Rewarding Your Team

Learning Why "Thank You" is so Vital

Rewards don't have to be financial.

© iStockphoto

Imagine this scenario: One of your team members has saved the company a significant amount of money with a process she spent weeks creating.

It's right before the winter holidays, so you decide to reward her with a turkey that she and her family can enjoy for dinner one night.

You make a big deal of presenting the turkey to her. She smiles and shyly accepts the gift, quickly putting it in the office refrigerator. You feel good because you rewarded her efforts, and she seemed to be happy about the recognition.

But is she? Things aren't always as they appear. You didn't take the time to learn whether or not she eats meat, so you didn't discover that she's a vegetarian. And you didn't consider that she commutes to the office one hour by train – so by the time she gets that frozen turkey home to give away to friends, it will be a drippy, soggy mess.

Have you ever wondered why the rewards you offer don't seem to be received very well? We often hear from business experts about how important it is to reward your team. But it's equally important to take the time to find out how your team would really like to be recognized. Sometimes people don't want a bonus or pay raise. Instead, what they'd really like is a sincere "thank you" or a day off to spend with their families.

This article can help you learn the "ins and outs" of recognizing your team.

The Importance of Rewarding Your Team

Although the idea of rewarding workers beyond their pay and benefits package seems obvious, some leaders avoid the practice, perhaps because they feel that showing appreciation undermines their authority, perhaps because they want to avoid stirring up jealousy in other members of the team, perhaps because they feel they don't have the time to do it, or perhaps because they feel embarrassed praising people openly.

This is a shame, because these attitudes reduce their own performance, and all of these problems can or should be avoided. The most successful leaders are those who recognize and reward their team's efforts. This not only builds trust, but it strengthens loyalty as well. Turnover is often much lower in teams that have a strong bond with their leader, and this impacts a company's bottom line.

You should also remember that, for the most part, the world's talent pool is shrinking – mostly due to declining birth rates, which leads to an aging workforce. This means that it's becoming harder for organizations to find the people they need. Finding and keeping talented people is a key issue, and the companies that figure out how to do this now will likely be the ones that succeed far into the future. One of the best ways to keep these people is to make sure that their hard work is appreciated. If finding the few minutes needed to recognize people is a problem, just think how much time you'd have to spend replacing them!

Recognizing Their Efforts

Appropriately rewarding team members for something they've done takes some effort on your part. If you don't put much thought into what you're doing, then you may just upset the people you're trying to thank. This is why you should sit down with your team and find out how they'd really like to be rewarded.

For example, if your team is about to start a major project, find out:

  • Which team achievements would people like to be rewarded for?
  • What kind of reward would they like, as individuals and as a team?
  • Would they rather celebrate with several milestones along the way, or have one big celebration when they hit the goal?

Learning how your team would like to be recognized, and how you can show your appreciation, is a vital step toward making sure that your efforts will be appropriate.

When and How to Say "Thank You"

Because the return on appreciation is huge. Workers who feel appreciated are twice as likely to stay at a company than those who don't feel appreciated.

If you think you don't have time or can't afford to show appreciation to your team, then stop and think about how much you currently invest in hiring and training new people. How much would you save if your turnover were lower? Probably a lot, which is why recognizing your team's efforts is almost always cost-effective.

And don't think that daily gratitude will "wear out" your team. Has anyone ever thanked you so many times that it lost its meaning? Probably not. It's not likely that your team will ever get tired of receiving your appreciation.

Just make sure you're sincere about why you thank people. And don't rush the "thank you" while you're on your way somewhere else. This WILL probably make your gestures lose their meaning. Stop, look at the person, and tell him how much you appreciate what he's doing.

These small gestures cost nothing except a few seconds of your time, but their payoff is enormous.

"Thank You" Tips

Remember these guidelines:

  • Be consistent – Consistency is vital. If you praise often during one month, and then skip the next month entirely, your team will wonder what's going on. Creating a culture of recognition and reward is important – so once you start, make sure you continue.
  • Be specific – Every time you praise people on your team, be specific about what they did to deserve the recognition. If you say, "Jim did a great job yesterday!" that's not only vague, but it may cause jealousy from other team members. Being specific not only makes the person you recognize feel better, it also lets the whole team know that you're paying attention. So, detail exactly what the person did and why it made a difference.
  • Know your people – You must know your team to reward them adequately. For example, if you know that someone loves art and music, then opera tickets or museum passes would probably be an appreciated, thoughtful gift. If someone else is a sports fan, then football tickets might be a great idea. Getting to know your team's interests is critical to showing your appreciation well. Send out a survey, or question them about their passions. And write it all down so you don't forget.
  • Make the reward relevant – Your gift or gesture should be relevant to your team member's effort. For example, if someone comes in early for a week to make sure a project is completed on time, then a gift certificate for a great breakfast would be a good fit. If, however, the person just saved the company from a mistake that would have cost millions, then something more significant is needed!

Ideas for Rewarding Your Team

As we said earlier, chances are high that your team isn't looking for a bonus check or pay raise to feel appreciated. Often, smaller gestures go further and end up costing you less in the long run. Here are some creative ideas to consider for showing appreciation to your team:

  • Offer flexible scheduling – not everyone needs, or wants, to be in the office at 8:00 a.m. Or, you could offer telecommuting days.
  • Send handwritten thank-you notes when someone goes above and beyond the requirements of the job.
  • Create "free day" coupons that a worker could use for a free day off – no questions asked – without using vacation or sick time.
  • Take your team out to lunch – and then, as a last-minute surprise, give them the rest of the day off.
  • Give out "lazy Monday" coupons to allow a team member one "free" Monday morning off.
  • If you e-mail a team member to say thank you, consider copying that message to YOUR boss.

There are thousands of creative ways to say "thank you." The great thing about these gestures is that they'll probably be remembered far longer than any bonus check. You'll show your appreciation – and, at the same time, you'll strengthen the bond between you and your team.

Listen to our Expert Interview with Chester Elton, who talks in detail about using recognition in practice within the workplace. You can also read Bruna Martinuzzi's article   on the subject, which, as well as giving elegant insights into the value of praise, points towards useful supporting resources.

Key Points

Leader need to say "thank you" regularly. Your team members will likely work much harder if they feel that what they're doing really makes a difference, and that their efforts are noticed by those with "power."

Thank-you gifts don't have to be extravagant or costly. Small gestures are often remembered longer than financial bonuses. These small, entertaining rewards can also help promote a sense of fun in the workplace, which may go a long way toward helping you retain key talent.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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