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Employee benefits – how to improve retention with a good rewards and recognition strategy

Published: July 9, 2018

Due to strong competition for the best workers in the Canadian marketplace, employee retention is becoming a critical factor for success. Many employers react to this trend by offering larger salaries for key hires, but this strategy may not be financially sustainable for numerous enterprises, large or small. One viable alternative is to implement a good rewards and recognition program that publically highlights the contributions of most dedicated team members. Such a program would be far more affordable, while its impact on retention rate could be tremendous if it’s implemented the right way.


Respect is more valuable than money

Professional recognition and approval by colleagues and bosses is one of the strongest motives for coming to the office every day. When employees are feeling respected, they are far less likely to search for greener pastures elsewhere, even with prospects of better pay. However, employers need to display their appreciation in clear and tangible ways in order for this psychological mechanism to work. Private compliments and promises of promotion won’t do the trick, since they lack the reinforcing power of public acknowledgement.


Objective measurements guarantee buy-in

The criteria used to determine which employees deserve to be rewarded must be impartial and transparent, or otherwise the whole idea will seem cynical and rigged. By setting up a fair contest, employers are signalling that most capable and hard-working individuals will be selected for bonuses or promotions. This eliminates a huge source of frustration that is among the primary reasons for well performing employees to seek an exit. At the same time, perceived fairness guarantees willing participation from nearly entire workforce.


Lessons from the gaming world

During the past 10 years, many companies started applying gamification principles in order to engage and motivate their workers. Under this concept, employees can earn points, badges or gold stars when they accomplish certain tasks or perform above expectations, with symbolic and material rewards after a predefined threshold is reached. A similar system can be used to improve retention if it’s integrated into the promotion system. Who could resist the urge to reach unlock a new level or add a few prestigious achievement badges to his avatar?


Focus on high value employees

While reducing turnover is a welcome development at any level of the company, the truth is that only a few departures have a dramatic effect on company fortunes. Unfortunately, those select few workers are also highly likely to receive lucrative offers from competitors, so keeping them happy should be a priority. It’s reasonable to reserve a few extra perks just for the elite, although it’s important to avoid public perception of favouritism. Traveling to seminars and conferences in attractive locations is one type of benefit that’s difficult to refuse, while it simultaneously allows for continued skill improvement. This is a particularly good strategy with younger experts, who also happen to represent the most valuable recruitment targets.


How to start a successful rewards and recognition program?

Every company has a unique culture, and retention program should be just its formalized extension. It’s OK to study examples from other industries and emulate useful features, but you should stay true to your identity first and foremost. Another way to gather ideas is to survey the employees and modify some of their suggestions in line with strategic needs of the company. It makes sense to test several models early on, and expand the one that employees feel most enthusiastic about. Don’t forget that any program must be clearly communicated through internal channels and publically endorsed by top management and ownership in order to be taken seriously.

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