Customer reward schemes are serious business, and for good reason. You want to retain loyal customers and make them feel valued. The more special they feel, the more they reward you with repeat business.
The same principle applies to rewarding your employees.
Rewarding employees is slightly tricky. You don’t want to be ‘that guy’ that hands out book tokens, but you might also not want to buy everyone a new car for Christmas.
The act of rewarding is getting complicated too. Millennials prefer workplaces that show sincere interest in employees as people (not just workers) and who put effort into rewarding good work, according to the Great Workplaces Special Report. Rewarding employees needs to be more interactive than ever, combining material reward with recognition of good work.
How can I make employee rewards awesome and not lacklustre?
Propellernet, a Brighton-based search marketing agency, turns rewarding employees to an art-form. They’ve been listed in the top 10 of great workplaces for three years running by the Great Place to Work Institute. They have a Dream Ball system where each employee writes down a dream and submits it into a dispenser. Every time they hit a milestone or benchmark, one is chosen at random and the company works to make the dream come true.
For example, one employee took her entire family skiing. Another got to hike across Africa. Another ran a sci-fi rock opera.
It’s the stuff of workplace dreams, quite literally. Propellernet’s system might not be possible for everyone, but it demonstrates that rewarding employees can be creative, effective and memorable. Propellernet also offers sabbaticals to employees of five years and organises wellness retreats for its workers.
This system offers obvious benefits - employees will stay longer to take advantage of long-term rewards and in the hope of having their dream made reality. The corporate culture is also friendly and engaging, so graduates and other high-calibre candidates will be attracted to it as a workplace.
So make a start by changing your mindset. Think of the reward system as an incentive system, not just a pat on the back. There’s nothing wrong with incorporating the two, so long as you control the possibility of malicious competitiveness.
What can I do to reward my employees creatively and effectively?
#1: Say Thank-You
Whether it’s a personal email or face-to-face, try approaching your employees and just rolling out the good old-fashioned “thank-you”. According to PWC, 41% of millennial workers like to be recognised for their work on a regular basis and feel a cohesive, team-friendly work environment is crucial to work happiness.
#2: Get Personal
For really big companies, it might be tough, but try to learn people’s names. Addressing someone by name in meetings will make them feel valued enough to be remembered, and adding their name to your emails, memos and so on rather than just “dear employee” will make them feel even more special.
#3: Get Creative With Working Hours
Try flexitime to suit employees with families and other commitments, or give everyone an impromptu Friday afternoon off or double lunch hour. The freedom to fit work around life commitments will let employees know you care about their lives as a whole.
#4: Long Weekend
Go a step further and knock off Friday completely. This will give employees a chance to take a mini-break or visit relatives. Ryan, a tax services firm, dropped to a four day working week and has seen their turnover drop from 30% to 11%, doubled profits, high client satisfaction and “best place to work” awards.
#5: Remember Everyone’s Birthday
Sending a small, personalised memo wishing them a happy birthday will brighten their day because not all bosses reach out on a special day. An automated reminder or Google calendar set up just for employee birthdays would be a free way of letting you know when to congratulate your employees.
It's the small things that make a huge difference.
Global employee wellbeing programmes often focus on perks and free food, which, although important, is not as effective as employees feeling sincerely appreciated for their work, according to a BCG report
#6: Free Day Ticket
Maybe on a randomised lottery system, or as an incentive, employees could win a day off of their choosing. Just make sure your resources team is on board so things move smoothly.
#7: Casual Clothes Day
Everyone loves hitting the office in jeans and flip-flops, or whatever else they feel comfortable in. Or maybe have a onesie day near the holidays. Go a step further if it’s right for the company and make casual wear the dress code instead of suits.
#8: Food Parties
Nothing boosts office morale like great food. Pay for a range of pizza to be delivered for lunch or provide gratuitous amounts of cake for everyone to enjoy. Just make sure the bins are empty with space for pizza boxes, cupcake wrappers and tons of dirty napkins.
Instead of a jar of two-year-old coffee granules, fork out and get a posh coffee machine for the office. The extra bit of luxury in everyone’s pick-me-up will keep them working longer and happier.
#10: ...and Milk
Keeping the office kitchen well stocked is an easy way to keep employees happy. It’s not really their job to go out and get milk. While you’re there, offer some fruit or basic snacks to keep people’s minds on their work and not their hunger.
#11: Impromptu Brunch
Hit the mid-morning slump with pastries and Starbucks, or whatever’s just around the corner. The unexpected treat will get everyone smiling, talking, and ready to tackle the day again.
Flowers are simple, thoughtful and carry a big message. An employee whose gone beyond the call of duty, or whose celebrating a work anniversary, will appreciate coming into work and finding a bunch of flowers at their desk with a little handwritten note from you.
#13: Fire Up YouTube
Put together a short video on your company YouTube channel about your employee of the month or whoever it is you’re rewarding. It doesn’t have to be long - a minute is more than adequate - but the extra effort will be appreciated.
#14: Lottery Tickets
Even though the odds are stacked against you, getting someone a lottery ticket is a simple, exceptionally cheap way of potentially changing their lives. While the chance of them winning is remote, the thought counts.
#15: Company Credits
Reward great employee behaviour with company credits, a made-up currency they can use at the end of the year to get some company merchandise or gifts.
#16: Prime Parking Spot
If you have company parking, fighting for prime spots can be fierce. Reward someone who's met and exceeded their goal with a private space, named, so they never have to fight for the space they want again. Just be sure to ask where they like - some people want to be right next to the door, and others prefer to be near the car park exit.
#17: Wall of Fame
A simple, public way of rewarding stellar employees. Depending on company culture and size, you could put this in the office for all to see, or in the lobby, or in the break room - whatever suits you.
#18: Editorial in the Company Newsletter
It might be a physical newsletter or an eNewsletter. Either way, feature the employee of your choice and include a mini-interview with them. Company news is great, but including personal extras is not only great for the employee concerned, but gives everyone something fresh and heartwarming to read.
#19: Employee of the Month
This might be based on a voting system, or quota results, or recommendations from management. Either way, give someone recognition at the end of every month for their hard work.
#20: Shout-outs in Meetings
This might be a company-wide meeting or just for the c-suite. Name the employee that’s done so well and congratulate them in front of their peers and their management. This will make them feel appreciated and keep them at the forefront of the company mind for promotions and other recognitions.
#21: Press Release
Go a step further and tell the world! Maybe you’re launching a new product and this employee has spearheaded it, or they’ve secured a new deal or partnership. Mention them by name, prominently, and frame it for them to keep.
#22: Website Hall of Fame
Customers will almost certainly research your company online, and finding you appreciate your employees enough to do public shout-outs will speak volumes about your culture and temperament. If you reward your employees like this, then you must treat customers brilliantly.
Your company's 'About Me' or 'Team' page says a lot about your culture.
If you have the space, name a room after a particularly striking employee. Or maybe they’ve acted as tea and coffee maid for years, and they really deserve the kitchen to be named after them. Plaques have more permanence than a Wall of Fame and will definitely elicit a smile.
#24: Comfortable, Working Chairs
Sitting at an office all day can ruin your back and cause chronic pain. Updating everyone’s chairs to something more comfortable and supportive will do wonders for morale and everyone’s aching backs. It’s a thoughtful gesture that will make everyone so much happier. The Omnicore Agency has a list of ergonomic chairs for every budget.
#25: Concert / Plane / Show Shout-out’s
If your employee is going to see a concert or go on a trip, make contact with the vendor and ask if they’ll do a quick shout-out to the employee as a surprise. Most vendors are happy to do this.
Sometimes employees have to attend training or conferences. Make sure they’re paid for and well-kept - as well as the hotel, maybe pay for room service or a massage while they’re there. They’ll rave about you and the company at the training and conferences and you’ll enjoy great reputation with little effort.
#27: Extracurricular Activities
If an employee has always wanted to take a mixology class but never got the chance, pay for them to go. Maybe they’d like to try making sushi, or kitesurfing, or horse-riding. Get everyone to put their dream in a pot, like Propellernet, and draw it at the end of every month or quarter to suit your budget.
#28: Dinner Out
Make a pact to not talk about work and take your stellar employee out to lunch or dinner. Let them choose from a list and enjoy getting to know your employees in a non-work environment. You might find they’ve actually got experience in something unexpected, like social media or image retouching, that you can talk about next time you’re at work together.
Remember the chair gift? Go a step further and get a masseuse or chiropractor in, or book for an employee to go.
#30: Bring the Dog
Everyone loves this one. Make sure no-one’s critically allergic first, but then allow people to bring in well-behaved pets. There might be a bit of an office distraction but everyone will be in great spirits.
#31: Commute Help
Pitch in towards employee commutes. Train fares and taxis can be seriously expensive so get passes for your employees or sort out a stipend to go towards the cost of getting to and from work.
#32: Car Wash
If they’re drivers, get their cars washed while they’re at work.
#33: House Clean
You might need to do some digging, but pay for someone to clean their house while they’re at work to save them another job when they get home after a long day.
#34: Magazine Subscription
Everyone loves a good read during their break or commute. Find out what they like to read and get them a personal subscription - one employee might want Top Gear, and another might like something niche for their particular field.
#35: Charity Pinboard
Get a pinboard or whiteboard and allow your employees to put up memos about causes they believe in, marathons they’re running, sponsored events and so on. Coworkers can then get involved with sponsorship and support, and get the company involved with charity.
#36: Shopping Challenge
If you’ve reached a goal or an employee had risen to the challenge, give them a sum of money they have to spend on themselves in a period of time - lunch or an hour after work, then bring them back to find out what they’ve bought. As well as a sweet gift, their haul will give you a good idea of what they like and what their hobbies are, which you can use for future rewards.
#37: All the Gear
Hold a design content for company apparel - maybe t-shirts, gym gear or warm hoodies. Then reward the winning design with free clothing, and use the apparel at sponsored events or special days.
These rewards can be expensive or totally free. You can chop and change to suit you, your budget and your company.
Forging a reputation as a company that treats its employees well comes with another benefit - you’re going to have applicants knocking down your door to work with you. The more satisfied they are, the more they’ll rate your company and the longer they’ll stay.
Propellernet prides itself on its employee care and corporate culture, and it has become a great selling point. If rewarding employees can put you in the news, then it’s worthwhile both for you and your workforce.