Employee recognition - It's not just about the money

Recognition & Rewards
December 1, 2017

Employee recognition programs help create a collaborative, encouraging workplace where in employees are engaged and working to their full potential. With the benefits of recognition programs having been proven in companies across North America, why aren’t all companies implementing them?

For smaller organizations or those on a tight budget, funding an employee recognition program seems like a great idea in theory, however financially impossible.

Here is the oversight: Employees don’t have to be recognized through hefty monetary rewards! Research shows that when employees are already being fairly compensated, cash or near-cash rewards do not yield the highest engagement levels.¹ Companies with limited funding can institute a recognition program where acknowledgments are given not in currency, but through peer-to-peer acclamation, work autonomy, or sincere private thank you cards. Adhering to a realistic budget for your organization merely requires being knowledgeable about your options and establishing an effective program: with an informed plan, it is possible to achieve all your company objectives on any budget size.

It is a common fear amongst employers that if they don't give monetary rewards or bonuses, their employees will feel undervalued and more likely to seek out another job. In fact, the key to retaining talent and promoting work engagement is to create “constant gratitude.” Constant gratitude does not require a large financial investment, but a creative one. By understanding the generations which make up your employee base, you are given insight into the modes of appreciation which resonate with each age group. The ability to recognize, retain, and invigorate your staff is not a question of dollars, but of insight and sincerity.

There are currently five generations working simultaneously within the workplace.²  The individuals that make up these classes are shaped by various age and life-stage demographics. The nuances within these influences make any research on the characteristics of an entire generation a general evaluation. However, even a basic understanding of the forms of recognition your employees will best respond to can save you time and money.

“You cannot manage what you don’t understand. You won’t be able to manage outside of your generation unless you can see through all of the generational lenses.”

— Tammy Hughes, CEO, Claire Raines & Associates

If not money, then what?

Consider your generation.

Traditionalists, also known as The Silents (1900-1945), are now a generation nearing the end of their presence within the workforce. Statistically the most loyal generation, these employees grew up before the surge of social media and technology and prefer to have their time and commitment recognized privately.

If you have traditionalists amongst your employees, they are nearing retirement and likely occupy a higher position within your company. For a traditionalist, a personalized thank you card is likely to reinforce their already dedicated behaviour. Because these employees hold the development of interpersonal communication skills in high regard, recognition can also come in the form of mentorship: have a traditionalist take a younger or new employee under their wing to show you value their skillset and wisdom.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964) are the generation of competitive multi-taskers who value work and career advancement over a work-life balance. Most Baby Boomers crave challenging, creative work in their pursuit of self-gratification.

Give a Baby Boomer flexibility, their linear focus on career and security means they will highly value a day off from all those extra hours. Boomers also appreciate being shown respect through titles or public recognition; by highlighting their achievements in a formal setting or opening an opportunity for skill training or work experience, you are demonstrating high regard for their performance.

Generation X (1965-1977)Often incorrectly labelled as slackers, Generation X established the work-life balance mentality and believe in accomplishing work as efficiently as possible to leave more time for ‘living.’ Whereas traditionalists and millennials thrive in team settings, this generation generally prefer to work alone and focus on conquering challenges.

Like traditionalists, these employees prefer to be recognized in private over public praise. Their long-term goal is hold a job which enables a balanced lifestyle. Thus, they are consistently looking for ways to build their resume skills. Recognize Generation X employees by offering opportunities for personal development or enlivening their work routine with a new experience such as a conference or out-of-office work.

“For rewards and incentives, I would emphasize experiences more than anything—travel, project experiences related to work and their career.”

— Buddy Hobart, Author of Millennials and the Evolution of Leadership

Millennials (1977-1997) grew up being recognized by their parents for every little thing, often being praised not for success, but just for showing up. Millennials have a difficult time comprehending why they shouldn’t be able to work where and when they like. Consequently, freedom, autonomy, work-life balance, and frequent feedback are top values.

Cost effective recognition ideas for these employees include strategic leaderboards, which celebrate various contributions from sales goals to commitment; the ability to work remotely or be given time off work; or an informal method of liking, sharing, and posting through which to give and receive recognition.

Constant Gratitude for All Generations

An option to attain ‘constant gratitude’ on a budget is to integrate an Employee Recognition Software that allows you, management staff, and employees to recognize one another with ‘high-fives’ or ‘badges.’ The absence of cash or purchased gifts as a reward means the cost of the program is reduced to a basic, per employee registration fee; enrolled participants can view all the recognitions throughout the company and comment on each, compounding a one-time recognition into a team conversation.

Millennials especially will adapt quickly and thrive in this program format. Known as digital natives, their social connectedness is second nature and implementing an online communication platform echoes their everyday discourse through social media. The software also offers a balance between public and private recognition enabling individuals who prefer not to have a spotlight on them in front of a crowd to still feel appreciated without any embarrassment. Although there is no monetary reward, the nature of the program- where an individual is recognized for a distinct behaviour- fulfills the need for consistent and specific feedback, which defines genuine constant gratitude.

Your company can't afford NOT have a recognition program - book a demo with Qarrot to see why!


  • ¹ Incentive Research Foundation
  • ² Forbes.com
The Team at Qarrot