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Simple rewards have outsized effect on employee morale

(IgorVetushko /

(IgorVetushko /

One of the most controversial and debated issues in any business is rewards and recognition. Who gets rewarded? How much? Is it enough? Too much? Are we rewarding the right behaviors? The questions go on and on.

Rather than focus on bonuses, merit pay, and other more formal HR policies, let’s focus on how you can reward small but important behaviors that are integral to building and supporting your company culture.

In summary, “catch someone doing something right” and reward it. This need not be elaborate or expensive. In fact, it is amazing to see how enthusiastically small gestures are received and how motivating they are for employees. Here are some suggestions:

As a boss or supervisor, walk around the facility regularly and interact with employees. Make this a habit. This is a great time to thank someone for something they did well. Take the time to learn about them, professionally and personally, and ask about these things when you visit. Don’t be superficial – they will see right through it and then dread your future visits. Be sincerely interested and engage. Yes, this takes time and effort. This will translate to “I care” and it will go a long way with employees in establishing trust. Nothing is more critical than establishing trust with your team and co-workers.

Keep some small gift cards around. When an employee does something out of the ordinary, thank them and offer a gift card as a small token of appreciation. If you’ve done your job in the suggestion above, you’ll know if this person loves Starbucks, or Dunkin, or Target, and you can give them the right card. Once I bought a box of various gift cards, and left it with the office manager, Karen, whom everyone knew and liked. I announced at an “all hands” meeting that any employee could award a gift card to any other employee. The only requirement was to fill out a brief explanation of why the card was being awarded and leave it with Karen. No request would be questioned or denied. It took a little time before the system was used, but once employees learned that there were no strings attached, they used it to reward real actions by their co-workers. The employees loved it.

Hold “win” parties when measurable progress or significant milestones are met. A simple, inexpensive menu of pizza, salad, and soda is fine. If you can, hold it in the cafeteria during employee lunch hour, so employees don’t have to attend on their own time. And yes, do it for the off shifts, too. And make sure management shows up!

Another technique – at any holiday or “win party,” have the boss and the supervisors serve the food and drink to the employees. Ask them to them wear aprons and chef hats. Make sure they smile, interact, and thank the employees as they come through. Skip the speeches. They should eat last. And sit at a table with employees, not other managers/supervisors.

Take a few hours on a Friday afternoon when the weather is good and have a simple employee picnic. Again, just simple food and drink and some fun activities with simple prizes.

There are many other ideas like these that you can use – be creative. Seek to reward positive behaviors and actions. But, don’t use these rewards for employees “doing their job” – that’s why they receive a regular paycheck.

Small gestures carry a lot of weight if done correctly. They have an outsized effect on employee morale. Make a commitment to do them and then enjoy watching the results.

Greg Steiner is a business executive, consultant, speaker, author and instructor with more than 40 years of experience with businesses around the globe. He holds a BS, MBA, PMP, professional certificate in Acquisition and Contracting, and is an Accredited Business Associate for the Institute for Independent Business.


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