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Reward and Recognition

Welcome back to the Pathway blog! 

We hope you’ve been faring well throughout this long, frigid winter, and that perhaps these little glimpses of Spring are bringing some hope and lightness to your days. 

Today’s post is focused on a topic designed to improve the atmosphere of your workplace and the motivation of your team: Recognition and reward.

It’s common to hear phrases like “positive work environment” and “maintaining high morale” in discussions of leadership. And, of course, these are things we would like to embody in our own workplaces! The question is, though, how exactly do we put these theories into practice? 

There are many answers, but one of the simplest and most impactful ways to improve morale, communication, and job satisfaction is by enacting a plan for recognition and reward.

What is recognition? 

Sometimes it’s helpful to really get down to the basics. What, exactly, does “recognition” mean? In a general sense, recognition is considered to be the “acknowledgment of something’s existence, validity, or legality.” 

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? We all want to be acknowledged as valid, whether it’s at work, at home, or simply in our own minds. In the workplace, however, that needs to go just a little bit further. Valid is good, but as leaders, it’s important to recognize that what your team members are doing is not only valid but also done well. 

This doesn’t mean you have to pretend each and every team member does everything fantastically, but it does mean that you need to evaluate them individually and find what they actually do fantastically (or at least quite well) and make a deliberate effort to acknowledge them for it. 

Recognizing or honoring employees for their levels of service is meant to encourage repeat actions, through reinforcing the behavior you would like to see repeated.

Not all recognition is created equal. 

As you build your plan to incorporate recognition and reward into your workplace, it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same motivations and interests. What sends one employee over the moon might leave another wondering, “Do they even know me?” 

This makes a deliberate, individualized effort even more important. Some people are satisfied by simply knowing they have meaning at work, and others react better to more tangible rewards. 

By combining a couple of different methods, you’ll be able to create an accurate picture of your team’s motivations:  

Just ask! 

Providing a “reflection question” is a great way to just come right out with it — you want to acknowledge your team for their efforts and talents, and you want to know exactly how to do it meaningfully. This can be done in a department meaning or in a way that allows employees to turn in their answers later. You can take this a step further by making this information public via something like Word Cloud (if your team grants you permission) so that everyone knows how to best acknowledge each other’s efforts. 

Pay attention to demographics.

While we’re not advocating for stereotyping, it’s important to recognize that individuals raised in certain eras carry with them some “motivational similarities” that are helpful to be aware of. Shared experiences, notable cultural phenomena, and technological differences are all factors that can affect how certain age groups prioritize reward and recognition. Use the following generation/reward descriptions as guideposts, rather than golden rules. 

  • Traditionalists (1928-1945): Job titles and money 
  • Baby Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964): Promotions, professional development, expertise valued and acknowledged, prestigious job titles, office size, and parking spaces
  • Gen X (1965-1980): Flexible schedules, benefits like telecommuting, recognition from the boss, bonuses, stock, and gift cards as monetary rewards
  • Gen Y/Millennials (1981-1996): Offer skills, training, mentoring, feedback and culture, flexible schedules, time off, structure, stability, prefer stock options as monetary rewards
  • Gen Z (1997-2012): Social rewards, mentorships, constant feedback, want to be meaningful and given responsibility, expect structure, clear directions, transparency, like experiential rewards

While each of these methods are useful in their own rights, we highly recommend blending them in order to gather comprehensive data that will help you plan highly-effective reward systems. 


Don’t forget to follow through. 

A recognition and rewards system is only effective when it’s implemented consistently, genuinely, and fairly. If it’s seen as a gimmick designed solely to increase productivity and further the company’s interests, there’s a good chance it won’t be received well. 

When a recognition and rewards system proves itself to be long-lasting and dependable, however, it becomes an integral part of the company culture. This not only encourages career longevity but improves the attractiveness of your company as a workplace in general. 

Happy team members, satisfied managers, and a smoothly-functioning company. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that! 

Join us for our next post, where we share specific ideas for reward and recognition that are fun, time-tested, and sure to give your workplace a big boost.