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Employee rewards and recognition - what does Google do?

Employee reward & recognition programmes run on a bit of a fine line and getting the balance right is often the key to real success. Sure, there are people happy with pins and badges, thank yous, bonuses, outings and pool tables but to really be innovative is to offer what the employees themselves would consider a reward or recognition meaningful to them.

Ever since it was demonstrably proven that saying 'thank you' to employees helped boost morale and productivity, there has been that danger of it being overused to the point of becoming meaningless like receiving an impersonal email or a potted plant from HR for five or ten years of service.

Organisations now need to move beyond such gestures (that should be routine in any case) and show their appreciation rather than just verbalising it - and it doesn't have to be a material reward, though that is a natural follow on. An employee who recently worked 31 hours straight through with two hours of sleep in between, was rewarded with neither a thank you or a word of appreciation, when the proper response should have been "go home right now and someone else can finish up here, and don't come in tomorrow". That was what that individual needed the most, not a free lunch or a game of pool in the rec room. Some employees simply don't have time to play pool.

The ultimate danger in using verbal reward and recognition however, is overuse or the perception of manipulation to further financial goals.

Employees want to be recognised not only for what they can help the company gain in terms of goals and targets, but for who they are and what they mean to the organsiation as a person. Reward and recognition are a psychological boost, a reaction forged in childhood approval. Above all, people want to be appreciated for who they are, not an efficient cog in the machine.

Whatever the magic formula might be to a truly successful reward and recognition programme that balances verbal appreciation with material rewards, more organisations are jumping on the bandwagon, especially in the tech sectorin both the UK and the US, as they see provable benefits emerge, including increased retention as they shower their employees with perks.

Google is one of those companies that seems to continuously pop up at the top of list on both sides of the pond. In addition to attractive salaries and financial benefits it offers free grub, wellness programmes, get the picture. But Google is much more than its perks, which are too many to list. Its success comes in balancing of culture with reward and recognition programmes. Perks that go along with a negative culture will do little to boost morale and productivity. They must complement each other.

A Google YouTube UK employee was recently quoted as saying: “Great coworkers, amazing perks and a transparent inclusive corporate culture. Loads of international career opportunities. Very diverse and empowering environment.”

Many companies that can afford to copy Google's style of reward and recognition are doing so, those such as Facebook and the other tech giants and others on a smaller scale. Few are really innovative however, just copycatted.

A few new ideas are emerging however. There is a newly growing trend for instance to push peer-to-peer recognition facilitated by social media that seems to be proving successful. Employees seem to put more store in what their colleagues have to say about them than management, probably because the possible element of manipulation for profit and goals is removed. It's simply all about what they're doing right and being recognised for that by their equals.

Telefonica employees have an interactive internal chat platform and their own personal page and each can see how the others are doing and contribute to that while being able to nominate each other for various company awards.

Another innovative reward scheme that more organisations are using is clocking up points that can be redeemed for various perks. Who doesn't love racking up points from supermarkets to petrol stations to airline miles? This system gives employees a choice of what they want to spend their points on, which is also giving them control over what reward is most meaningful to them personally. Online retailer Zappos, which has a similar internal Facebook-style feed to Telefonica, also runs such a points system, which places them well in the ranks of innovative thinking on reward and recognition.

Although not necessarily innovative, some companies offer free holidays as a reward.

This incentive though it might sound like just another perk, is actually genius in the sense that holidays are associated in the mind with work. So being given a free break from the job has that direct link that subtly impacts the brain to see it as a 'real reward' in a way that being given extra money to have a holiday would not.

Employees who receive a holiday bonus might perhaps feel they should be putting the money to other more practical uses rather than a holiday but a free holiday is something few would feel guilty about taking, especially if it was 'use it or lose it'. For the organisation, such a scheme ensures that employees return refreshed and invigorated and not stressed out from staying home on vacation to spring clean.

More organisations will need to start taking such innovative approaches because according to studies, while reward & recognition programmes are growing, companies are taking the generic approach rather than the 'authentic' approach based on individual wants and needs.

Recognition is personal. Everyone without exception wants to be seen as unique and every employee has a different idea of what is valuable to them to them personally.

Various surveys have shown that around two thirds of employees prefer personalised benefits and meaningful rewards, and what's meaningful to one employee is going to be different for another. Some will dismiss groupthink approaches, disdain awards and might not be in the mood for the clown face sent to cheer them up on casual Friday.

If organisations want their employees to think outside the box, then they must also think outside the box when it comes to the way they treat their employees. And if they don’t know how to figure out what works, all they have to do is ask.

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