward and recognition program to create problems and demotivate rather than inspire great performance

Have Your Say

How is the rewards program at your workplace working? Is it helping or hindering performance?

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