The carrot, not the stick: Rewarding good behaviour gets the best results

Guest Blog by Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive and Recognition at Sodexo Engage


Wheely, the chauffer service app, recently announced an incentive for new employees. People joining from competitors will get a weekly retainer so long as they keep a five-star driver ranking. But as soon as it dips to 4.9, they’ll lose the incentive. At first glance, this might seem like a good idea; new staff will be pushing to keep hold of their five-star ranking and customers are getting a better service – what’s not to like? But the thing is, incentives like these can be tricky to manage and often do more harm than good.



Put away the stick

So, what’s the problem with this kind of scheme? Well, it goes back to making sure that people are motivated to do a good job – rather than frightened of doing a bad one. When you’ve got a recognition scheme that is linked to failure, rather than success, people won’t feel encouraged to do their best. Instead, they’ll be worrying about getting a poor review or having a bad customer interaction, which can leave them feeling down about their job and the business as a whole.

Because let’s face it, mistakes happen. If an employee slips up, they’re going to feel the sting. And if an incentive is involved, they’ll feel doubly punished. Plus, don’t forget that bad reviews or customer complaints aren’t always down to the employee, which makes missing out on a reward seem even more unfair.

More flies with honey…

So instead of getting staff to worry about the negative, get them to shift their mindset. Incentives and rewards that focus on positive behaviour are bound to have a better effect. The best part is that staff don’t have to ever worry about losing out. If they aim to excel every day, they’ll be in for a chance of being rewarded – it’s that simple.

It’s the carrot and stick idea again. Fear of failure may seem like something that keeps your people working hard, but it only causes anger and frustration – especially if things go wrong. Even for those staff that are performing well, too much pressure can really damage their wellbeing. Giving rewards that encourage staff to aspire for better results or feedback is much more effective than focusing on failure.

Getting it right

It’s all well and good realising that a rewards package needs to be about positive behaviour, but it’s another thing to get it right. Whether it’s an incentive to attract the best talent or an ongoing reward for all employees, it needs to be both achievable and also something worth shouting about.

To get this balance right, you need to start with a clear goal to aim for – something that’s really worthy of a reward. It needs to be something that goes beyond the day-to-day basics too, as ‘stretch goals’ like these are what get people motivated the most. Getting this in place will help you figure out what reward to offer too – maybe it’s a gift card for a smaller achievement and a whole day off if an employee really knocks it out the park.

The key is to include long-term achievements that everyone at any level can work towards, but which take a bit more effort and time. When you get it right, your people will keep their eyes on the prize and always be trying to improve. Even if there is the odd mistake – that’s life, after all – they’ll still be eager to achieve the goals you’ve set out for them.

Rewards are an important part of the employee experience nowadays, but it’s not a simple process. You need to make sure they are focused on positive behaviour and not simply trying to avoid failure. To do that, you’ll need to have a clear strategy in place to reward people who are doing well – while encouraging the rest to reach for the stars.


Author: Editorial Team

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