The Evolution of Employee Recognition and Rewards: Trends and Best Practices

BY Gail Gonzales | July 07, 2023

In 1907, the Ford Motor Company had a 700% attrition rate on its assembly line. Henry Ford decided to reward people who stayed for one, two, and five years, creating the first employee recognition format. Over 120 years later, this is what most companies are still doing today. Longevity isn’t an accurate or productive measurement of true employee engagement. In fact, “94% of organizations have employee recognition and rewards programs, yet only one-third of those are effective,” according to Merrily McGugan the vice president of brand and communications at WorkTango.

What does it mean to have an effective rewards and recognition program? We all work harder when we know we’re appreciated, morale is also better and people tend to stay longer. “Companies that excel at employee recognition are 12x more likely to generate strong business results than their peers who are not doing it,” said McGugan during her thought leadership spotlight session at From Day One’s Austin conference in June. What are some best practices companies can easily implement? McGugan offers these seven ideas.

Create a Culture of Recognition–Not a Single Event

Have you ever worked tirelessly for years just to receive a plaque and a round of applause? It can feel like way too little too late. People don’t work in years, it’s more like sprints based on project completion. Creating a culture of recognition means publicly appreciating work well done as it’s happening. “Always on recognition” as McGugan calls it rewards employees for amplifying company values and behaviors and emphasizes peer-to-peer recognition.

Decouple Recognition and Rewards

While recognition and rewards are more powerful together, in today’s hybrid and remote work world people need connection. Recognition can also mean allowing people to share a few fun moments, do some icebreakers, and check in to address any challenges.

Enable Recognition Into the Flow of Work

Recognizing someone via company wide email can feel outdated. Using Teams, Zoom, Slack, or any tool you use daily that integrates right into the systems employees are already using is much more effective, interactive, and valuable. Everyone can see it, comment, high-five and celebrate that person motivating others to do their best work in hopes they’ll be the next one cheered on.

Give Real Rewards on The Employees' Timeline

A points-based system with a platform where employees can pick out what they really want can be incredibly rewarding. An online catalog offers lots of choices on demand. McGugan shared how one employee renovated their bathroom with redeemed points while another saved up points to go visit their brother. When employees earn points for meeting tough deadlines, completing training, peer recognition, and more, it’s not just motivating. The productivity also helps support the organization financially. “It's really difficult to keep track of all the different years of service programs, ad hoc rewards, perks, and gift cards. Consolidating an annual budget into a slew of points, bringing all the programs together, and divvying them up among employees once a quarter has saved companies 20 to 30% on their rewards budget,” said McGugan.

Active Leadership and Participation

Recognition and rewards programs are meant for building culture, engaging folks, and building connections between the whole organization. If your executives don't participate, your program won’t succeed. What gets recognized gets repeated. When executives recognize an employee who's gone above and beyond, other employees will follow in their footsteps. Conversely, “When managers were not engaged in the platform, and they didn't log in and give recognitions, 91% of their direct reports were inactive or very rarely active. The managers set the tone.”

Publicize and Amplify Recognitions

For employees in warehouses or manufacturing plants who aren't working from desks or conventional office spaces, you can install screens with employee recognition to publicize their contributions. Executives, managers, and peers can also give praise and appreciation to their teams for work well done and spur more positivity.

Create a Holistic Rewards Strategy

A holistic rewards strategy means that recognition is given for exemplifying values, key behaviors, and reaching milestones. It also means that rewards are meaningful, offer choice, and are on-demand. And that incentives are provided for key areas the business wants to work on like improving customer service ratings or reducing sick days. “One of our customers got 70% of employees in the first couple of days, and ultimately 99% of employees to complete very long trainings in two weeks,” by offering points as an incentive, said McGugan.

Remember that recognition creates connection and it’s mostly about being seen, heard, and appreciated. While letting employees choose their own gifts may seem impersonal, earning points to pick out what they really want is not only motivational, it may make a tough work week a whole lot better.

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, WorkTango, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. 

Gail Gonzales is a writer, brand strategist, and designer based in Austin, Texas. Her boutique agency, Evolve Your Brand, helps business owners who care about the positive evolution of people or the planet amplify their message.


Consistent Reflection and Coaching: A Proven Method to Genuinely Support Employee Well-Being

The high costs associated with employee burnout and turnover demonstrate the need for a more effective and holistic approach to well-being. Genuine investment in employee well-being yields better outcomes: Gallup reported that employees who feel supported by their workplaces are 55% less likely to watch for other job opportunities or actively search for jobs and 68% less likely to feel burned out consistently.During From Day One’s Manhattan conference, Anita Hossain Choudhry, co-founder and CEO of The Grand, spoke about a new approach to employee well-being and cultivating an engaged workplace culture. This approach involves measuring, addressing, and enhancing employee well-being, while encompassing all aspects of wellness: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, social, environmental, intellectual, and career.The Grand coaches leaders to help achieve clarity and self-awareness to reach their personal and professional goals. Choudhry strives to create a work environment that fosters a learning and authentic growth mindset, rather than solely highlighting performance.Understanding the self and what we need within our environments and communities to achieve greater success and well-being requires reflection, intention, and connection, Choudhry said.“Only when we reflect and take the time to learn from our experiences do they become a source of growth. If you’re not doing that, you’re missing out on 70% of your learning.” she said. “That’s why at The Grand, we believe it’s really critical to have reflective practices so you can better understand where you are and where you want to go.”Anita Hossain Choudhry, Co-founder and CEO of The Grand led the thought leadership spotlight in ManhattanThe keys to fostering individual self-awareness involve managers helping employees achieve clarity through meaningful discussions of the areas of their lives they wish to improve, using shared language to define and measure well-being goals effectively in direct reports, and taking every individual’s unique journey into account to allocate resources more efficiently. Upon reflecting on where one is and wants to go, it’s essential to create intentions based on those reflections and also to experiment. It’s critical to move from a performance-based mindset to a growth-learning mindset, says Choudhry.“A lot of times at organizations it doesn’t feel safe to flex and experiment because we always have to perform,” she said. “The opportunity that we have is to create safe spaces where people can experiment. [We need to] make that the norm and give them permission to do that.”Shifting from strictly performance-focused coaching to reflective and growth-oriented coaching, helps employees become emotionally resilient, self-aware, healthy, and more engaged with others. This holistic support of individual growth leads to more successful business outcomes: higher performance, retention, and engagement.Achieving well-being requires a comprehensive approach accounting for all aspects of life. It includes investing in experiences that encourage personal and professional growth. Evolved reflective coaching techniques are crucial in the modern-day workforce as employees prioritize fulfillment in their careers without compromising other facets of their lives.When employees struggle with well-being, business performance and employee satisfaction dwindle. Business costs also rise to compensate for higher turnover. When employees achieve higher levels of well-being, they use fewer sick days, experience less burnout, are more engaged at work, and perform more efficiently.“Our future vision is really to make sure that no one will have to walk through life alone. And everyone will be able to understand their strengths and use it to become the grandest version of themselves.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, The Grand, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Stephanie Reed is a freelance news, marketing, and content writer. Much of her work features small business owners throughout diverse industries. She is passionate about promoting small, ethical, and eco-conscious businesses.

Stephanie Reed | July 02, 2024

Reducing Healthcare Costs by Reversing Chronic Care Conditions

Chronic health conditions don’t just impact the individual and their personal sphere, they have loud, wide-ranging implications for the workplace and economy at large. Obesity, and the litany of secondary conditions linked to it, such as heart disease and diabetes, cost the U.S. economy alone over $4 billion annually.The question is, how can employers be more proactive in fighting obesity among workers to help reduce healthcare costs and support employee well-being?“According to the CDC, 70% of the U.S. population is overweight, and 40% are technically obese. These are pretty staggering numbers,” said Dr. Connie Huang, the chief medical officer at Accolade. She also pointed out that obesity leads to nearly 200 other chronic diseases.Dr. Huang spoke with her colleague, Dr. Marika Holte, the associate medical director at Accolade, during a From Day One webinar. Their conversation covered the relationship between obesity and chronic conditions as well as effective measures to combat them.Dr. Marika Holte knows about weight management and cardiometabolic health – she guides the program at Accolade. She says patients don't always have a good partnership with their doctors in terms of losing weight and managing chronic diseases. “People have struggled with diet and exercise recommendations. And we really tried to recreate a space, both as physicians and as a program overall, that would make people feel really empowered to understand the factors that contributed to weight gain and chronic diseases.”She says it’s key that people succeed in taking care of their own health outcomes. “It’s often a progressive disease, and it causes inflammation and organ damage throughout the body. The link between obesity and life-altering chronic diseases can’t be overstated,” Holte said.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42.4% of all adults in the United States are obese, and obesity affects 650 million people worldwide.“11% of the U.S. population, or 38 million adults, have type two diabetes. 38% of the U.S. population, or 97 million adults, have prediabetes,” Holte said.Elevated blood sugars of any kind are toxic in terms of blood vessel health, and leads to higher risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, Holte says. “Heart disease costs the U.S. about $240 billion annually. And this included the cost of healthcare services, medicines, and loss of productivity in the workforce due to death. Obesity also increases the risk of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancers,” Holte said. “These facts really underscore the need to treat obesity and weight-related medical diseases in order to prevent chronic diseases as secondary outcomes.”Treating Obesity as a Chronic ConditionHolte put obesity into stages, where zero represents a normal, healthy weight and stage four being “irreversible complications of obesity.” Waiting until the end stage exacts a high financial cost, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.Dr. Marika Holte of Accolade led the webinar (company photo)“The biggest breakthrough that we’re really seeing in the past few years is that we both know how to diagnose and treat weight-related conditions before they lead to secondary medical conditions.” Diet and exercise programs that many companies promote don’t always work, though. About 90% of patients regain the weight, and then withdraw from the programs.“We now understand that obesity is [a] multifactorial, chronic medical disease caused by a combination of easily accessible high calorie foods, lack of exercise, loss of muscle, poor sleep, chronic stress, unhealthy fat, and abnormal body signaling and lack of ability to feel full. Anyone who’s supposed to lose weight with diet and exercise is going to struggle if they're always feeling hungry,” Holte said.Newer treatments that affect Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar and appetite, like Ozempic, Saxenda, and Wegovy, are major breakthroughs Holte says. “The first thing that most people say when they start these medications is 'I'm not always thinking about food.’ So these medications have been profoundly effective [at] helping people lose weight.”Yet, knowing how to implement cost-effective programs in the workplace remains a major hurdle for employers. According to Holte, HR benefit managers can play a valuable role."You play a crucial role in identifying your employees health needs, you can also drive the shift and the perception of viewing obesity as a chronic disease, rather than a lifestyle choice, and prevent secondary complications of weight related diseases."The Way Forward to Combat ObesityDespite the overwhelming cost of obesity in the workplace, and the fact that these treatments are popular, Dr. Huang says many employers are still on the fence.“How should [employers] consider approaches to the initial medical evaluation [and] digital solutions to manage obesity and chronic disease among their employees? And what would this ultimately mean for employers and the workforce?” Huang asked.“The best way to really improve access to treatment for weight loss and these chronic conditions is to have a primary care-based program with physicians who understand how to treat obesity as a chronic disease, and can provide medical supervision and comprehensive support,” Holte said.Holte breaks up effective treatment into four categories. A visit to a primary care physician is the first category. The others are designing and outlining a comprehensive program (this could include long-term care), making sure the programs are proactive and data-driven, and having a personalized plan.Digital solutions can also play a big role in people’s personal weight loss journey, says Holte. “I’m in a telemedicine world, and I really [have] been blessed to be able to use digital solutions to help our patients with weight management and chronic disease management.”Holte points to the stigma of being overweight that keeps people from showing up in-person. Being able to have an appointment from the comfort of home brings more people to the doctor. And where there’s a lack of availability for appointments and time, telehealth can fill a gap. “Patients can often schedule an appointment with me within a week or a few days, or sometimes even the next day, if they want to.”“I think what matters most for our patients is really what makes them feel healthy. That’s the big question that we often try to get to. Listening to their stories and understanding what these goals are can really help us figure out how to achieve those goals and engage them in the process. And it helps them feel like they’re in control of this journey, and that they can really learn how to learn how to maximize their own health.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Accolade, for sponsoring this webinar. Matthew Koehler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others. 

Matthew Koehler | July 01, 2024

The Best Managers Don’t Fix, They Coach: Actionable Strategies for Your Leadership Toolkit

Anita Hossain Choudhry, co-founder and CEO of The Grand, a group coaching platform, learned the importance of coaching when she was managing several people who had just graduated from college. “I reflected on my first job after college, and I had this manager who was so unclear,” said Choudhry during a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s May virtual conference. “She didn’t give me the right level of support to be successful. And I really vowed to do the opposite. I had this notion that I had to fix my direct reports’ problems.”One day, one of Choudhry’s direct reports came to her because she felt overwhelmed with everything on her plate and couldn’t figure out how to prioritize things. “I told her to take out a sheet of paper, draw a triangle on it, and break it up into thirds,” Choudhry said. “In the bottom section, I wrote down three to five things she had to complete for the week. In the middle section, I wrote down three things she had to complete in the next three days. And then at the top of the triangle, I wrote down one thing she needed to focus on before the end of the day.”Choudhry did this every day for several weeks with the employee, thinking she was solving the problem for her. However, over time “I really saw her creativity wane. She would spend long hours trying to do her best to get those critical tasks done,” she said. At around the same time, Choudhry took her first coaching course, “and I realized I wasn’t actually helping her fix her problem. I was actually hurting her because I didn’t empower her to trust herself.”Anita Hossain Choudhry, co-founder and CEO of The Grand, led the virtual thought leadership spotlightThat’s when Choudhry shifted her default approach from fixing to coaching. “Instead of being the hero that saves the day, I asked myself how I could enable my direct reports to do their best work and be their best selves,” she said.During her next one-on-one session, Choudhry asked the employee to take the lead in filling out the triangle. She also questioned her about the type of work that attracts her and where she saw opportunities for the firm to grow. “Over time, it helped her come up with some of the most creative ideas deployed at the firm,” Choudhry said. “She returned to that vibrant, innovative person that I hired in the first place.”When managers attempt to fix problems rather than coach an employee, they tend to do most of the talking, says Choudhry. “The conversation style is really directive and advice-oriented,” she said. On the other hand, coaching involves asking employees questions that get them talking so they can come up with a solution on their own.So how do you do it? You start by asking, “‘In this situation, what would you like?’ And then you repeat back what the other person said. And then you ask, ‘What will having that do for you?’ And then you repeat it, and ask, ‘What will having that do for you?’ And so you go through this process, over and over until you get the core of what someone wants.”The next step is exploration, which moves the employee from the problem that they’re spinning on and helps them brainstorm actions they could take to pursue what they want, says Choudhry. The manager does this through another simple set of questions, like ‘what options do you have to make progress toward that outcome?’These conversations can lead to some awkward pauses, but that’s expected because “this is a muscle to build,” Choudhry said. “When they’re staring blankly at you, it’s working because they’re thinking in a way that they haven’t in a long time.”Coaching is effective because “we help our direct reports by investing in their inner teacher,” she said. Rather than solving a one-time issue for them, coaching helps employees see patterns and behaviors so they can develop their own resources and best practices to navigate challenges, according to Choudhry.“We also empower them to trust themselves,” she said. “You’ll see your team members shift their ability to move more confidently and clearly in articulating next steps that they can take to really solve their problem and achieve their goal.”Choudhry says that fixing isn’t always the wrong approach, but it’s simply ineffective in certain situations. Coaching is better in many cases because “it leaves your teams feeling more empowered, understood, and valued.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, The Grand, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | June 21, 2024