Give the People What They Want

By Malcolm Fleschner

It’s a question that good bosses are always fretting over: “What do my employees want, anyway? I mean, besides cable TV in the office break room.” Too often, however, today’s corporate managers come up with the wrong answers to this question. At least that’s the conclusion that employee recognition experts at Maritz Incentives have come to, based on the results of a recent poll the company conducted among more than a thousand full-time American employees nationwide.

Some of the poll’s more interesting findings include:

  • Only 27 percent of employees who say they would like to receive non-monetary recognition such as award merchandise, gift cards or trips are rewarded this way.
  • Only 27 percent who say they would like to be given symbolic awards (plaques, trophies, etc.) already receive this type of recognition.
  • Only 29 percent who prefer cash bonuses currently receive them.
  • Only 30 percent who want to be recognized during corporate recognition events currently are.
  • Only 40 percent who say they would like to receive written praise ever do.

As Mark Peterman, Maritz Incentive’s vice president for client solutions, points out, sometimes even companies that think they’re doing the right thing in employee recognition may be barking up the wrong motivational tree. “Managers know the power of positive reinforcement for a job well done, but this study shows that employees are motivated in vastly different ways and companies still have a long way to go to ensure their employees feel valued,” he says. “For example, consider public recognition. For some, being honored in front of one’s peers is a great award. For others, the thought of being put on display in front of their peers embarrasses them. It depends on the culture and preferences of your particular employee base.”

Based on the results of the poll, Maritz has developed six specific strategies that companies can use to maximize the chances that all employees will feel valued:

1. Give them options
Almost two-thirds of the poll’s respondents indicated that their company needs to offer employees a greater choice of reward options.

2. Train managers to motivate
Managers typically populate a company’s front lines when it comes to motivating the work force. Yet too often those managers have received little to no training in motivation or strategies for building an inspired team.

3. Ask around
Managers need to spend time with their employees, finding out what will motivate each of them most effectively. Do they prefer public or private praise? From whom should the recognition come? What type of reward system would they find most motivational? Then, use regular employee recognition surveys to make sure your efforts remain on track. The surveys should not be used to replace personal contact between managers and employees, however.

4. Freshen up
Sixty percent of the poll’s respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their company needs to update its recognition program by offering new and different awards. One way to achieve this is to create an advisory council composed of people from different levels and diverse areas of the company. It’s also important to keep up the chatter – don’t limit your communications with participants just to the program’s launch. Provide regular reminders to keep enthusiasm and awareness high.

5. Up and down the ladder
Cast a wide recognition net so that employees who don’t typically receive any recognition also get kudos from management for their important contributions.

6. Keep it coming
Recognition shouldn’t be a corporate fad that arrives with great fanfare, only to be quietly abandoned a few months later. Rather than running one “flavor of the month” program after another, establish one or two core incentives that deliver consistently, and then add on or rotate different short-term programs focused on specific, targeted corporate goals.