What’s the best way to reward employees?

From a quiet pat on the back to a major awards night, recognition works best when it’s customized

What’s the best way to reward employees?

Whether you’re acknowledging a star worker’s major achievements or offering a quiet congratulations to a wallflower, a custom approach to rewards and recognition works better than a one-size-fits-all system.

That’s why many employers are shifting to a multi-layered system that allows both managers and peers to recognize employees’ hard work, as well as celebrating milestones.

Vancouver Airport Authority has created multiple honours to recognize the many ways its staff excel - from peer-to-peer “badges” within its HRIS to specially-designed gift cards given by managers, alongside generous long service awards that entice staff to stay with the company for decades.

“I like that we have options, so we know, depending on the multitude of the task, or what the employee has accomplished, we have our options for what to do,” says Jennifer Raniga, ‎HR advisor at Vancouver Airport Authority.

The company’s four levels of awards are specially branded and designed, and recognize different achievements.

Its Stellar Awards are the biggest of the staff social calendar. During the authority’s annual holiday party, winners are announced for awards aligned to its values: individuals rewarded for safety, accountability and innovation each receive a $1000 cheque, while the top team, recognized for teamwork, receives $2000 towards a group event.

The company also recognizes its long-serving employees in style, hosting them at a fall banquet luncheon with its leaders to mark milestones from one year to 35 years with the company.

There, Vancouver Airport Authority’s chief executive presents the recipients with a glass art trophy and a catalogue – dubbed “the yearbook” – from which they can choose an award.

After 30 years with the company, a staff member also receives a $3000 travel voucher to thank them for their extraordinary service – an initiative that helps the company retain top workers.

“Sometimes we have people saying ‘I will wait to retire until I get my 30 years’ of service award’,” Raniga says.

“The long-service awards, people really love. People will plan their vacation around it - I have people come to me and say ‘what is the date because I want to make sure I’m here’. And the yearbook - they love it because it’s just so customized, it’s unique in that sense.

“A lot of companies have long-service awards programs, but just making it customized and tailored to the individual makes it more meaningful."

Alongside the big events, staff are also recognized for their achievements on a daily basis. Colleagues can send each other “badges” in the company’s HRIS to say thanks for their extra effort – a system that ensures recognition doesn’t fall into a gap if shifts don’t overlap.

Read next: A review about Bonusly --a rewards and recognition platform

The authority’s managers also give out Bravo Awards to staff who go above and beyond in their work, and can include a gift card for “YVR Bucks”, which can be spent anywhere in the airport.

In designing a system for recognition, Raniga says it’s important for HR to know their workers well, to ensure the rewards will be appreciated.

“Are they more of a private person who likes something one-on-one, or do they like to be out there and in the public?”

Raniga adds that it needn’t be a grand gesture to say thanks or congratulations.

“I always say to our managers ‘see it, say it’. Recognition is most meaningful when it’s timely.”

Related stories:
How to avoid the ‘compensation trap’
Is milestone recognition actually effective?

Want the latest HR news direct to your inbox? Sign up for HRD Canada's daily newsletter.

Recent articles & video

Calgary Police Service rife with sexual harassment, bullying, says ex-HR director

Strike of 8,000 University of Toronto workers averted

What's the top priority for HR leaders in 2024?

PepsiCo recognizing female frontline workers in International Women's Day campaign

Most Read Articles

Western province announces minimum wage boost

Province offering $5,000 'Alberta is Calling' signing bonus

The Body Shop Canada to close 33 stores after filing for bankruptcy protection