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. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (7)
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Fascinating information leslienwll - thanks so much for taking the time to share what you have learned about motivation. It is such a vast topic with so many different theories and perspectives and I think the more of these we can expose ourselves to, the better our overall appreciation for the complexity of motivation in general.

    It's interesting though, how in the end, it really comes down to one person - our self - to make a change. Thanks for reminding us to keep that in perspective. A lesson for me is to not stop trying to create motivating environments for people but to not be too hard on myself when my best efforts don't elicit the changes I'd like to see in others.

  • leslienwll wrote Over a month ago
    The article on McLelland's drivers was extremely interesting and well done. Thank you for the effort put into its development. But further to the discussion on the drivers is a most interesting exploration of the mini drivers found within the need for achievement (nAch), affiliation (nAff) and power (nPow). As an example amost revealing discovery for many is that their need for achievement is not actually the need for positive feedback, reinforcement and recognition but rather the avoidance of negative feedback. So folks with a negative driver work over the top to ensure that they never receive the negative stroke. They don't really look for the positive stroke. Fascinating research. So the thematic apperception test (TAT) is one of the best tools to discover those mini drivers.
    Another added piece to the motivation and human behaviour discussion would invite you to look at the work of Dr Taibi Kahler and his Process Communication Model. He recognized that we all have a psychological need for one of 6 needs 1. the recognition of work and time structure, 2. work and values and beliefs, 3. recognition of self and sensory, 4. need for contact, 5. need for incidence and 6. the need for solitude. The truth is when we do not get our needs met positively we will get them met negatively. It is still a stroke even if it is negative and the need still gets met.
    As a leader it is critical to understand your own needs and to appreciate that everyone around you may very well have a different need to satisfy. He also is very clear, while you can certainly help a person to understand what their psychological needs are and also help them to discover their " psychological watering holes", that the reality is we are responsible to get our own needs met and as such responsible for our own happiness. Getting your needs met is a healthy behaviour and keeping your need bucket full keep us healthy too. When your needs are met you perform better for yourself and for others. So if you have the time and are interested to learn more Dr KAhler has a great site with lots more information on Process communication , preferences, and psychological needs.
  • Rachel wrote Over a month ago
    Hi All,

    A simple "thank you" goes such a long way! But lots of managers forget to recognize the efforts of their team members.

    So for this week's featured Favorite article, we're looking at Rewarding Your Team.

    Find out why "thanks" is so important, and get some ideas on how you can recognize the efforts of your team properly.

    Click on the link below to read the article. ... TMM_54.php

    Best wishes

  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Lulu,
    You raise a very good point about receiving praise as kids and trying harder. Regardless of how old we are now or how much experience we have, we react to praise just like when we were younger. We flourish, we bloom, we make more efforts.

    Although managers should not treat their employees like kids, perhaps they should praise them like kids!

    From my experiences, a thank you or an unexpected reward definitely does wonders for motivation and productivity!

    So, here is to saying thanks or showing some sort of appreciation to someone today!

  • lulu wrote Over a month ago
    I think we often forget that we are no different from when we were little - we loved being told we did something well, we tried harder in fact when we were given positive feedback. If we received no positive feedback, then any feedback was better than being ignored. Kids will often misbehave just to be noticed, so that any attention is better than nothing.

    Staff are no different. We don't work well in an environment where there is no feedback whatsoever and yet many managers just don't get it. They think as long as everyone is working, everyone is happy. How wrong they can be!!

    Reward and recognition can be simple, effective and low or no cost - it just takes a little effort to work out what recognition types your organisation wants to adopt and then be consistent. I always got the best out of my staff when I recognised them in an individual way as well as team recognition.

    And I also told staff that if they ever received praise or thanks by email, to save those emails in a folder called 'appreciation' or 'thanks' - ('appreciation' is easier to locate being right at the top of Outlook folders), and then refer to that whenever they felt like it - it does give you a feeling of satisfaction to read them later, and also they can be used for performance reviews when you want to demonstrate how appreciated you are by others.

  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Brynn

    Well you certainly did give him something to chew on!! At a previous place where I worked, one of the biggest challenges I ever had with a colleague was to let him understand how important it was to praise, recognise and reward...he felt that the staff members were being paid - why the need to thank them as well? Needless to say, our staff turnover in that department was terrible. The year before I left we started working on an official rewards program which they use to date - and things are a lot more stable now.

    I hope your colleague realises the importance of what you told him; sometimes people like that, just need a little jolt to start thinking about their own attitudes and perceptions with regards to praise and recognition. (And maybe send him an invitation to join the wonderful Mind Tools community!! )

    Kind regards
  • ladyb wrote Over a month ago
    This is one of those messages that you simply can't hear enough. Interestingly, I just had a conversation with a person who is new to management and they were lamenting about the "lack of motivation" with workers these days. He was going on and on about how since the economy is going into the tank people should just be thankful to have a job and it wasn't his job to coddle people and tell them all the time what a good job they were doing. He felt strongly that recognizing a large project's completion or some other major accomplishment was alright, but everyday, "He's just too busy for that."

    I smiled and nodded while listening and at the end said something like, "If you think you're too busy now to show your appreciation, think how busy you'll be replacing all these unmotivated souls. Lack of motivation isn't innate, it's learned." And then I excused myself. I thought he should just chew on that observation for a while and just maybe it would resonate with him.

    Thanks for reaffirming what I know to be true. It's wonderful to hear basically the same message coming Mind Tools as well.


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