Post-Pandemic Planning - Rethinking You Incentives and Recognition
#evolve Magazine
January 22, 2021
Flexibility, adaptability and resiliency were the recipe for success in the year 2020, when our employees, our offices and companies were forever changed as a result of COVID-19. In an instant, our dining room tables became our offices, we kept a “Zoom shirt” at the ready, and we realized we took for granted all of those watercooler conversations. The workplace as we knew it was changed in an instant.

Despite all of these modifications and adjustments, one thing remains the same. We all desire connection and engagement. Whether we are face- to-face or working with teams through a computer screen, people still wish to be recognized for a job well done. We all yearn for that pat on the back, whether virtually or in-person, and we all appreciate working toward a goal and being rewarded for achieving it.

We’ve known for years that incentives and recognition programs are wonderful ways to establish, build and deepen relationships and connection with your teams. Incentives motivate us to push forward. We have a mission to accomplish!

At the end of 2019 — before we even knew the term COVID-19 — One10 conducted a survey of 3,000 workers, with the goal of determining the strength of relationships in the workplace. We used our proprietary methodology, RsX, a relationship strength index that measures the relationship strength between a variety of audiences: employees; employees and their companies; and employees and their managers. RsX looked at key indicators, including employees’ trust, alignment and commitment with each of these groups.

The results showed that recognition is important, but not just any type of recognition will do.

Employees want more from their leadership team. Employees expect more from their organizations. Remember, these survey results were tabulated before COVID-19. Now, as a result of the pandemic, this desire for rewards and recognition has only compounded. The absence of face-to-face inter- actions at work has made it even more critical to create stronger connections with your virtual teams. Incentives and recognitions can help, but it has to be done the right way.

Here are five key points to remember when using incentives and recognition to create stronger connections with your teams:

Make recognition authentic, do it often

Our results showed that employees are 74% more likely to stay with a company when they feel like they are being properly recognized by the organization. This is a powerful statistic that underscores the importance of how recognition correlates to retention.

But our findings also uncovered something deeper. Recognition doesn’t always have to come from the employee’s manager. Peer-to-peer recognition is equally important. Therefore, leaders must encourage and foster enhanced opportunities to give and receive peer-to-peer recognition. This will help reinforce with your employees that they are truly valued.

Chances are, you already recognize service anniversaries. And that’s good. According to our survey, employees are 17% more likely to stay at a company and have stronger relationships with their company when their service anniversaries are recognized.

But why wait for that once-a-year milestone to reward your employee? We all love a good surprise.

Your employees are no different. Consider giving a “surprise and delight” gift to your employees, or reward points that they can redeem at any time on a reward platform. These can go a long way in helping employees feel appreciated, all year round.

Broaden your audience

Incentives are powerful for all of us. When you finally achieve that 10th punch at your local coffee shop and receive a free beverage, you are motivated to repeat that behavior again and again. Your employees are no different.

According to our survey, employees who were eligible for incentives had 23% higher levels of trust in their organization. But only 35% of respondents actually received an incentive in their job, and most incentives were reserved for only those employees working in a sales role. This means roughly 65% of your team might feel left out of the incentive process. That’s not motivating. Leaders have an immense opportunity to strengthen their connections with all employees by ensuring their entire team has access to incentives and recognition programs.

We constantly work with our clients to broaden their approach to incentives and recognition by thinking beyond their sales team. If you limit your engagement programs to only those who are directly involved in the sales process, you are also limiting your growth potential.

Instead, include everyone who influences your objectives. This could mean your account support employees, or call center employees who contribute to client sales and retention. These employees are your front line of “customer defense” and have a wealth of information that can impact your sales.

Service teams who build customer relationships after the sale and throughout a customer’s lifecycle are equally important and need to be factored into your program design. Don’t forget about your distribution and channel partners. They are essential for the indirect sales process and need to be rewarded, too.

"The right incentive and recognition program and rewards mix can be a great way to increase performance among your teams and keep connection and engagement high, at a time when we all need it most."

Cash isn’t motivating

Cash rewards do not have the psychological impact. Cash may seem enticing, but it’s not the best solution to motivate everyone on your team. This goes back to research from the 1970s that found non-cash rewards offer greater benefits and ROI than cash itself. Here’s why. Cash is transactional. Yes, there’s immediate excitement in receiving a large sum of cash. But that excitement dwindles quickly when we spend it on everyday purchases like groceries, gas or car payments. These are forgettable purchases. They aren’t memorable purchases. They aren’t even fun purchases.

There are specific conditions and program design factors that drive the best award type for your program goals.

Instead of cash, try offering a flexible rewards mix that offers everyone on your team the power of choice. Your team is diverse. It most likely consists of people who are different ages and at different levels of their careers. They are motivated differently. Your employees come from different geographic areas, where certain rewards may be more motivational than others. Your team also represents multiple psychographics. Some might be savers while others might be spenders. Having the right rewards mix to engage your diverse team is key.

COVID-19 and, for some, a new virtual workplace is making the process of distributing rewards more difficult in a traditional setting. One solution is to award through a digital awards platform, or by using points instead. There are technology plat- forms that make giving and receiving awards easier, and have the added benefit of real-time engagement. Your team can cash in their points on millions of reward options at any time, including gift cards for spa services, fine dining experiences or designer brands. Your team members can redeem their points for future tickets to sporting events, musical performances or the theater. Or, they can gift their points to a college fund or even a nonprofit. Now this is motivating!

Flexibility is expected

This pandemic has forced all of us to evaluate everything about our current work situation. Your employees are asking themselves, “Will my employer understand if my child has to stay home?” “How can I cut down on my work commute when I go back into the office?” “Do I ever need to go back?”

Even before COVID, our survey respondents indicated that flexible working arrangements had the largest impact on trust and alignment with their company. Your employees were balancing a lot already between work and family, and the pandemic has added to the chaos. Flexibility matters to your employees, and they want to know it matters in the larger organization, too. In our survey, employees reported that they were 42% more likely to remain with their current employer if their work arrangements were flexible enough to meet their personal and family needs.

We strive for work-life harmony versus work-life balance. Work-life harmony recognizes that this is a fluid situation that can change regularly as our personal and professional needs change. The optimal work environment is flexible enough to change, too. Building a workplace that thrives on work/life harmony is essential when building a culture of trust and commitment with your team.

Lean on technology

By now, we are getting really good at familiarizing ourselves with the digital and virtual technology available. From video conference calls and external microphones to troubleshooting why our internet isn’t working, we collectively understand the importance of good, reliable technology. The same applies to your incentive and recognition strategy. Technology makes it easier to reward and recognize your employees in a variety of ways.

First, an effective incentive and recognition technology platform should integrate with your other systems and streamline the user experience. That means you can motivate your teams to reach your business goals faster. Gone are the days of using multiple spreadsheets, disparate programs and manual processes. These only lead to human error and human frustration.

The right technological solution is easy for you to operate and maintain, and even easier for your team to access. Your employees will appreciate the centralized portal of information that provides a constant stream of information and access to their reward progress. Additionally, you will enjoy the measurement capabilities after your incentive program is completed, so you can prove the ROI of the entire process.

Secondly, we use our phones a lot. It gets extremely frustrating if websites don’t load properly or aren’t a fit for the small screens. We expect our technology to be quick, responsive and effective, regardless of what device we’re using. That’s why it’s important to look for incentive and recognition programs that were created with a keen eye on user-centered design and a “mobile-first” mentality. This means it was designed with the smallest screen in mind. This is important because you want your employees to remain motivated, engaged and rewarded. They can’t feel all of this if they are mostly frustrated with the technology.

Alignment and trust in leadership goes hand-in-hand with strengthening communication and connection with your employees. This was true before COVID-19 and the need has grown exponentially after the pandemic. The right incentive and recognition program and rewards mix can be a great way to increase performance among your teams and keep connection and engagement high, at a time when we all need it most.

Related WorldatWork Resources
Salesforce to Hire 3,300 People in Preparation of Ramp Up
Exposing Pay: Policy Implications and Research Challenges
Pay Transparency – The Employee Perspective
Related WorldatWork Courses
Sales Compensation: Foundation and Core Principles
Advanced Excel Skills for Compensation Professionals
Sales Compensation: Advanced Implementation and Program Management
Great Workplace Content, Delivered to You

Get the latest expert insights and analysis for leaders in HR, total rewards, business and rewards management — delivered straight to your inbox, for free. #evolve issues are published on a bi-monthly schedule.