Five Elements of a Successful Employee Rewards Program

The foundation of every employee rewards program is built on the central idea that recognizing employees in a meaningful way will empower them to do their best work.  What elevates an employee rewards program and makes it successful is the inclusion of five key elements that increase employee engagement and collaboration while building trust.

Well-Intentioned, Destined to Fail

A company introduced the Employee High Five program to much fanfare. The committee that designed the program provided notecards on which an employee could give a peer a High Five. Employees could also nominate peers for a monetary reward. The committee would then review nominations and approve the ones with validity.

This program, while good intentioned was destined to fail. Here’s why:

  • Filling out a note card created unnecessary manual friction
  • Nominating someone for a monetary reward made employees feel removed from the thank you 
  • Lag time between when the reward was given and when the committee would meet to approve nominations
  • A disconnect between then committee and the reason for the reward—unlike the peer or colleague who initially gave it

Needless to say, very few High Fives were given out and many blank notecards ended up in the recycle bin.

So, what are the elements of a successful employee rewards program? Here are five to consider:

1. Simple Is Better

There’s a universal rule for engagement: Simple is better. A program will achieve greater participation levels if it has the following features:

  • Simple to administer
  • Simple to understand
  • Simple to use

Three Focus Areas

Strive to simplify an employee engagement program in these three areas:


Engaging with a rewards program should be as easy and natural as using a mobile phone.

Fewer Rules

Have you ever been excited to participate in something but then felt overwhelmed by the tedious fine print of the rules and decided to not participate at all? Overwhelming employees with a long list of rules can lead to negative feelings about the program, making them less inclined to participate.

It’s best to establish clear, easy-to-follow rules that make sense for your program and build a foundation of trust with employees. Remember, every great employee program keeps the positive impact on employees center stage. 

Marketing (but not how you think)

A lot of time can be spent designing the look and feel of an engagement program, including coming up with unique names and fun campaigns, even though that isn’t what employees care most about. They simply want to say thank you, give a reward, and know their colleague received it.

2. Take it Out of the Manager’s Hands

A common mistake is involving managers and executives in the approval of each reward. This makes sense on the surface because no one wants a program to go wildly over budget or endure rampant misuse of the rewards. The danger with adding more levels of approval, however, is that the program will be used less.

Although companies trust employees with financial details, trade secrets, and expense accounts—it’s rare for a company to trust their employees implicitly with rewards. But by doing so, an engagement program has a better chance for success.   

3. Have a Budget but Don’t Be Too Strict

It’s critical to have a budget because, ultimately, a rewards program is an investment. By knowing what a company is willing to invest, it can more easily measure ROI.

The budget itself isn’t the measure of program success, however. There are larger themes to evaluate as part of the ROI of your program, such as:

  • Teamwork
  • Engagement
  • Happiness
  • Retention

4. Give Gift Cards and Give Choice

A common misconception is that rewards programs should offer specific and unique rewards. Each company has a unique culture, so shouldn’t the rewards match that? 

Although this line of thinking makes sense on the surface, restricting reward options isn’t what employees want. It’s said that the thought is what counts, but ask anyone who’s received a gift they didn’t want, and they’ll tell you differently.

Employees like options and want to be the ones to choose the reward that best fits their need. One way to ensure employees are satisfied with their reward is to give them the number-one requested holiday gift for more than 12 years in a row: gift cards. Our gift card catalog allows employees to choose the gift card they want—leaving them with a positive experience.

5. Measure Effectiveness

Establishing the purpose of an engagement program at the outset, and being clear about what success looks like, are key to measuring effectiveness. Examples of program goals include:  

  • Improve employee retention
  • Increase employee participation
  • Raise the level of employee satisfaction
  • Improve cross-team collaboration

Once the program purpose has been decided, it becomes possible to build metrics around the program to measure whether or not rewards are helping to achieve it.

Next Steps

For more information about creating a successful employee rewards program, watch our free, on-demand webcast or read another article to learn how a newly remote workforce may impact your employee program.

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