By Josette Olivera

Your team works hard, spending long days (and sometimes nights) at the office achieving their individual goals in support of the betterment of the company as a whole. You know you want to keep everyone feeling happy and motivated, but how? Enter: an employee rewards program.

These programs are designed to help reward exceptional performance with perks that go beyond salary. Rewards can range from a pair of cool socks to lunch with leadership to extravagant vacations and cash prizes. What’s most important about a rewards program is that it helps both teams and individuals feel as though they’re working toward a goal.

If you’re looking to build morale and increase productivity, here’s how to start an employee rewards program of your own.

Start with the Why

Studies have shown that regular recognition can help boost employee performance, so it makes sense to want to implement a recognition program for your own business. The key to structuring an employee rewards program that not only makes the team members feel good about themselves, but also truly moves the business forward, is to assess your reasons for starting a program in the first place. Without direction, it’ll be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to start structuring an effective program.

  • How do you want your business to develop and grow over time?
  • What are some of the smaller, more tangible goals that each team can be working toward in support of an overarching business goal?
  • What are the core values of your company culture that you hope to instill in your employees?
  • Who are your model employees at the company, and what behaviors do they exhibit that have allowed them to become so successful?
  • How will boosting morale through a rewards program help you achieve your goals?

Once you’ve begun to understand how an employee rewards program will support your overall goals for the company, it’s time to think about how your team will help you achieve them. Be sure to communicate your goals company-wide. It shows honesty and transparency, and helps everyone get on the same page.

Then, Decide Who’s Eligible

Once you’ve unlocked your purpose and goals, it’s time to establish some guidelines for who within the company will be able to have access to your exciting, new rewards program. Think of your rewards program just as you would any other benefit at your company and decide what the requirements are that an employee must satisfy before they’re eligible to access it.

  • Will employees need to have been with the company for a certain period of time (three months, six months, one year) before they’re eligible?
  • Will part-time and freelance employees be able to participate in addition to full-time employees? What about interns?
  • Will those who’ve received a prize or benefit be able to win again?
  • Are there any actions or behaviors that would immediately disqualify a participant from consideration for a reward?

Thinking about eligibility requirements up front will help you avoid any confusion, or upset team members, once your rewards program officially launches.

Now, Determine the Criteria

Once you know why and who’ll be participating, it’s time to determine the goals that employees need to achieve to win. Your own company goals will likely have an impact on how you’ll structure the criteria for your rewards program, but try to be as detailed as possible.

  • What will your employees have to do to unlock their rewards? Will there be several boxes to check, a quota to hit, a voting process by a panel?
  • Will employees be grouped into teams, or will the rewards program be based on individual performance?
  • Will the criteria be objective, or lean toward more subjective?
  • Who will monitor the execution of the rewards program to ensure those who hit their goals receive their recognition?

The criteria you outline for your program will be your employees’ guidelines for their performance and behavior. Ensure they’re well thought out!

Next, Customize Your Prizes

Now that you’ve built out the structure of your program, you’ll need to decide on rewards that will motivate your team to reach their goals! This may be the most challenging part of the entire process since every person is unique and is motivated by different things. While some people might do backflips over a pair of stylish and cool socks or a blender, others may be more motivated over the opportunity to meet with the company CEO.

If you aren’t able to structure your prize to suit each and every person on your team, try to find ways to group together different personality types so that there is something each will appreciate. Though initially created for better understanding romantic relationships, the five love languages can also apply to expressing appreciation in the workplace, and can serve as a guideline for your personality groupings.

  • Words of Affirmation: Prizes might include a pep talk from the CEO or special letter from the boss.
  • Acts of Service: A prize for someone who appreciates an act of service might be receiving an assistant for the week, or having the boss make some cold calls on their behalf.
  • Receiving Gifts: This is where the blender and the fancy pair of cool socks come in. Some people are more motivated by tangible items that display their achievements.
  • Quality Time: Those who value quality time would likely appreciate an opportunity to have lunch with their supervisor or VP who would offer them their undivided attention.
  • (Appropriate) Physical Touch: This is the epitome of giving an employee a literal pat on the back.

Time to Dive In

Once you have all of your pieces in place, it’s time to announce the rewards program and get going! You’ll need to ensure progress is being monitored and that employees are being recognized as they unlock each of their incentives.

As a business leader, few things are more exciting than when your team feels empowered and motivated to achieve their goals. While the process of creating an effective employee rewards program may require some upfront effort, it’ll be worth the boost in morale and productivity!

Personalize your methods. Each person is unique and should be incentivized in different ways. If you can’t do this for each person, understand the different types of motivation and make sure you have something to match each type.