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Picture yourself at a sporting event. What do we celebrate when we’re there? Here are a few examples… 

When our team wins the game. When our team scores points, especially when our favorite player scores. 

But we don’t stop there. We celebrate the smaller moments throughout the game that make points more likely, right? For example…

Reward Gateway employeesA great defensive play. When players work together to gain a bit of ground. Or maybe just a great touchdown dance or on field celebration. 

And now, imagine a game during which the stands are quiet except when actual points are scored. A boring game to watch and a painful game to play in! It would be hard to stay engaged and focused on a quiet, low energy event. 

How does this relate to reward and recognition? Well, managers that are effectively managing their culture know about the power of celebration, and they find those day-to-day opportunities to cheer in between the big wins. Rewards can help these frequent recognizers to add impact and variety – especially in those times when someone goes above and beyond and “puts points on the board.” 

With work teams increasingly distributed, regular means of recognition is a great way to break through the background noise to create moments of appreciation. Rewards are coming up more and more for our clients as a technique to elevate those higher impact moments.

employee satisfaction scaleIf you already have forms of non-monetary recognition, you’re off to a great start. In a 2021 we found that 73% of people looking to leave their job would stay if they were recognized more. But on the flip side of that, not everyone is doing it right, with 54% of employees feeling their boss should do more to appreciate them. 

Reward can be the missing piece to creating a more consistent culture of recognition, and the data supports this, with 84% of employees saying it’s important to receive rewards for their efforts. 

We know that providing rewards is not a new idea, but we also know it is often not done systemically. This can lead to inconsistent practices or managers having to step in to spend (and then get reimbursed) their own money. 

So how can companies build rewards more intentionally into their recognition schemes? Where do they fit?

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A strategic framework for combining reward and recognition

Here is an example of how these rewards might “fit.” Below is our recognition pyramid – a tool we use with clients to help them design a flexible, consistent recognition system. The bottom of the pyramid shows recognition strategies that are used most frequently – digital, non-monetary, peer-to-peer eCards. These eCards focus on sharing the story of what someone has done to provide acknowledgement and inspiration to them and to others. Having a layer of recognition that is just about the story, rather than a reward, is important to ensure recognition isn’t just about money. As you move up the pyramid, recognition strategies increase in impact and decrease in frequency. 

Reward and recognition pyramid

The next level of the pyramid might be manager-led, performance-based rewards. Often clients provide managers the option to share rewards of different amounts depending on the circumstances. Maybe $5 when you want to give a small boost, and $50 for those actions that have an even bigger impact on the company long-term. These rewards might be called something general, like “You Rock,” or some clients will provide a reward option for each value so you can align the great work with the value it supported.


Finally, a program might include an extra surprise to further incentivize employees to recognize, like an annual recognition luncheon for those who send or receive the most recognition during the year. 

So for an average manager working within this company, this might mean that they have a weekly goal of submitting an eCard to say thank you to a colleague, and monthly they send out rewards for extra efforts. Then, as all eyes turn to recognition as the luncheon approaches, it is one more reminder to leaders to get those great stories captured.

5 ideas for low-budget employee rewards

While we love a well structured recognition pyramid, we have spoken to many leaders that are feeling some urgency to make recognition magic happen quickly before they can secure comprehensive updates to their budget. If you are looking to start small and build from there, here are some simple, low-cost rewards you can consider:

  • Experience-based rewards: our client Kettle Foods provides a snack basket filled with their products to employees. A reward that has a big impact, encourages employees to love their products, and doesn’t cost the company a great deal.
  • Limiting budget for senior-leaders only: this provides increased control over who can send rewards.
  • Time-based nominations: If you offer one reward per month/quarter/year, you can manage your budget regardless of how many nominations are submitted.
  • Recognition luncheon: the high visibility of an event like this can get people talking and gives employees something to strive for.
  • Achievement pins: Some of our clients add a layer of recognition based on participation. Did you get 5 recognitions? You are a bronze winner! 6-10? Silver winner! 15 or more? A gold winner. One client in particular hands out pins at the end of the year for these levels that employees can proudly wear on their badge.

If your employee recognition program includes rewards, a piece of advice. Don’t forget about the third R – there's recognition, reward and then redemption! We have seen well-intentioned programs and budgets go to waste because people aren’t excited about what they can redeem their rewards for. Is everyone getting a coffee card? Not everyone drinks coffee. Even a large selection of gift cards can fall flat. For our own clients (and our own internal program), we focus on a few different areas to offer the ultimate level of choice: e-gift cards, company-specific experiences (like lunch with the CEO or an extra day of time off), branded company swag or even charitable donations. Plus, we also partner with Amazon to allow access to their millions of products through our rewards program (and yes, Prime member perks still apply!)

Reward Marketplace

We know that 82% of managers understand that recognition needs to be a priority – they are looking to create that celebratory experience to help push their team down the field. The more companies can do to provide managers with ways to recognize easily and frequently, as well as providing the means to reward employees for those higher impact actions, the more employees and the company can benefit from a thriving culture of recognition.

If you're interested in learning more about how to boost reward and recognition at your company, get in touch with us, and a member of our team can show you how our solutions can support your unique business goals.

Talk to an Engagement Consultant »

Alexandra Powell

Alexandra Powell, Director of Client Cultural Insights, not only knows American Sign Language, but uses it to secretly communicate with her husband and kids at parties. Alex is a highly experienced employee engagement consultant, trainer and speaker. For over 20 years she has helped HR and business leaders implement strategies that drive true culture change.

Director of Client Cultural Insights

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