Have you ever been rewarded for a job well done and then just shrugged your shoulders and tossed the reward into a drawer? Or even worse, gotten angry because the certificate for Pizza and Wings was useless to you, a life long vegan? Employee rewards and recognition are tricky business and can sometimes create the opposite of the intended effect.
A recent article in the NY Times heralds a company for creative rewards:

“A few summers ago, Indu Navar, founder and chief executive of the Silicon Valley software maker Serus, paid for her employees to jump out of an airplane. None of them had sky-dived before, and Sumeet Haldankar, a program engineer, said the 14,500-foot plunge delivered such an adrenaline rush that people hugged and laughed giddily when they landed safely.”

I’d have to question whether these employees hugged because they felt rewarded or just happy to be alive. The article continues with examples of other creative perks:

“Jil Wyland, founder and chief executive of Litigation Presentation, a company in Atlanta that makes graphics used in courtroom trials, said she offered perks because she wanted work to be fun. She has treated her employees to office massages, personal trainers and maid service. To help the staff through a particularly busy week, she took them to a Nine Inch Nails concert.”

I believe in making work fun. Trying to break the monotony of the everyday grind is a worthy objective and creative perks often work better than cash in rewarding exceptional efforts or ideas. Employees typically use the cash to take care of mundane obligations, come to expect it as a part of their compensation package or, even worse, forget that they got it.
Make sure whatever you use as a perk is actually desired by the employee. Motivation is individual and not all employees respond to the same types of rewards. Surely jumping out of a plane is memorable but the question I always ask is, “will this sustain long term motivation and good work performance?” The answer is, probably not.
Perks and rewards have some affect on morale but the most sustaining effort is still creating an engaging respectful work environment where employees are routinely and consistently asked their opinions and recognized for their ideas and efforts. This costs little, depends greatly on skilled and effective supervisors and sustains motivation over the long haul.


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