As HR lead­ers work hard to retain tal­ent dur­ing a his­toric labor short­age, they are try­ing to show employ­ee appre­ci­a­tion. At the HR Exchange Net­work Employ­ee Engage­ment and Expe­ri­ence online event, Mary Shel­ley, Chief Peo­ple Offi­cer at Tan­go Card, shared best prac­tices for reward­ing employ­ees to inform them of their val­ue to the organization.

In the ses­sion, 5 Ques­tions to Ask When Build­ing an Employ­ee Appre­ci­a­tion Strat­e­gy to Last, Shel­ley admit­ted there are chal­lenges to cre­at­ing a rewards pro­gram. In fact, a poll revealed that 31% of audi­ence par­tic­i­pants feel their inad­e­quate bud­get is an obsta­cle. Near­ly 30% said no orga­ni­za­tion­al enage­ment was pro­hib­i­tive when try­ing to launch a rewards pro­gram. Oth­er prob­lems includ­ed being time inten­sive (12.1%), too com­pli­cat­ed (13.8%), or some­thing else (13.8%).

Dis­cov­er how to launch an employ­ee appre­ci­a­tion program:

Start Small

Shel­ley sug­gests HR lead­ers come up with one thing they can do right now to move the nee­dle. For instance, they could talk to employ­ees to deter­mine what kinds of rewards would moti­vate indi­vid­u­als on the team. The reward should be mean­ing­ful or else it won’t pro­duce that sense of incentive.

“Learn about what each per­son finds moti­vat­ing,” says Shelley.

Balance Informal and Formal Recognition

Some­times peo­ple mis­tak­en­ly believe that they have to invest a lot of mon­ey or time into offer­ing a reward. But there are sim­pler ways to rec­og­nize col­leagues for their hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. For instance, some com­pa­nies leave thank you cards out in the office, so peers can write them and deliv­er them to each oth­er’s desk. It’s a small cost in time and mon­ey, and it can reap great rewards as Shel­ley, who has done this, attests.

Diversify Rewards

Offer dif­fer­ent kinds of rewards to appeal to a larg­er group of peo­ple. To keep peo­ple engaged in the process, there should be dif­fer­ent prizes to try and attain. As com­pa­nies diver­si­fy rewards options, how­ev­er, they should also be transparent.

“Employ­ees and man­agers should know how to give and receive rewards,” says Shelley.

In oth­er words, they should know exact­ly what is expect­ed of them if they want to win rewards XYZ. Employ­ees should also know how they could offer recog­ni­tion to a col­league who has impressed them with their work.

Build in Anticipation

“Antic­i­pa­tion is every­thing,” says Shel­ley. In fact, some employ­ees say the antic­i­pa­tion can be greater than the reward itself, she adds. Talk about what it will be like if a team or indi­vid­ual achieves the require­ments to win the reward. Dis­cuss the expe­ri­ences of those who have won before to help oth­ers dream about it.


Automa­tion is a great way to inte­grate rewards pro­grams in hybrid and remote work­places. For exam­ple, some com­pa­nies have a “giveku­dos” Slack chan­nel, where team­mates can give shout outs to those who have done well or helped them, and they auto­mat­i­cal­ly get a $10 gift card.

Avoid Pitfalls

HR lead­ers can eas­i­ly fall into com­mon traps when dol­ing out rewards. A big mis­take is to just hand out rewards as a means of “check­ing the box,” warns Shel­ley. After all, peo­ple real­ize when some­thing is giv­en to them ingenuously.

Anoth­er error is mak­ing the pro­gram over­com­pli­cat­ed. Shel­ley shared the sto­ry of a col­league who cre­at­ed a rewards pro­gram with dif­fer­ent lev­els and lots of qual­i­fi­ca­tions. It was too cum­ber­some, and no one under­stood how to give or receive rewards. So, they had to pare it down and simplify.

Being one-dimen­sion­al with­out giv­ing thought to all the pos­si­bil­i­ties is a pit­fall that HR lead­ers can avoid by think­ing out­side the box. Over­com­pen­sat­ing to make up for low appre­ci­a­tion scores is anoth­er way to defeat the pur­pose of a rewards pro­gram. Employ­ees should feel spe­cial and appreciated.

Final­ly, employ­ers should assess whether they are reward­ing the cor­rect behav­iors. Shel­ley shares the sto­ry of a pre­vi­ous employ­er, who hand­ed out awards to hard work­ers who had been burn­ing the mid­night oil. But the com­pa­ny includ­ed a val­ue about main­tain­ing work-life bal­ance. It did­n’t match with their mis­sion, and it sent the wrong message.

By Francesca Di Meglio

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on HR Exchange Network