Using non-financial rewards to motivate staff

Let’s face it, most of us are likely to be happy about someone giving us money for a job well done.  The big question, though, is does it inspire or motivate us to strive to meet the same standard or improve next time, to stay with the organisation or contribute to the best of our ability? While some people, of course, are influenced by financial rewards, many simply aren’t.

Feeling appreciated, validated and respected is critical to the strength of anyone’s spirit. When our spirit is energised, we are entirely more likely to be engaged, to commit and to strive. Although receiving a bonus may go some way towards helping people to feel these ways, far more powerful are thanks and praise.

According to Gallop research spanning four million employees worldwide, those who receive regular recognition and praise “increase their individual productivity, increase engagement among their colleagues, are more likely to stay with their organisation, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers and have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job”.

Other research consistently paints a similar picture. For example, a 2009 survey conducted by McKinsey & Company found non-financial incentives were rated as more powerful motivators than financial incentives.

Non-financial rewards unquestionably form an essential part of any businesses strategy to attract, engage and retain talented people. Essential ingredients for optimising the positive impact of your approach include:

Tailoring rewards. Wherever possible, work to leverage the impact created through taking a personalised approach. Understandably, many organisations give standard rewards or forms of recognition, but personal meaning or value of rewards can improve the effectiveness of your efforts. People often appreciate the effort invested and the personal nature of the reward more than the reward itself. One approach is to ask managers to select a reward they believe is aligned with the personal interests of the individual. Encourage them to learn more about their team members, which may require that they also talk to the individual’s colleagues for further insight.

Being creative. Think beyond traditional ways of rewarding and recognising people. While a certificate of achievement or trophy may well be appreciated, far more impactful is a reward that demonstrates thoughtfulness or effort. Opportunity to attend a course or conference, time off to pursue personal interests, or support services that help people balance work and life are just a few of the ways people appreciate being rewarded.

Being timely. Maximising the impact of your message to the individual, and the broader team, requires that you get your timing right. The simple reality is, if you want someone fully to appreciate why a specific effort is valued, it’s important they clearly recall the contribution made. Although yearly incentive programs are typically rolled out at specific times of the year, leaders need to take the opportunity to give thanks ‘in the moment’.

Being fair and consistent. Keep in mind that the decisions you make to reward and recognise one person or group will have a flow-on impact for others. Be especially conscious of who, and what outcomes or behaviour, you recognise. Be transparent in your decision-making process and help people to realise rewards are considered, objective and unbiased.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of HR consultants Ryan Gately.

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