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I was asked to respond to this question following the Australian HR Awards a few weeks ago. I thought I would share my ideas further.

“We have a limited budget around rewards and incentives, and want to maximise this as much as we can in order to improve employee engagement. How much do we really need to spend per employee to get maximum engagement?”

It’s not the size of the prize it’s what you do with it that makes the difference.

With so much gloom and doom in the media, employees will not be surprised if some things change. However, there are a few basic things to consider to make sure that you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you have been working hard on employee engagement now is the time to consolidate, not abandon the plan. If you haven’t been formally rewarding or even recognising people now is the time to stand out and be different.

Here are five things to consider:

  1. Do a few small things often. It is the authenticity of the message that they will remember. If you really notice people, know about who they are and what is important to them. Then a personalised message or handwritten note can mean way more to them than expensive trinkets. People just want to be noticed.
  2. Make sure you communicate the program – if you are spending all your budget on the prizes and none on letting them know about the program you won’t have the opportunity to influence behaviour.
  3. Don’t let Christmas get crunched. For Australians, the end of the year culminates in Christmas celebrations. Since we were children we all look forward to summer holidays. To finish off the year – an acknowledgement is needed. It may well be that instead of a lunch it is drinks, or instead of a big hamper it is a $30 Lolly Shop in a box. Many people are very challenged by increasing workloads, working harder, faster and longer just to keep their jobs. A token of thanks is essential.
  4. Maximise what you do by following up the winners and getting them to share their stories. Manage the prize giving process with the same dedication as you do working out who is going to be a winner. Put their photo and story in your newsletters, intranet or even on your website. Make your winner’s hero’s in the media you have available to you.
  5. Ask them for ideas and input on what is important to them – if you need to cut costs, your people will know better than you where savings can be made. Also if they are involved in the process there will be far more acceptance for the next regime.

People have long memories, they will become cynical to any initiative you try to implement if the first thing you cut is the rewards or incentive program.

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