The key to ensuring success is participation. Your guidance team can help you determine encouraging and fun ways to keep the program goals top of mind and provide ideas on how to reward participation.

Taking the Work Out of Rewards and Recognition: Using Wellness, Safety, and Performance Incentives

Rewarding employees along the way to reaching their ultimate goal encourages long-term engagement.

Isn't it amazing how fun and exciting it can be to plan for a family vacation, but when it comes to planning an incentive program for employee,s we shy away from the daunting task? We have no problem planning how to reward ourselves, but it is a different matter when we are rewarding others.

When my family plans a vacation, the first thing we decide is the destination. Then we determine the dates, transportation, and the cost of the trip so we know how much money we need to save. As the vacation nears and the excitement heightens, we pull out the checklist, pack our suitcases, and go.

We know which vacation destination will reward our family. We know mom and dad will save money for it and the children will achieve grades for it. But what is it that will motivate 1,000 unique employees to achieve the wellness, performance, safety, or attendance goals we want them to at work? The answer is . . . I don't have a clue. What I do know is that the same incentive will not motivate all 1,000 individuals. As a matter of fact, it has been my experience that out of 1,000 employees, only six to 10 people will reward themselves with the same incentive over a 12-18 month timeframe.

After working with several manufacturing plants for more than 16 years developing their incentive programs, I have discovered an interesting statistic. When rewarding 1,000 employees with the same item, approximately one-third will like it, one-third could care less, and one-third will feel negatively towards the reward. This tells us that only about 33 percent of employees are going to actively participate in reaching the desired program goals. That will not help you achieve your goals.

Designing an Easy-to-Use Incentive Program
A key element to motivating people toward common goals is maximizing the level of participation. This leads us to believe that in order to motivate employees to work together to achieve a common goal, uncommon rewards are needed. Now, that's a whole other headache!

Your staff already has their plates full with daily task, reports, and meetings. How can they have time to source, order, sort, and distribute rewards, too? Not to mention that someone has to track the program by recording the daily and weekly activities employees are engaging in to meet their quarterly or annual goals. Is the same staff that is already over tasked going to take this on? You and I both know that just isn't feasible.

To design an easy-to-use incentive program, let's operate with the KISS principle and "Keep It Simple and Strategic." Regardless whether we are organizing a wellness program or a baseball tournament, participation is the very first priority. Let's assume we can provide the reward items that every employee is willing to work toward at no cost to them other than participation and achievement of the goal. By simply engaging in the program, participants should be rewarded when weekly, monthly, or quarterly goals are reached. Rewarding employees along the way to reaching their ultimate goal encourages long-term engagement.

You also need a "guidance" team in place that consists of production employees, supervisors, and managers. Their responsibility is to be the eyes and ears in the plant and offer feedback and suggestions to improve the program so the desired outcome, culture, or behavior is reached. It can be beneficial to reward those serving on that team, as well, for their commitment.

Let's say you are running a wellness program and your goals are for your employees to:

1. Lose X pounds.
2. Do 30 minutes of cardio three times a week for the next 30 days.
3. Actively participate in the weight and exercise program for 90 days.

First, your goals need to be simple, understandable, and attainable. Reward positive activity regularly, at least once a week or more if you can manage it. A clear-cut and measurable objective such as "Losing X pounds in a set time" makes it easy to determine whether goals are being achieved. Keep these objectives in the forefront of employees' minds to encourage company-wide participation and use front-line supervisors to track and reward employees promptly and efficiently.

No matter how good your program is, even if one or two supervisors are not rewarding employees on time, it can bring a dark cloud over the entire program. Most importantly, the key to ensuring success is participation. Your guidance team can help you determine encouraging and fun ways to keep the program goals top of mind and provide ideas on how to reward participation.

At this point, you may be thinking your last attempt at a reward program was similar to what you have just read—and it is much easier said than done. But the most successful incentive programs I have seen typically include the use of technology and automation. Perhaps with internal systems, but even more beneficial is a third-party system. In most cases, a third-party contractor not only provides a software system, but also handles the warehousing and distributions of rewards. Some offer incentives at different levels, but the most successful systems are point-based systems.

Points can be distributed easily and often, and the best systems incorporate a points module, placing the administration of point awards directly on the recipients, not your over-tasked staff. Sourcing a third-party contractor may seem extensive, but it has proven to be the best solution to creating a successful incentive program.

Ten Tips for Choosing the Right Partner
There are many options for selecting a rewards program partner. But if you truly want to take the work out of rewards and recognition, I suggest you source your programs with a company that:

1. Has a strong industry history.
2. Can offer a global footprint.
3. Has proven technology and not "the next greatest thing."
4. Offers a large variety of retail branded merchandise, providing uncommon rewards for each participant. Beware of programs cutting costs by using last year's models and end-lots. Reward employees with current models and brands.
5. Offers more than software to interact with participants—you'll want a direct contact with someone in customer service, if needed.
6. Provides tools for instant or on-the-spot recognition.
7. Provides a full administrative dashboard, comprehensive reporting and allows secure transference of points administration.
8. Delivers rewards directly to participants for you.
9. Bills you for points redeemed, not points awarded. This is a great budget saving tool for you!
10. Provides team consultation through the entire program as needed.

Reward and recognition programs done right are a worthwhile investment for managers and companies, both personally and economically. As goals are reached in wellness and safety programs, costly premiums and claims expenses can be reduced, adding to the company's bottom line. Although it requires an investment to implement a program that delivers such results, customizing an automated platform will take the work out of your rewards.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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