Great employee rewards must be a gift not a burden
Eliz Greene

Employee rewards are intended to motivate people to perform desired behaviors. We want employees to be efficient and productive. We want teams to be innovative and creative. Ultimately, we want to support actions that increase the company’s bottom line.

So why do so many employee reward programs fall flat?

This week I’ve been preparing for a presentation on Purpose Driven Rewards and have discovered four areas many companies overlook when designing their reward programs. Over the next weeks, I’ll share four secrets of great employee rewards.

The first secret to great employee rewards is:

Employee Rewards only work if people want them.

Just like a gift, a reward can be interpreted as worthless, thoughtless or worse – insulting or a burden. Consider the gift of a puppy. If you wanted a puppy, it is a great gift. If you are a cat person, the gift of a dog is thoughtless. If you look at the puppy and see a poop-machine ready to chew up your favorite shoes, the gift is a burden.

Do your employees value the rewards you offer?

Asking employees what they want is a critical component in great employee rewards. Many of the things employees want don’t cost much to provide. For example, most people would open field tackle their best friend for an extra day off or to be able to leave at 3 on Friday. Some of the leaders talked with pushed back on the idea of using time off as a reward based on the reduction of productivity. But think about what we all do when we know we aren’t going to be away from work. We make sure to tie up loose ends, scramble to get things finished, so we don’t have to think about them, and cram to clear our inboxes. In other words, people tend to be highly productive in advance of time away from work. What would motivate your employees?

One more thought…

Don’t call them employese rewards if they aren’t.

Psychologically, rewards are positive reinforcement. The reward entices the behavior and makes it more likely the behavior will be repeated. It’s the “carrot.” Removing a punishment is not a carrot. For example, some companies increase the cost of employee health coverage and then require health-related behaviors to reduce the cost. The increased cost is negative reinforcement, a “stick,” used to motivate behavior. To avoid the penalty, people must participate in biometric screening, health coaching, etc. Avoiding being hit by a stick isn’t a reward. Calling the discount of healthcare contribution a reward is confusing and destroys trust.

Purpose-driven companies carefully develop employee reward programs to support behaviors that improve employee experience, productivity, and the bottom line.

What are your experiences with employee rewards? What motivates you or your team? What works well – what doesn’t? 

Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Next time – we’ll discuss why rewards need to solve problems.


About Eliz Greene

Eliz Greene survived a heart attack at age 35 while seven months pregnant with twins. Her down-to-earth strategies to manage stress and improve heart health and reduce stress are used by thousands of busy people all over the world. She is a motivational wellness speaker, author, and job stress researcher. Visit to book Eliz for your next event.


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