Topic: Employee Recognition


The Power of Employee Rewards: Strategies To Motivate and Retain Your Employees

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Updated on 

May 17, 2024






How do you motivate and inspire your employees? And how do you reward their hard work in ways that feel meaningful instead of cookie cutter—that connect people to your company culture and to each other?  

Organizations have a range of options when it comes to employee rewards, from monetary incentives and non-monetary perks to comprehensive recognition programs. Each of these can help you motivate employees and retain top talent.

But remember: An effective reward system not only acknowledges employee efforts but also aligns them with the company's strategic goals, fostering a culture of achievement and satisfaction.  

When asked, “what is the most important thing your company could do to cause you to produce great work?” the number one employee response was “recognize me.  
—Global Culture Report, O.C. Tanner Institute

O.C. Tanner has been in the employee recognition space for nearly 100 years and we’ve learned a lot from those decades of helping our clients elevate their cultures. Let’s unpack the types of employee rewards your organization can offer and the positive impact you can expect from investing in your employees and company culture.

Types of employee rewards

Monetary incentives

Monetary incentives, such as bonuses, salary increases, and profit-sharing, serve as direct financial motivation for employees. These rewards are tangible and immediately beneficial, making them powerful tools for showing employees you value their work and their contributions to your company.  

The psychological impact is clear: monetary incentives satisfy basic needs and can significantly boost morale. However, their effectiveness as an employee retention tool can diminish over time if not paired with other forms of employee recognition and personal development opportunities.  

Case study: BlueScope combines monetary recognition with notes of appreciation

To go beyond standard bonuses after a strong year, BlueScope, an Australian steel manufacturing company, rewarded and recognized their employees with a personalized gift card program. BlueScope’s 8,000 employees and contractors were given access to an online portal with a message of appreciation from their CEO and the option to choose from a range of gift cards or charitable donations.  

A selection of employee rewards: gift cards, recognition points, and gift boxes

While the monetary incentive was a great gift, employees were especially touched by the messages of recognition that came from their team leaders and senior leaders. Pairing a monetary reward with an act of appreciation can help companies create positive, meaningful employee experiences that grow strong workplace cultures.  

Culture Cloud Initiatives by O.C. Tanner allows you to combine employee recognition with monetary incentives (redeemable points) for completing a goal or project.

Non-monetary perks

Non-monetary perks help create a favorable work environment and they can enhance the quality of life for employees. Tailor your non-monetary offerings to benefits that best suit your employees. Employee surveys can be a great way to identify the perks with the most potential for impact—and to then track that impact over time.  

What are some examples of non-monetary perks? Think big perks (like flexible working hours or comprehensive health and wellness programs) as well as smaller everyday perks (like team lunches and an on-site gym).    

Flexible work looks different for every employee and every organization. Learn how you can make flexible work policies fair for your people.

These kinds of perks play a crucial role in building loyalty and a sense of belonging. When employees know that you value their wellbeing and that you want to support them beyond a paycheck, it makes it easier for them to stay and find fulfillment in their roles.

Employee recognition programs

Employee recognition programs tap into the inherent human need for appreciation and social belonging. Whether through an employee of the month award, formal awards ceremonies, or peer-to-peer thank you notes, these programs validate the hard work and contributions of individuals and teams.  

There are so many opportunities to share employee recognition. Learn when and how to give meaningful appreciation to employees.
An employee receiving a recognition message on their phone

Effective recognition is timely, relevant, and personal—and it comes from both leaders and peers. It reinforces desired behaviors and cultivates a positive organizational culture. Recognition programs signal to employees that they are valued members of your organization, which is critical for long-term retention and employee satisfaction.

How to start an employee rewards and recognition program

Here are the strategic steps you’ll need to take to get your recognition program off to the right start. Beginning with your larger organization goals in mind will help ensure your program’s effectiveness and long-term success.

1. Determine your employee rewards goals

It's crucial to define the objectives of the rewards program. Improving employee engagement, boosting productivity, or recognizing exceptional work—which goals matter the most to you and your organization?

2. Gather employee feedback on rewards

Collect input from employees across various departments to understand their preferences and what types of rewards would be most meaningful to them. Doing this initial research will increase the likelihood that your program will resonate with your entire workforce.

3. Choose your employee rewards criteria

You want your recognition processes to feel fair and transparent. Develop clear criteria for earning rewards and design a mix of rewards, including both monetary and non-monetary options, to cater to different employee needs.

4. Provide employee rewards tools and technology

A user-friendly recognition platform can help you track recognition sent and received, build out reporting to measure program impact, and facilitate easy reward redemption.

The Culture Cloud Award Store experience, powered by O.C. Tanner. allows employees to trade recognition points for popular rewards and merchandise
O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud Award Store provides global reward redemption for employees with items ranging from sports and outdoors to fashion and tech.

5. Communicate, educate, and analyze

Once you’re ready to roll out your recognition program, it’s time to focus on your internal communications. How will you let your employees know about your new program? Will you provide training on how and when to recognize? Don’t forget to explain why you’re bringing this new program to your company in the first place. Understanding the value of rewards and recognition increases the chances of high adoption across your teams.  

After the initial roll out, you’ll want to continuously monitor and adjust the program with regular pulse survey feedback and performance metrics to ensure its long-term success and impact.

The administrative and reporting interface on Culture Cloud by O.C. Tanner allows for tracking of recognition by company, team and individual.
Learn how to start an effective employee recognition program at your company.

Examples of employee rewards programs

The most successful reward systems are fully integrated into the organization's culture. Aligning rewards with core values and bigger organizational goals helps employees feel like they are working towards the same vision, supported by a system that recognizes their efforts in meaningful ways.  

Here are some great examples of employee rewards programs at top organizations.

Giving employee rewards with heart at Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is known for treating its employees with care—after all, its stock ticker is LUV. One of the most important parts of their people-first company culture is a robust and meaningful employee recognition and rewards program.

The SWAG (Southwest Airlines Gratitude) program gives all employees the opportunity to recognize and thank one another with points they can redeem for merchandise, gift cards, and experiences.

Southwest Airlines employee rewards and recognition mix: points, awards, and certificates.

So far Southwest Airlines has seen:

  • 97% engagement rate in the platform
  • 359,000+ recognition moments in a single quarter
  • 86% award redemption rate
“It all comes down to our people. And when we motivate, inspire, appreciate, and recognize them for their great work, and when we empower them to be themselves, it really does make a difference for them and bonds them to the company.”  

Meeting company goals with employee rewards at BHP

BHP is a world-leading mining and resources company with over 37,000 employees in 16 countries. A major ongoing company operational goal at BHP is to improve safety practices at mine sites while making work easier and better.  

By using an employee rewards program, leaders and employees alike can recognize and encourage positive behaviors that work towards safety goals. BHP’s rewards program also includes a physical kit with thank you cards they can use to recognize their offline workers for safety, innovation, and productivity.

BHP employee recognition platform powered by O.C. Tanner includes a desktop and mobile version

BHP leaders also regularly give group point deposits to all employees to recognize achievements, whether it’s safety and productivity during the pandemic or at the end of a financial year to recognize company performance.

“[BHP’s employee recognition program] has helped us call out phenomenal creativity, innovation, and a thousand of the small incremental improvements that have really helped propel this organization forward.”

Becoming a great brand through rewards and recognition at CEAT

As one of India’s leading tire manufacturers with a strong global presence, CEAT is a forward-thinking, innovative, customer-centric company, with a goal to be a great place to work for its employees.

Arjun Singh, Vice President of Human Resources at CEAT, explains that the company recently looked to identify what would make it a great place to work to attract top talent and motivate employees.  

“We found having a robust reward and recognition mechanism is vital to create a culture of appreciation and performance, and we wanted to strengthen that,” explains Arjun.

CEAT employees at an award ceremony

So, CEAT launched CHAMP, a rewards and recognition platform, to encourage employees to recognize innovation and great work as it is happening. In the first year, 65% of their employees received a recognition award—over 14,000 awards across locations.  

“Recognition encourages employees to go above and beyond their role, help others, and seek help from others. This platform has impacted the motivation of our people. Employees are contributing significantly. In all of the company’s performance, financial metrics, and efficiency parameters, you can see the reflection of CHAMP.”

Evolving employee rewards after 40 years at AAA—The Auto Club Group

A lot can change at a company over 40 years, and an employee rewards program will need to evolve to keep pace.  

The Auto Club Group (ACG) has had some form of employee rewards and recognition at the company for almost half a century, and the program was recently refreshed and rebranded to meet new employee feedback and expectations.

As part of the refreshed platform, ACG introduced Initiatives within the Culture Cloud recognition platform that structure monetary incentives around completing team goals, training, and company programs. These rewards programs drive company and team progress while aligning employees with organizational values.  

Hear from the recognition experts at ACG for more details on how they improved company culture through 40 years of employee recognition.

For the first time in the company’s history, ACG has been recognized as a top place to work for the last 2 years. The company has also seen major improvements in program usage and alignment:

  • 97% of employees recognized (up from 81%)
  • 33,000 eCards sent each year (up from 5,000)
  • 89,000 award nominations (up from 54,000)
  • Award nominations aligned with ACG values
Motivation and retention are two of the many ways your company can measure return on investment for your rewards and recognition solution. Learn how to measure the full ROI of employee recognition, from company culture to financial impact.

Create an employee rewards program that works for your company

Reward programs are integral to attracting, motivating, and retaining employees. They require thoughtful design and implementation to best reflect your organization's values and meet the diverse needs of your workforce.  

Ready to get started? It’s easier to manage and track your employee recognition when you invest in software like Culture Cloud Employee Recognition by O.C. Tanner. Culture Cloud makes giving, receiving, and administering employee recognition easier for all employees—in or out of the office.

O.C. Tanner is the global leader in software and services that improve workplace culture through meaningful employee recognition experiences. Learn more at

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