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The two most important factors (arguably) in accomplishing our goals on a daily basis are time and energy. Even though we’d all like more of both, time is finite; although we can better utilize the time we have, we can’t create more of it. Energy, on the other hand, is something that we can rejuvenate, renew, and even increase. And when it comes to reinvigorating our energy, one of the biggest contributors is “motivation.” Think about it – when you are highly motivated, you will automatically increase the energy you put into something because you know the reward or payoff will be worth the extra effort.

An ever-increasing number of businesses are catching on to the untapped possibilities of harnessing this renewable resource by developing and instituting employee rewards or recognition programs. A recent survey conducted by Amsterdam Printing ( asked nearly 1,300 business customers to discuss their employee rewards programs. Although only 57% of them engaged in recognition programs of some kind to incentivize their employees, they had plenty to say about what employees wanted to be rewarded for and what they wanted to be rewarded with, as well as some thoughts on what works and what doesn’t.

No matter where you are in the process of your company’s employee rewards program – whether it’s in the planning stage or already in practice – there are some overall themes you can take away from this survey to increase employee morale and improve your company’s bottom line.

Critical Criteria


When it comes to the number one criteria for which employees desire recognition, the overwhelming response was “Performance excellence.” With 69.5% of the popular vote, it was leaps and bounds ahead of the second runner-up: “Teamwork” (52.5%). Rounding out the top five most popular criteria were: “Customer service” (47.7%); “Leadership” (38.3%); and “Innovation” (27.9%).

One of the least effective, yet often employed, benchmarks for recognition is “Longevity or Years with the Company.” This may have worked back in the day when folks kept one job their entire lives because they chose to do so. Whether out of loyalty, convenience, or complacency, the point is that people stayed because they wanted to. These days, with so many factors outside of the employees’ control (layoffs, a down economy, insufficient wages, etc.), remaining with one company for decades is simply not as feasible. Thus, rewarding someone for sticking around forever does very little to encourage growth and development.

Now that we’ve determined what employees generally want to be recognized for, let’s consider what they want to be rewarded with.

The Most Effective Means

Indeed, as in anything intended to produce positive results, the level of improvement is only as good as the carrot spurring someone forward. According to the employees, the two most popular categories of rewards could best be summarized as “Money” and “Praise.” For monetary benefits, employees listed “Paid time off” and “cash or bonus/gift cards” as well as “Employee perks” as having the most positive effect on their happiness and productivity. Employees also listed “Recognition for the effort” and a “Personal Thank You” from their managers and bosses as effective incentives.

Following on the heels of what employees value about themselves and how they want to be recognized for it, let’s examine how it all ties together by discussing an example of a rewards program in action.

Employee Think-Tank

One seriously underutilized resource within companies is the workforce itself, especially lower-level employees. When you think about it, they are all experts on at least some aspect of your business, albeit at different levels, because they are the ones involved in the inner workings on a daily basis. Consider holding a contest for “Best New Idea” or “Most Creative Campaign” or “Efficiency Expert” but open it up to ALL different levels of your employees (not just your top executives or managers) and just watch as the great ideas come pouring in.

Not only does this give someone a chance at recognition and praise that he would never have otherwise, but it builds a sense of togetherness and camaraderie and eliminates the social disparity that so often comes when the “little people” of a company are excluded. Moreover, it stokes the competitive fire within us which makes us put forth that much more effort to be crowned the victor. And you never know: you could find that creative genius wasting away in the mail room, perfectly poised to become the next company superstar just as soon as someone gives her a shot.

And while we’re on the subject of giving someone a shot, go one step further by allowing a peer-to-peer vote to determine the winner. So often, when competitions are judged by managers and executives, they leave a sour taste in the collective mouth of the company because they become popularity contents with the same people winning repeatedly. Even if this person truly is the best choice to win the prize, the endorsement has that much more validity when coworkers have bestowed the honor.

At the end of the day, the point is to get the company working together as a better unit overall. As we’ve seen, one of the best ways to create a more solid group is to reward employees as individuals. So, what type of program are you considering? If you already have one in place, have you reconsidered some of your foundational elements (criteria, rewards, or mode of competition)?

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Posted by Christopher Wallace

Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of marketing pens and other promotional products such as imprinted clothing, mugs and customized calendars. Christopher regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.

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