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Recognition versus reward when motivating employees

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Creating a motivated workforce is something that many employers strive to do, and in some cases their efforts are met with very little success. Employers often wonder which is actually more motivating - rewarding employees for their efforts and achievements, or recognizing those employees without the added reward. The mistaken consensus is that employees become more loyal, productive, and self-motivated when they are provided with tangible rewards.

Reward is More Rewarding in the Short Run

In actuality, rewarding employees does provide a boost of morale and an increase in motivation, but it is often short-lived. Whether these rewards are premium parking, plaques and certificates, or gift cards and money, they frequently don't accomplish the objective that was sought by the employer. Some employee rewards can also be quite costly to the company, without delivering much return on the investment, if any.

When certain programs offer rewards to employees based on the results of competitive performance, this can also lead to the creation of a hostile environment, especially by the "losers" of the competition. Accusations of favoritism, cheating, manipulating data, and other ugly situations can arise when inter-company departments are pitted against each other to see which one is "the best."

Recognition is a Long Run Winner

Conversely, employee recognition, when done in a way that maximizes the results, can cost an employer absolutely nothing at all but their time and effort. The results that are seen from this miniscule "investment" on the part of the employer can often be overwhelming in their success and last significantly longer than any positive results yielded from a system of rewarding performance with material or tangible benefits.

How can you use recognition motivate your employees to increase their efficiency, productivity, morale, and loyalty in a way that lasts? The most effective method may actually be surprising, especially in today's society where most people seem more driven by dollar signs than anything else.

Recognition, by the way, does not necessarily involve an elaborately planned staff meeting where employees are paraded in front of their peers and praised for their efforts. As with competitive reward programs, this too can have negative results through the creation of animosity and a hostile environment. The most effective way to "recognize" employees is through one-on-one interaction on a consistent basis.

How to Motivate

Throughout the workday, how often does your company's management staff interact with employees, other than to delegate tasks, critique progress, and issue directives for work output? The most effective way to achieve long-term success with your goals toward creating a motivated workforce is through small exchanges every day with each member of your team.

When you extend your hand to an employee at the end of the day, look them in the eye, and sincerely thank them for their efforts that day, it has an effect on that employee's morale that is far greater than a $100 gift card to Walmart could achieve.

By recognizing the efforts of each employee, whether all they did was perform the routine daily tasks associated with their job or go above and beyond expectations with every action, you are letting them know that you value and appreciate them as an individual and a member of your team.

This applies even to those employees who do little more than "just get by" with completing their assignments, because it can actually inspire them to be more productive to continue receiving individual recognition.

Some employers are hesitant to recognize and praise employees for their efforts because they fear that the employee will then develop the mind-set that they are now "in" with the boss and can start coasting along, rather than remaining productive.

While those employees do exist, they do not make up the majority of any workforce. To the contrary, most employees - once they've been shown they are valued and appreciated - will strive to achieve a higher level of efficiency and productivity because they don't want their employer to feel like the recognition was unjustified.


Simple acts of recognition can help you build a staff of dedicated, motivated, and hard-working employees. Turning your individual employees into a highly functional "team" provides your company with several other benefits in addition to better morale and a more productive staff.

Your company will see less absenteeism and tardiness, a lower turnover rate, a reduction in workplace accidents and injuries, and a decrease in expenses relating to theft, loss, damage, and poor workmanship or negligent business practices. Motivation through recognition is a win-win situation and should be a part of your daily methods of operation.



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