Wrong rewards? The recession-proof guide to keeping staff smiling amidst the chaos

‍James Malia, UK MD at Prezzee, explains his tips for rewarding employees the right way
‍James Malia
An office worker receives a gift

In a winter of discontent, three Prime Ministers, inflation and a cost of living crisis, employees are, as you would expect, trying to make sense of an anxiety-inducing world.

What is the role of businesses in this? Companies look to reward programmes to create a positive company culture. While a good company culture won’t pay your employees’ mortgages, it will harvest a culture of support and wellbeing - and staff knowing they can trust their employer (through the bad times and the good) is the reassurance many are looking for.

If reward programmes aren’t properly handled, they can do more harm than good - as shown by a quarter of UK SMEs losing talent unnecessarily due to them feeling undervalued. These are eight common mistakes businesses make, and how to avoid them when implementing a rewards scheme.

1. If you’re not personalising your rewards programme, you’re doing it wrong

Treating everybody in the organisation the same can make your message of thanks feel less meaningful. Recognising hard work with a monetary bonus is great, but rewards are fundamentally about making people feel valued as an individual. You should make sure that any gift you give in recognition of an employee's hard work is tailored to their specific tastes and interests. If your workforce is remote, you could even try sending a personalised video message of thanks with the gift. You’ll be surprised at how much people value that – often, it’s just as appreciated as the money you’re gifting them.

2. Don’t throw a Christmas awards evening

Too often, businesses see the end of year as a time to recognise the great work that’s taken place over the last 12 months, giving out makeshift awards or a bit of the bubbly to say thank you. While this is all well and good, it shouldn’t be bolted-on to the holiday festivities. Instead, it should be an occasion in itself. Adding it onto the Christmas party can actually reduce the power an awards evening can have. Public call outs for people, teams and projects are a hugely valuable part of a company’s culture - don’t lose that by treating it like an afterthought.

3. Beware linking rewards to the cost-of-living crisis

We’re living in extremely challenging times and some businesses try to show employees they care by giving them one-off lump sum ‘rewards’. Realistically, this approach isn’t sustainable as a long-term solution and is support, not a reward. Genuinely caring about your staff means making sure they can eat, heat their homes and have a decent quality of life through the salary that you pay them. While you can act proactively and give rewards to make your employees feel appreciated, they shouldn’t be used to troubleshoot or to supplement basic salaries in difficult times – not to be confused with support.

4. Stop rewarding people for over-working

Reward programmes are for rewarding behaviour, not driving behaviour. They aren’t an excuse to make your employees work harder, run faster, and clock-up overtime. Work-life balance is essential, and businesses need to be supporting their employees and help them form boundaries. The best rewards programmes seek to create a happy, buoyant workforce, with employees who work to get things done, but switch off and enjoy their lives when they ‘log off’. Driving behaviour is a culture and leadership challenge, but even then working smarter not harder is always the best option.

5. Don’t launch a loyalty scheme until you have a culture of thanking

If you don’t have a genuine culture of appreciation in your organisation, then loyalty schemes can feel like hollow gestures. At Prezzee, we have a ‘Happiness channel’ on Slack where colleagues can thank and celebrate each other by sending taco emojis. When an employee reaches 50 tacos, this is converted into a Prezzee reward. Obviously, this means that every time someone has a birthday the virtual tacos do flow, but of the near 3,000 sent a month, most are a nod, a pat on the back or simply a virtual hug.  Having an online space to share messages of appreciation serves a greater purpose: it creates a foundation of thanks upon which you can build a successful rewards programme.

6. Reward consistency as well as stand-out behaviour

Workplaces are full of different personalities. Reward schemes fall into the trap of recognising some characters and overlooking others. It’s all well and good to reward a stand-out piece of work from an employee who isn’t known for going above and beyond. But what about the person who has consistently worked to a high standard for years? You need to maintain a balanced approach to who you reward. If you don't, things become toxic and people think “the same people win every time and I’m not going to bother entering.”

7. Timing is everything

Getting an instantaneous award makes a big difference. Some companies give out awards annually, but if you wait weeks or months to reward a colleague for their support, it can really take the shine off. Celebrating your employees during their big win will make them feel seen.

8. Rewards schemes won’t solve your quiet quitting issue

You’re not going to fundamentally change how people feel about work by giving them rewards. Quiet quitters need to be identified and supported through effective management. People don’t start out in companies as quiet quitters, that’s a change that happens over time. It’s about sitting down and having an honest conversation about why your employee feels disengaged, rather than trying to bring them onside with a one-off reward.

A final thought…

Ultimately, if you want to recession-proof your business, ensuring your employees feel valued is the best place to start as lower productivity or worse still – churn, are a huge cost best avoided. However, remember the emotion you show them has to be genuine. Let’s do away with stale, tick-box loyalty programmes that don’t celebrate workers as individuals. It’s time to focus on creating workplaces in which employees feel seen and appreciated for being their authentic selves. Surprise them – celebrate them and support them.

Written by
‍James Malia
UK MD at Prezzee
November 18, 2022
Written by
November 18, 2022