Technology, choice mark trend in recognition offerings

There's no rhyme or reason to what items employees are choosing for service and incentive awards: recognition vendors
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/20/2004


he total rewards mantra of flexibility is front and centre when it comes to the recognition piece of the reward puzzle.

Giving employees flexibility in choosing gifts makes a successful program, said Graig King, Canadian regional manager for recognition firm Terryberry Company.

There have been changes in recent years in how companies are handling awards, he said. Gone are the days when an employer would simply buy a bunch of watches to hand out to every employee to say, “Thanks for sticking around.”

Now most organizations are offering a wide variety of items — from traditional heirloom-type items like clocks and crystal to lifestyle items like hiking gear — so every employee is able to choose and find something they treasure, said King.

And regardless of the demographics of a company, there’s really no rhyme or reason in what items employees are choosing for service and incentive awards.

“It seems to be all over the board,” said King. “I can get a 20-year-old looking for a wall clock for the mantelpiece and a 50-year-old wanting to get a backpack. You’re only going to be successful if you offer that range.”

Technology is also playing a big role in how recognition firms are able to serve employers. King said the information technology end of the business has “exploded” in the last few years as technology has made it possible to take most of the administration of reward programs out of HR’s hands.

Once the program is setup, employees simply log on to the awards Web site, are told what they’re eligible for and shop for the item they want.

King recommends that all items have the company’s logo.

“This is a reward coming from the corporation, presented to the employee for outstanding performance or dedication, and it should be represented as such,” said King. “The employee had a say in what they chose, but it’s also something that reminds them, that says, ‘You’ve done 15 years of service with us and we appreciate that.’”

Something else he’s noticed in recent years is the decreasing importance of things like holiday parties as a forum to recognize employees. Because many recognition firms will ship orders as small as one item, employers can recognize individual employees on their actual hire date rather than waiting to do a group ceremony at the end of the year.

“It’s a real nice touch as opposed to being at a social function where everybody just wants to enjoy the social aspect of it,” said King. “It’s a way to keep the program alive and fresh in front of the employees by presenting items throughout the year.”

Gord Green, vice-president of business development at Rideau Recognition, said the industry has come full circle in a lot of ways over the last 20 years. He said while it’s important to include a wide variety of choices to employees, many of them still gravitate to traditional heirloom-type items — something that comes as a surprise to many organizations.

“I’ve done different employee surveys with some of our larger clients,” said Green. “If you talk to the middle management of any organization, they’ll all tell you that new employees aren’t interested in loyalty, not interested in heirloom stuff, not interested in corporate logos. What they’re interested in is fun and gadgety things.”

But when the polls and surveys come in from young employees, the voice from the under-30 crowd is often that they want something they can’t go out and buy.

“They don’t want a cell phone for a service award,” he said. “A VCR, if you don’t get it in your program, you’ll certainly go out and buy that for yourself. But a lot of things that have more lasting heirloom and sentimental value, you just don’t go out and purchase. Those are the things most employees and, surprising to some, that young employees are choosing.”

The amount of money firms spend on recognizing employees varies, but Green and King said for service awards it typically ranges from $10 to $30 per year of service, usually maxing out at the 25th year. So employees celebrating a five-year service anniversary would receive a gift in the $50 to $150 range and someone celebrating 25 years might get something in the $250 to $750 range.

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