Employee recognition: Rewarding big is not necessarily best

Three motivated employees
Recognising achievement

What motivates one employee, may not even raise and eyebrow in another.

I have a two-year old daughter who has just transitioned from nappies to big girl pants. It was a challenge to find an appropriate reward for a successful trip to the bathroom. Too great the reward (e.g. chocolate) and she wanted to make that trip every five minutes; too little (e.g. a verbal ‘well done’) and she clearly didn’t feel it was worth the effort to make the visit at all. So, like many parents I settled with stickers and a reward chart. At first I was sceptical whether it would have the effect my peers promised, but I am now a convert; the power of the sticker cannot be underestimated.

The sticker approach

With children a sticker is a great way of recognising good behaviour. It’s accessible, inexpensive and an instant way to display to others how clever they’ve been. But what is the grown up equivalent? You don’t see many adults walking around adorned with smiley faced sticky labels. Perhaps they should; a post-it note with a scrawled ‘you were great at that presentation today’ applied to a lapel might be an interesting approach.

The sticker is not that different to the social media ‘like’; another accessible, inexpensive and instant way of showing appreciation. Whatever your opinion of that ‘like’ button, it does manage to evoke a strong emotional response from the recipient, a feeling of satisfaction that what they have said or done has been acknowledged, appreciated and endorsed by others. But the ‘like’ button it is not available to all situations. Maybe it should be.

Motivation disparity

Appropriate rewards for good work, effort and achievement are notoriously difficult to identify. What motivates one person, may not even raise and eyebrow in another. Whereas some people love public praise, others would prefer a more low key approach. At the end of the day, effective recognition is spontaneous, timely and fitting to the situation. It also needs to be consistent and fair.

This month at ORC we are focusing on recognition across our social media channels, and we look forward to discussing the different strategies that work in different organisations. But whatever your recognition strategy, keep the sticker analogy in mind. My daughter, after two weeks of stickers, is doing great. People don’t necessarily need big rewards, but a simple (and genuine) way of saying ‘well done’, ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’ can work wonders for motivation and performance.

About Lindsey Armstrong

Lindsey Armstrong is an employee engagement expert at ORC International. ORC International is a global research agency and leader in the art of business intelligence. Operating across four core sectors: employee research, customer research, markets and products and strategy research, it helps businesses explore, navigate and integrate insights to uncover what truly engages people.

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