David Olson and Dr. Bob Nelson, co-founders of Recognition PRO, have spent years tracking incentivized behavior and corporate rewards, and they say employers have overdone it with perks, awards and gift-cards. What they recommend is more of “a systematic behavioral approach” toward how an individual is integrated into a company and how they’re treated within the organization.

People want to be thanked personally for a job well done; they want to be involved in communication and decision-making. These approaches make them feel far more valued, and, Nelson says, “it’ll make this a place where they’re going to keep giving it their best shot.”

The pair point to research indicating that the main reason employees leave a given job is lack of recognition. Employers often center rewards on money and recognize employees’ worth to the company with quantitative rewards. So they continue to award coffee mugs and watches for achievements, even when they do more harm than good.

Employees can game a system for set rewards and others can grow bitter once they’ve reached a given achievement. What’s more, Nelson says, “old school” methods of back-patting such as photos of and parking spaces for employees-of-the-month can be ripe for parody. They feel quaint and homely and can give the impression of applauding sycophants.

“I’ve talked to a lot of employees who don’t want to be employee of the month,” Nelson says. “There’s a stigma; they’re worried their friends are going to make fun of them.”

Of course – that’s not true for everyone. The dedicated career worker who’s looking forward to her 20-year mark with pride might not react well to being told such antiquated benchmarks are being phased out, so don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. And there’s a generational element to consider as well.

“For the Millennials, who are going to be at their current job for less than a year and a half, they don’t have any sights on their five-, 10- or 15-year tenure,” Nelson says. “If you’re trying to attract them, hold on to them, get a lot out of them, you must start looking to see what does it for them, and I guarantee it’s not going to be logo jewelry or crystal. It’s going to be the trust and respect of their managers: learning opportunities, meeting with upper management, selection for task forces and special projects. That’s going to hit home 100 or 1,000 times more than the latest iPod, which they already bought with their own money anyways.”

Find out more ways to reward and inspire employees from Recognition PRO in the Sept. 1 issue of EBN.

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