Show me the rewards

Recognition and rewards key to attracting and retaining employees

It was a dark and stormy night.

Or, more likely, it’s a normal workday in your company, and management is mystified about why the best employees keep slipping through their fingers. They’ve offered more money, flexible schedules, on-site childcare — but nothing seems to hold employees. Now, they’re looking to HR for answers.

It’s time to think seriously about what will keep and attract good people. Maybe it’s time to consider employee recognition and rewards. We’re not talking about a token coffee mug thrown in after five years, but a substantial, meaningful rewards and recognition program. Companies with just such a program say it’s the missing piece in the puzzle of employee retention, motivation and attitude.

Feeding the rabbit within
Let’s begin by taking a look at Sharon, a young Canadian woman just entering the workforce. According to workforce statistics, over the next several decades she will change careers at least once, and will change jobs about eight to 10 times. Many of her job changes will be for just pennies more an hour.

Ask her why she jumps ship every few years and chances are Sharon will admit that she’s not seeking riches and power but recognition of her professional contributions.

Unfortunately, most organizations have no idea how under appreciated workers feel, and many still wonder why so many employees leave. While many of these companies compete for employees with pay, promotions and other enticements, too often employees are looking for something simpler: they want recognition. Ignore that human longing for “carrots,” and you fall prey to a hard statistic: 79 per cent of employees who resign their positions cite “perceptions of not being appreciated” as a key reason for leaving, a 1997 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management showed.

For a company trying to stay ahead in a competitive world, this decline in employee commitment could be the difference between corporate success and oblivion.

The good news
Some of Canada’s best companies have discovered that they can build employee commitment and productivity by making frequent, powerful emotional connections with their people. They have found the correlation between employee recognition and corporate success and are benefiting from well-documented increases in employee satisfaction, productivity and profitability.

But what makes up great recognition?
1. Strategic alignment
While it may sound mercenary to some, recognition is used for one reason — to drive more business. It’s a fact of life: every year costs rise, employees want raises, shareholders demand greater returns. This means the company must make more money every year. Thus, carrots should be dangled to:

•Improve profitability and productivity by helping employees understand company goals and what’s in it for them if they help meet those goals. (It’s vital to communicate often and be specific.)

•Reward achievements that further corporate values. Reward often with informal rewards and after special achievements with formal, lasting awards.

•Build a culture of recognition and make sure good employees know they are valued and needed. The formula is simple and time-tested: satisfied employees equal satisfied customers.

2. Great presentations
Skillful award presentations can turn ordinary, garden-variety carrots into solid gold. Remember back to the Sydney Olympic Games, when the unlikely hero Simon Whitfield won the triathlon for Canada. As he approached the finish line, Whitfield recalled that the only thing that kept him running through the agonizing pain was the thought of standing on that medal podium, listening to his national anthem and having the gold medal placed around his neck. Later he stood on that medal stand, his head buried in his chest, tears streaming down his face. What people remember, what Whitfield will always remember, is the presentation.

Corporate recognition awards can truly be enduring symbols of achievement, but the best organizations have learned that they must make a recognition event something memorable — with almost as much ceremony and emotion as an Olympic-medal event. Employees work just as hard for organizations as Whitfield did training for the triathlon. Every now and then, they want to be set up on a pedestal and have someone thank them for their contributions. They want to feel that someone is aware of the “thousand little things” they’ve done over the years that no one has ever acknowledged.

For presentations, remember to:

•talk about the company. Keep focused on the company’s goals and how the employee contributes to the organization’s success;

•be specific about the individual. Employees will replicate what they have been recognized for; and

•highlight the award. Just as Olympic medals carry significant meaning to an athlete, corporate awards that feature your logo or symbol can also have immense meaning to your employees.

3. Symbolic meaning
When people devote most of their waking hours to a company, they want to feel a connection. Your company’s logo can help make that connection.

A corporate symbol can be featured on a recognition award in a variety of ways — through engraving, stitching or embroidering or through the use of an emblem made of precious metals. In fact, when employees receive awards featuring their corporate symbol crafted in gold with diamonds or other fine gems, the awards become, in effect, corporate “gold medals.”

Another benefit: your employees will use symbolic awards for years to come, and every use will remind them of their achievement. Take the example of Don Campbell, a journeyman pipe fitter for Weyerhaeuser, a forest products company with 45,000 employees in Canada and the United States.

“I was in a restaurant in South Dakota on vacation and was wearing my 25-year Weyerhaeuser service award ring,” says Don. “A guy and his wife a couple of tables over said, ‘You work at Weyerhaeuser?’ And we started talking. I get that a lot. People notice it and they say, I understand that’s a great company to work for.”

Adrian Gostick is director of marketing and corporate communications and Chester Elton is national director of performance sales with O.C. Tanner Recognition Company. Gostick and Elton are the authors of the newly released book Managing with Carrots: Using Recognition to Attract and Retain the Best People. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]

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