Retain Staff by Rewarding Them

Firms across the country echo one common theme again and again: “How can we retain our current staff?” The question is a good one because firms certainly want to keep the talent pool they have, while also increasing their level of productivity. However, they seem to be clueless as to how to achieve the goal.

There have been many books written on the subject of retaining staff; however, in this article, we will look at one aspect only: rewarding staff. Why look at this one area, rather than so many others? If firms would really stop to think and plan the rewards for their current staff, the firm would be rewarded in turn with lower turnover rates and higher productivity from the very people they have in their staffing pools today!    

When a firm begins to explore the way they are rewarding their staff, they must start with the mindset that this is more than just a nice gesture. This system will be an effective way to drive performance and reinforce the behaviors that help the firm meet its objectives. Appropriate rewards can help you manage staff and connect the performance you desire with the individual staff behavior you are seeking. 

First, let’s stop for a moment and think about what the firm is trying to accomplish. A good reward program will develop the objectives for the firm before they start trying to throw stuff at the team in a haphazard way. In fact, if the staff perceives there is no thought behind what is being rewarded, it will be seen as a negative initiative, rather than a positive. Some possible reward criteria that should be considered are:

  • Productivity 
  • Customer service
  • Superior performance awards (usually for outstanding effort and achievement on a particular project)
  • Length of service (usually landmark anniversaries such as one, five 10, and 20 years of service, for example)
  • Retirement
  • Attendance (six months, or a year, without an absence, is the typically rewarded goal)
  • Employee-of-the-month programs

When owners think of reward systems, they typically put compensation at the top of the list. There's nothing wrong with that since few people are willing or able to work for free. But, the right strategy should also include mini rewards that will motivate throughout the year.

Once a decision is made about the behaviors that will be rewarded, the next step is to decide what you will offer as the reward. That sounds like the easy and fun part, right? Well, not really.  Rewards must match the personal preference of the staff member who is receiving the reward, or it simply will not be seen as positive. Be keenly aware of what the staff member wants, and then make the reward one that THEY will see as positive – not you. Consider just a few rewards that could be used from the list below:

  • Certificates
  • Plaques
  • Trophies or ribbons
  • Jewelry (pins, pendants)
  • Pens or desk accessories
  • Watches and clocks
  • Cash bonuses
  • Savings bonds
  • Tickets to sporting or cultural events
  • Vacation trips
  • Personal notes to employees – handwritten by a superior
  • Extra time off
  • A bulletin board to recognize employees through letters, memos and client correspondence
  • Surprise celebration that they are not expecting
  • A traveling trophy that goes each month to the employee exhibiting the greatest overall performance – behaviors and results – in the business.

These are only a few. Be creative, and if you can’t get in touch with your creative side, find someone who can. The more creative and individualized the reward is, the better it will be received by the staff member. 

Once you have decided what you will give the staff member, you must decide how to present the reward. This part of the process is almost as important as the reward itself. For the reward or recognition to mean anything, it must be given with sincerity and thoughtfulness. It must also be treated as special because that's what it is. It should not be treated as some necessary evil. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Recognizing an employee is not an end in and of itself; it's a means to an end — making the employee feel valued and reinforcing desirable behavior.

Generally, if something is worth recognizing, it is worth publicizing. Unless you have an employee who is extremely shy and introverted, a little celebration is a good way to bestow recognition, whether it takes the form of a plaque, bonus, certificate, or just some words of praise and a "thank you."

Here are some suggested ways to bestow recognition:

  • Bring donuts and coffee, and make the presentation during the morning staff meeting.
  • Set aside some time at a regularly scheduled (weekly, monthly or yearly) meeting to recognize achievements.
  • For more formal presentations, have a dinner.

If the employee is shy and likely to feel uncomfortable, you may choose to send an email message or a memo, publicizing the achievements of the employee, instead of having an in-person gathering.

Remember, while all of this sounds very positive – and, believe me, it is – staff reward programs can be very unrewarding if they are not planned and delivered in a positive way. The plaques, tchotchkes with logos, goofy contests and ham-handed presentations can backfire. It's not that they're all bad, but, too often, they seem like empty gestures supported by upper management, administered by less-than-enthused middle management and received by underwhelmed staffers. In other words, it's the thoughtlessness that counts.

A majority of the recognition programs that exist today "do more harm than good," says Curt Coffman, global practice leader at the Gallup Organization. His polls show that 71% of U.S. workers are "disengaged" – essentially clock-watchers who can't wait to go home. "We're operating at one-quarter of the capacity, in terms of managing human capital," he says. "It's alarming."

The only thing worse than negative recognition is insincere recognition. Even the most lavish gifts often don't engender the expected employee gratitude after an unceremonious delivery.

Take, for example, the firm manager that attended a seminar on how to reward and motivate his staff. The lesson he thought he learned was that he should take a few minutes every day to “walk around the office and give the staff some positive adulations.” He took the advice seriously, and at exactly 4:30 each day, put on his calendar, “Walk Around.” Then, he would proceed to walk around the office and tell each person that worked for him that he appreciated his or her effort and thanks. Well, you can imagine that the effort was less than enthusiastic, and the staff soon figured out that they were just another “to do” on his list each day. Needless to say, the gesture backfired!

Consider what would happen if this manager had really taken the advice that was handed out at the seminar and started handing out praise for good work throughout the office, randomly and sincerely. The staff would have started to see the change over time and felt the loyalty building within the team. 

Take on the challenge today. The formula for staff reward success is simple: THINK about what you want to reward, develop a PLAN for delivery and GROW your firm’s staff through rewards that really count. The reward for your firm will be worth the effort!