Employee Rewards: Separate but Equal?

Experts Prefer Reward Programs That Vary

Employee Rewards: Separate but Equal?

By Tom Musbach, Yahoo! HotJobs

While few employees would ever turn down a cash bonus, not all of them find money the most satisfying reward. Some workers, for example, place the highest value on having their work publicly recognized. The differences suggest that "one size does not fit all" in employee recognition programs, according to recent research.

Maritz Inc., a St. Louis-based firm, studied employees' preferences to help companies better understand how to affirm good performance. The idea of tailoring reward programs to employees is not applied in most organizations.

"It is unusual for the company to try to fit the recognition to the person, and it would be very much appreciated," says Deborah Keary, director of human resources for the Society of Human Resource Management. "Not only would the recipients be happy to be recognized for their contributions, they would also realize that the company knows who they are as people and what sort of recognition they are likely to find most gratifying."

What's Your Type?

Maritz, which specializes in helping companies motivate and develop employees, has identified six distinct employee types based on reward preferences.

  • Award Seekers want rewards that have both monetary and trophy value, such as gift cards and travel awards.
  • Nesters are turned off by rewards that take them away from home, such as travel awards or conference opportunities. These employees prefer days off or flexible scheduling.
  • Bottom Liners appreciate the monetary value of rewards, like cash bonuses or award points programs.
  • Freedom Yearners are best rewarded with flexibility.  This could translate to flexible hours, freedom to choose how to attain goals, and the chance to choose interesting and challenging projects.
  • Praise Cravers desire to have their work acknowledged. Rewards can include verbal, written or formal praise from managers or informal praise from peers.
  • Upward Movers tend to be satisfied employees who are interested in moving up in the company. They respond well to status awards, meals with company management, and opportunities to mentor others or work with people outside their own areas.

Guidance for Managers

Understanding that employees' reward preferences differ is helpful for managers, regardless of a formal company policy. But identifying those preferences presents a challenge. Liz Bywater, president of the Bywater Consulting Group near Philadelphia, recommends that managers ask employees about it.

"It takes the guesswork out of selecting the most appropriate and meaningful rewards for employee performance," says Bywater. "The very act of asking conveys a respect for your employees and a desire to recognize their contributions."

She also suggests that managers try a "grab-bag" approach that allows employees to select from a variety of rewards. "While one employee would opt for a gift card to Nordstrom, another might choose a night at the Ritz-Carlton. Yet another would prefer a framed certificate of appreciation or the opportunity to work on a challenging new project."

Don't Be Ungrateful

Many companies do not offer bonuses or rewards programs, so employees should be careful about disregarding any form of recognition.

"It is unwise to shun your employer's genuine efforts to show appreciation," says Bywater.  "At the same time, it makes sense to share your feelings with a trusted manager or supervisor. Your suggestions may help your employer develop a far more effective system of recognition and rewards."