We all know rewards are motivating.
For example, thinking about a slice of decadent chocolate cake or a cold beer waiting for you in your fridge is a great way to push you through the end of a long workday.
But, not all rewards are created equal. And to add another layer of complexity, the “how” and “when” of reward-giving also impacts motivation.
How can you make sure a reward, praise, or recognition feels genuine and motivating to your employees?
The psychology of human motivation offers fascinating answers to this question!
A legendary psychologist B.F. Skinner was interested in studying human motivation.
In a series of famous experiments, he set up two cages with a tiny lever for a pigeon to press for a food pellet reward.
In one cage: a pigeon was offered a food pellet reward at every press. In the other cage: a frustrated pigeon was only provided with a food reward at random intervals.
What's fascinating is the pigeon that consistently got a reward soon grew bored, and stopped pushing the lever entirely.
Meanwhile, in the other cage, a frantic pigeon continued pushing the lever at every chance it could in the hopes a pellet would come rolling out.
Bottom line: These animals we're fiercely motivated by unpredictable rewards.
This concept can teach us a lot about reward and recognition giving at work.
Saying "thank you" and "good job" is important. But if recognition is offered at the same moment every day or week; in other words, it becomes formulaic and predictable, it will lose its emotional impact.
But, you don't want to keep your employees entirely in the dark either. Simply put, don't deliberately withhold recognition.
The key is to strike a healthy balance. How can you do that?
First, be sure to offer timely recognition for important milestones such as work anniversaries, birthdays, the accomplishment of important achievements.
Second, make sure that other varieties of recognition are expressed regularly, organically, and, most importantly, spontaneously.
Early research on human motivation suggests we are moved into action by unpredictable rewards. But, this theory only scratches the surface of human motivation. Not to mention, humans are not pigeons.
Simply put, a reward is enjoyable for many reasons. The fact that it was spontaneous is just one of them.
So why are some words of praise or rewards so much more meaningful than others?
Ultimately, people want to feel good about what they’re doing to achieve an external goal. In short, the process is essential, too.
Employees want to feel a sense of mastery and respect. As such, recognition should be personal and represent the unique skills and talents of the individuals. Weave these insights and these other best practices to ensure you are offering genuine, impactful recognition to your employees.
Cultivating a positive and engaging environment begins with expressing gratitude beyond a simple job performance. In short, workers should be appreciated for more than accomplishing their day-to-day responsibilities and goals.
Focus on expressing gratitude for unique insights, skills, opinions, contributions, and personality.
For example, you can acknowledge someone's "soft skills" and character like their contagious attitude, sense of humour, or ability to think critically. It can even mean highlighting their great taste in film, music, or even sneakers.
When someone sees you and understands you as a person, it's a great feeling. Simply put, you "get" them. This feeling is a powerful glue that connects people, both personally and professionally.
An employee receiving recognition for finishing an assignment or project is a great start. But this type of praise can feel generic and impersonal. Most people can complete a project. What did the employee do differently? If you focus on articulating this distinction, your recognition will feel more powerful and genuine.
That said, even if you're a fast-moving company that is laser-focused on results, it's still vital to praise the process when recognizing a work accomplishment.
The process is highly personal, and a reflection of an employee's true skill and talent. Praising the process makes recognition more personal and meaningful, which will only motivate your employees to continuously live up to the same standard.
Offering recognition is NOT a popularity contest.
To avoid turning it into one, make sure to recognize different types of actions, accomplishments, and, most importantly, various groups and individuals.
Don’t give recognition to the same people over and over. Everyone at work deserves Applauz!
Make sure to express gratitude to groups and individuals who occupy less visible (but critical) roles in a company as well.
For example, it’s easy to show appreciation for a developer that pushes a new feature, but what about the people behind the scenes? Those who stay late organizing social events, or the staff in the warehouse, or IT support that sets up all the systems that allow people actually to do their work every day.
For a culture of appreciation and gratitude to truly flourish, express gratitude to everyone, for actions big and small.
This tip is not about what you say, but how you’re saying it.
There are many ways to offer praise: publicly, privately, over email, chat, face-to-face, or in a group meeting.
Be sure to express gratitude and appreciation in a way (and via a medium) that will respect and resonate with each employee.
If employee recognition is important to your goals, consider rolling-out an official Recognition Program.
User-friendly apps and software, like Applauz Recognition, are helping companies build strong cultures of gratitude and recognition.
Prioritizing employee recognition with an official program has been shown to have a healthy and positive impact on employee engagement and happiness.
Once (and if) you have a Recognition Program in place, you should focus on offering recognition to employees who do more than their simple day-to-day jobs.
Although it’s important to show gratitude for all everyone, employees are normally thanked for accomplishing their basic yearly goals with an anniversary gift or praise and feedback during an annual performance review.
That’s why peer-to-peer recognition program exists; it intended to fill in the gaps and offer much-needed spontaneous and genuine rewards and recognition outside of traditional corporate milestones.
In addition, publicly recognizing and praising employees shines a light on top-performing workers. This sets a precedent for all other employees to strive to meet the same quality standards.
To make the most of your Recognition Program, ask yourself these questions before offering recognition:
Feel free to share this checklist (or entire article) with your team, as they will be offering recognition to their peers as well!
If you’re not sure what to actually say to your employees when offering praise, here are some recognition message examples to get you started.
Recognizing employees for attaining specific goals or performance metrics
Recognizing employees for their attitude or unique skill
Recognizing employees for their general dedication and involvement
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