Why you shouldn’t overlook the emotional influence of employee rewards

Employee recognition programs are a strong foundation of success for many companies, providing material and immaterial benefits.

Rewards can be crucial when uplifting spirits, creating a sense of belonging among team members, and improving overall job satisfaction. By acknowledging dedication and hard work, these programs effectively communicate that the company values and appreciates its employees’ contributions.

However, the intrinsic value of employee rewards can often go unrecognized, with staff underestimating their true worth. While bonuses, promotions, and certain perks like prime parking spots are visible aspects of rewards, their real significance lies below their material benefits.

The long-term value of employee benefits is the strong emotional resonance they hold for your staff, which can deeply impact their sense of value and belonging within the company.

The emotional impact of employee rewards can be a powerful tool when managing your team, strengthening bonds, and motivating performance in ways that far surpass a free meal, gym membership, or an extra vacation day.

Four common reasons why employers give their employees rewards

The gesture of providing rewards to employees serves purposes far beyond a basic acknowledgment of their efforts. here are four of the primary motivations that drive employers to implement reward systems for their workforce.

1) To recognise their work achievements

Celebrating employee successes is typically a primary reason for rewarding employees. Whether it’s achieving key targets, overcoming difficult challenges, or introducing great ideas for the business, rewards act as a form of recognition for these accomplishments.

This validates the effort put in by employees and signals the company’s appreciation for their valuable contributions.

2) To encourage higher performance

Rewards are also used as a tool to encourage higher performance. By setting clear performance-related rewards, employers can motivate employees to strive for excellence. 

A benefit to providing this type of recognition is that when other employees see their colleagues being rewarded for good performance, it can spark healthy competition, improving the overall performance standards across the organization.

3) To build loyalty with their employees

Rewards are instrumental in building loyalty within a workforce. When organizations recognize and reward their employees, it sends a powerful message of real appreciation for employee contributions. This sense of being valued can nurture strong loyalty among employees, reducing the likelihood of them seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Rewards that offer professional growth or increased responsibilities can also encourage employees to feel more connected and committed to the company’s vision, believing in how important their role is in its success.

4) To celebrate their work anniversaries and milestones

A powerful method to convey appreciation to employees involves celebrating their work anniversaries and key achievements.

Organizations can acknowledge the workers’ achievements in successfully tackling challenges on several projects during their tenure or simply thank them for giving another year to the company. This type of award adds feelings of pride and attachment to employees to the organization.

Why employee rewards are more important than most employers think

Some organizations have long perceived employee rewards as just a transactional instrument. They were viewed as simple trades—a reward for a job done right, a bonus for a target met, or a promotion for having a consistent work ethic.

While these tangible rewards are undoubtedly crucial and effective, it’s essential to recognize that they represent just one facet of long-term employee motivation and job satisfaction. Here’s why these rewards are more critical than most employers realize:

They give emotional recognition and validation

Employee rewards should be seen as more than financial perks or signs of gratitude. They represent a crucial form of emotional recognition, endorsing the hard work, dedication, and input of each employee.

When employees’ efforts are recognized and appreciated, it helps to confirm employees’ worth and elevate self-esteem and confidence. The morale boost that results in better job satisfaction provides the incentive for continuous hard work. In the end, it leads to improved productivity and performance.

They strengthen emotional connection

Rewards serve as a powerful tool in creating a strong emotional engagement between the workforce and the organization. Recognizing employees’ contributions with rewards shows that their efforts are valued and important to the company.

This recognition can trigger strong feelings of pride and loyalty, encouraging employees to feel more connected to their work. This sense of belonging can lead to increased tenure with the company and greater participation from teams toward the company’s success.

They boost morale and motivation

Rewards can have a significant influence on employees. The anticipation associated with rewards generates excitement and a focused purpose for workers, urging them to deliver their best effort.

Receiving a reward can trigger an array of positive feelings, including joy, pride, and a sense of accomplishment. These feelings significantly improve morale and cultivate a safe and positive work environment that’s conducive to better performance.

They promote positive behavior and culture

Rewards can be a potent tool for influencing an organization’s culture and enforcing positive employee behaviors. Seeing that certain actions like effective collaboration, sharing ideas, and providing excellent customer service earn rewards motivates employees to replicate these behaviors.

The result is a continuous cycle of positive reinforcement that not only promotes forward company progress but also shapes a culture that attracts and retains high-quality talent.

They reduce stress and burnout

Rewards are important when fighting against employee burnout and too much stress. Recognizing employees’ contributions makes them feel valued, reducing the compulsion to continuously validate their worth.

Offering rewards that focus on relaxation and personal time off, such as spa treatments or extra vacation days, affords employees a chance to decompress. This strategy creates a positive cycle where employees return to their roles feeling refreshed, which can boost productivity and efficiency while diminishing the likelihood of staff turnover.

How to improve the emotional resonance of your employee rewards

The emotional importance of employee rewards can greatly affect an organization’s culture, performance, and overall success. But to fully harness this ability, it’s important to employ strategies that increase the emotional connection these rewards evoke. 

Implementing the following strategies can help achieve this goal.

Personalise your rewards

Recognizing the individuality of each employee is crucial when designing reward programs. A generic approach may not resonate with everyone, as each person has unique preferences and motivations.

Personalizing rewards shows a deeper level of acknowledgment and appreciation for employees, treating them as actual individuals rather than just “workers.” To find out what types of rewards each employee values most, consider using surveys or having casual discussions with them. While some employees might thrive on public recognition, others could find greater value in extra time off or opportunities for personal development.

Personalization can be as straightforward as a thoughtful handwritten note or as flexible as a custom gift idea. By personalizing rewards, you communicate a clear message — you recognize and value the individuality and specific contributions of each employee.

Choose rewards with high emotional impact

Understanding the emotional impact of different rewards is important in creating a positive and lasting impression on employees.

It’s important to choose rewards that align closely with what employees value personally. For someone who values personal growth, a reward that allows for professional development, like a course or attending a specific conference, could be highly impactful.

Experiential rewards, such as team events, special meals, or paid trips, can also create memorable experiences and tend to have a stronger emotional impact compared to other rewards because of the lasting memories they can create.

Get your presentation and timing right

The emotional impact of a reward is significantly influenced by how it’s presented and the timing of its delivery. Improving the presentation by turning it into a memorable occasion—such as a highlight in a team meeting, a specific reward ceremony, or a well-planned surprise party—can make the recipient feel truly valued and appreciated.

Making the award timely and presenting it shortly after the achievement reinforces employee actions by directly linking the recognition with what they achieved. Of course, sincerity and authenticity during the presentation are crucial. They deepen the emotional resonance of the reward and make the gesture much more meaningful.

Get better results from your employee rewards programs

The introduction of an employee reward program is a great strategy for organizations of all sizes. Recognizing employees’ contributions and selecting emotionally impactful rewards can greatly improve motivation and engagement levels in the workplace. 

This approach plays a critical role in developing a positive organizational culture, creating better team alignment and long-term loyalty from employees.

Author: Cindy Mielke is Tango Card‘s Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, and a Certified Professional of Incentive Management. Her passion is helping teammates, clients, and partners achieve success.

A strong advocate for the incentive industry, Cindy received the Karen Renk Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) in 2019. She currently serves on the IMA board of directors and on the board of the Incentive and Engagement Solutions Providers (IESP).