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. However, not all rewards are created equal. And to add another layer of complexity, the “how” and “when” of reward-giving also impacts motivation.
So—how can managers offer rewards that maximize employee motivation and loyalty? Early psychological research on human motivation offers us fascinating answers to this very important question.
A famous psychologist B.F. Skinner discovered that what continuously motivates people (well, in his case, pigeons) is intermittent and uncertain rewards, or what he called “reinforcements.”
This psychological principle called “Operant Conditioning” is the reason why slot machines can be so enticing and addictive, simply because the reward is spontaneous and unpredictable.
In the context of reward-giving at work, it’s a fine line to balance.
Some rewards and recognitions should be given regularly, such as work anniversaries, birthdays, or a reward to accomplish a given goal. However, other types of recognition and rewards should be given spontaneously, as these types of rewards have a strong emotional impact and are perceived as more genuine.
Early research on human motivation suggests we are moved into action by spontaneous or unpredictable rewards. However, this theory and research simply scratches the surface of human motivation.
As you assume and know from your own experience, human motivation is complex. People want to be rewarded with tangible goods and money, but those external rewards are not enough to be genuinely motivating in the long-term.
Ultimately, people want to feel good about what they’re doing to achieve an external goal. In short, the process is important, too. Employees want to feel a sense of mastery and respect. This can be woven into your recognition program through verbal recognition, praise, and validation of skills.
That said, here are three (3) tips to keep in mind when offering gratitude at work.
Cultivating a positive and engaging environment begins with expressing gratitude beyond what people do at your company.
Workers should be appreciated for more than simply accomplishing their day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, focus on expressing gratitude for their unique insights, skills, contributions, and also for their personality.
Expressing gratitude for someone’s “soft” skills like their contagious positive attitude and sense of humour, or keen ability to think critically, is a great way to ensure gratitude is sincere and genuine.
A recognition program 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 on your team 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. You can give praise publicly, privately, over email, chat, face-to-face, or in a group meeting.
In short, there are countless ways to give praise. So make sure to express gratitude and appreciation in a way (and via a medium) that will respect and resonate with each employee.
To avoid diluting your recognition program, you should be 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.
The reality is, yearly gratitude simply isn’t enough for modern workers to feel appreciated.
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, praising, and rewarding employees that set a good example shines a light on top-performing employees and 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 a few ideas to get you started. You can always offer Applauz Points or Badges to elevate your words of recognition.
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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