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People Are People: The Value of Choice in Employee Recognition Programs

Ask a hundred people what motivates them at work and, in all likelihood, their responses can be collected into just a few buckets:

  • A paycheck
  • Job security
  • Clear goals/potential for career growth
  • Recognition of achievements
  • Having a sense of purpose/being challenged

But ask those same hundred people how they would like to be rewarded for their accomplishments at work, and you’ll get a hundred different responses.


Your participants come from all walks of life—different ages, genders, income levels, program types, culture, and even geography. Therefore, it is imperative that organizations provide employees with unique rewards that motivate them as the unique individuals they are.

Rewarding employees for years of service has been the standard for a century, but times are changing—and quickly. Most service awards start upon hitting the five-year mark at an organization, but the Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently reported that average tenure differs dramatically by age group; those over 55 years of age have an average tenure of over ten years, but for those under 34 it’s only 2.8 years. That means that most employees with fifteen years or less of work experience will likely never receive a reward under this model!

Additionally, it has become all too common for recognition program administrators and senior management to make assumptions about what their employees will appreciate as rewards. Consider the following scenarios:

  • No doubt you’re very proud of your products, so it’s fair to assume your employees are proud of them as well. Does your company manufacture, say, home audio systems? Sure, initially your employees may appreciate getting a new sound bar or speaker set, but once they amass enough points in their bank again, are they going to appreciate only being able to get another piece of equipment from the company? In all likelihood, this will satisfy only a small percentage of your organization.
  • It is tempting to offer company-branded items like hats, shirts and hoodies. After all, what organization doesn’t want its employees walking around and acting as brand ambassadors? But you do have to ask yourself: how many company-branded items will one employee really appreciate being in his or her closet?
  • Your company wants to support local merchants—a noble cause, of course! But does limiting your rewards mall to only those local businesses ignore those folks who, say, commute from further away than within the township or county in which you’re located?

The key to an engaging rewards mall is choice.

Yes, offer those in-demand company products. Yes, offer company-branded apparel. Yes, offer gift cards for local merchants—but include major national retailers as well.

The benefit of having an employee recognition platform is that your provider should be able to tweak your rewards mall to best suit your employees’ needs and desires. Play around with the rewards being offered; if you get complaints about the mall or see low engagement with the platform, the rewards mix may be to blame.

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