Seeking to increase employee motivation using rewards can sometimes be a daunting task for managers. But it shouldn’t be. When armed with the right information and the proper techniques, managers can be experts at enhancing motivation using rewards in no time.
Mangers who are developing, revamping or currently implementing an employee rewards program should consider these 20 tips:
1. Involve all employees in the development, implementation and revision of rewards programs
Involving all employees (or representatives from different positions) will encourage communication between employees and management about the rewards process. It will also ensure that both employees and upper management are onboard with the reward system.
2. Ensure that employees view the rewards as worth the effort
Including employees in the reward program development process is critical to ensuring that they value the rewards and see them as worth the effort. Managers should value employee input and select rewards accordingly. Employees who see the rewards as worth the effort will be more motivated to work hard to obtain them.
3. Make sure that employees understand how to earn the rewards
Managers should clearly delineate how employees can earn rewards. When employees have a comprehensive understanding of what is expected of them, they will be more capable of achieving performance standards.
4. Set reasonable and transparent performance standards for rewards
Employees must see the rewards as attainable in order for them to engage in the necessary effort to obtain them. Check in with employees to ensure that they believe the rewards are within their reach. Also, providing the employees with a dashboard where they can view their performance in real time will allow them to accurately assess their own performance and have realistic expectations for rewards.
5. Base reward determinations on objective performance data
When rewards are distributed based on objective data, employees are more likely to view the process as fair and are also more likely to have a concrete understanding of what is expected of them. This will increase their motivation to achieve the desired performance results.
6. Make sure employees view the reward system as fair
When employees view the reward system as fair, they will be more engaged in trying to obtain the reward. Rewards should be distributed consistently according to pre-determined policies. Never engage in favoritism or cut corners as this will have a detrimental impact on employee performance.
7. Always link rewards to performance
In order for rewards to have the most impact on influencing employee performance, they must be directly linked to the desired behavior. Tie praise, recognition, cash rewards and non-cash rewards to specific results. When employees understand the connection between their reward and their performance, they will be motivated to perform optimally in the future.
8. Recognize small and large accomplishments
Employees should be rewarded when they meet large goals as well as smaller milestones. This will ensure that they receive recognition for their progress and that their behavior is consistent with company expectations.
9. Reward teamwork and cooperation
Team-based incentives were found to be more effective at increasing performance than individual incentives. If team-based rewards are not already included in the company strategy, they should be. Additionally, the resources devoted to team-based rewards should be substantial. This could have a significant impact on cooperation, employee cohesiveness and the company’s bottom line.
10. Never take a good performance for granted
It can be easy to stop rewarding top performers, but this could be a fatal flaw. In order to keep top talent on the team, ensure that your company continues to acknowledge and reward an excellent performance.
11. Provide rewards immediately after the employee achieves the desired behavior
There is a temporal component to the effect of the reward. The longer the delay in providing the reward after the employee’s achievement, the less of an impact it has shaping subsequent behavior. Reward behavior that meets performance standards immediately.
12. Match the reward to the employee
Allow each employee to select their own reward or decide what rewards employees should receive under predefined circumstances. This will enhance their commitment to achieving the reward by engaging in the required behavior. Understanding the needs of employees is central to this process.
Of note, the reward that each employee wants may not necessarily be the reward with the most motivational influence. A recent study found that the majority of employees prefer cash rewards; however, many employees will perform better in pursuit of non-cash rewards of similar value (Jeffrey). Managers seeking to gain the biggest impact from their rewards programs should include both cash and non-monetary rewards for performance.
13. Offer financial rewards, non-monetary rewards and recognition
Reward systems that include a combination of cash and non-monetary rewards as well as social awards (e.g. recognition and praise) have the greatest impact on employee performance. Pay cash bonuses in a lump sum to maximize their effect as money only motivates when it is a significant amount.
14. When employees learn an unfamiliar task, distribute rewards based on a continuous reinforcement schedule
The most effective way to encourage learning a new task is by reinforcing employee behavior on a continuous schedule. This can require considerable effort when executed by a manager, however, using an employee reward software program is a more feasible and cost effective solution.
15. Once the behavior becomes a habit, distribute rewards based on a variable ratio or variable interval schedule
Variable ratio and variable interval schedules of reinforcement result in the most significant behavior change once the behavior becomes a habit. This change in behavior is also more resistant to weakening. Therefore, one of these reinforcement schedules should dictate the reward distribution process after the behavior has become a habit.
16. Do not disclose the cash value of non-monetary tangible rewards
Employees who are unaware of the exact cash value of non-monetary rewards are more motivated by them. Do not disclose the amount unless necessary.
17. Use long-term rewards programs
Long-term rewards programs have the greatest effect on employee performance and the resulting gains last longer.
18. Balance competitive reward programs with non-competitive programs
Competitive incentive programs are just as effective as non-competitive reward programs in increasing performance. An effective rewards strategy should include both.
19. Make rewards an integral part of the company’s strategy
Rewards are invaluable in aligning employee behavior with the organization’s business strategy. Ensure that rewarded behavior is in line with company standards, objectives and strategy.
20. Change the rewards frequently
When the reward is changed frequently, employees will be more surprised and the process will be more exciting. When employees are excited about rewards, they will work harder to achieve them.
Following the 20 aforementioned tips will help managers get the most bang for their buck from their employee rewards program.
 Jeffrey, S.A. (2009). Justifiability and the motivational power of tangible noncash incentives. Human Performance, 22, 143–155.
 LaMere, J. M., Dickinson, A. M., Henry, G., Henry, M., & Poling, A. D. (1996). Effects of a multicomponent monetary incentive program on the performance of truck drivers. Behavior Modification, 20, 385-405.
 Skinner, B.F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
 “Incentive Pay Plans: Which Ones Work and Why,” HR Focus, April 2001, p. 3.
Kreitner and Kinicki. (2004). Organizational Behavior. Boston. MA: McGraw Hill, Irwin.