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Oct 26, 2011

You probably don’t think about it too much.

When you start a recruitment effort you look at your benefits package and whether or not you offer a competitive salary. Maybe you spend time pitching some of the fringe benefits like a company car, prime parking spaces, free lunches or snacks, or a discount to a local health club. Another thing to consider is what kind of employee incentive program you offer and what it says about you.

Employees consistently say they want an employer to say a simple thank you. Your incentive program is a way to do that. If you don’t offer a program or let your program lag, it says a lot about you as a manager and what you think about your employees.

Here are 10 things that your employee incentive program says about you, both good and bad:

1. You don’t care

The one thing that can really drive employees crazy is the feeling that management just doesn’t care.

When management is so far removed from the day-to-day lives of the employees, it appears that the ups and downs of an average employee don’t matter. This disconnect creates a gulf between employees and management and, over time, it becomes difficult to motivate employees.

If you have no incentives program, or one that is out-of-date or poorly managed, this is the image you are sending.

2. You do care

This may seem logical, but it’s worth mentioning all on its own. Giving employees an incentive program lets them know that you see the work they are doing and that you appreciate it.

Someone who’s new to the company, or in the process of being recruited, is certainly going to appreciate that, and it might very well weigh into their thinking when they are pondering your offer.

3. You are out of touch

It’s a common complaint among employees. The people who sit in the cubicles day in and day out feel that no one upstairs is listening to them, never considers their opinions or thoughts, and has completely lost touch with the average employee.

If you have an old and out-dated incentive program that isn’t offering incentives that anyone within your company cares about, this is exactly how you will appear. At that point, your incentive program is no longer incentivizing anything.

4. You value good work

All it takes is a thank you. However, just saying thank you probably won’t work forever.

Creating an incentive program, or adjusting your existing one so it is in alignment with the latest incentives trends or with the core values of your employees and the company, shows that you value them and their work. Not doing that is like offering someone a car and then, when they meet the requirements of the offer, you show up with a clunker.

If your incentive program is old and not administered with any enthusiasm, then it appears if you could care less about employee effort and they will soon stop making the effort. Make the incentive program worthwhile and the company will ultimately reap the benefits.

5. You are not paying attention

If employees have previously registered complaints, or shown no interest in participating in your existing incentive program, they are trying to tell you something. If you have hundreds of clocks or plaques sitting unclaimed in a closet somewhere, that might be a hint that no one values the reward. If you hand out a catalog to employees when they reach a goal and never get an order form back from them, there is a problem.

If you want to be seen as paying attention to the people who work so hard for you, it might be time to make some changes and adjustments to what you currently offer and how you administer the program.

6. You treat employees fairly

A poorly run incentives program is just as bad, if not worse, than not having one at all.

If it’s run the right way then the rules are clear and understandable. If it is confusing and people claim they qualify for a reward when they do not, then something’s wrong. People will start to feel as if they are not being appreciated and they are not being treated fairly.

7. Employees are more than just numbers

If you think that just offering a job and a salary to employees should be enough incentive, you are not thinking long term about the happiness of your team.

During economic downtime, this cutback may be necessary to keep your company profitable. However, you may soon find yourself standing in an empty office as soon as the economy turns around. Even if you need to cut back on your program, it’s better to do something on a small, yet sincere scale than do nothing at all.

8. You are focused on the wrong things

There is one school of thought that says a business should always be focused on the customer and always be selling. There is something to be said for this, since if you do not sell, you have no company.

However, there is another school of thought that says you should focus on your employees first. They are on the front lines, answering the phone, greeting clients and selling the products. If they are unhappy, it’s almost impossible to motivate them and it can affect how they appear to your customers.

9. Hard work is rewarded

If your sales team sets a new record in sales, you want to be sure you give them a reward that matters and shows how much you appreciate the extra effort.

If the rewards your company offers are lackluster, good luck getting anyone to muster up the effort to set a new sales record the next time you really need them to make that push. By showing that hard work is rewarded, your employees will know that it’s worth working those extra hours.

10. You know your employees as people

When you set out to find just the right reward for an employee, it shows them that you know who they are outside the office.

One of the best examples of this is a gift card for that person’s favorite restaurant, store, or for an activity that you know they will appreciate, like a sporting event or a lift ticket to their favorite ski mountain. Another good example is a customized vacation tailored to their interests, hobbies and wants.

If you just hand out envelopes with a check inside, it seems impersonal and can get lost in the day-to-day shuffle.

There is no magic formula to designing incentive programs that will guarantee your company will have a banner year. However, keeping these 10 things in mind when you set about creating or maintaining a program will help ensure that whatever program you do have has some kind of return on investment. Ultimately, an employee incentives program benefits everyone, even you.

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