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Reward Better: New Programs Let You Recognize Employees in Real Time

End-of-year fruit basket? Company coffee cup? Shelve old-school gifts next to the rolodexes and update your recognition program with LinkedIn badges or an array of online gift cards.
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In a fast-paced workplace, where conference calls are replaced with Google hangouts and voicemails generate nothing but eye-rolls, it seems only right that employee recognition programs need to hit the fast-forward button. In a study by WorldAtWork, a global human resources foundation, 54 percent of employees said that short-term incentives have a high impact on engagement, while only 32 percent cited long-term incentives. Several different companies are helping workplaces revamp the way they reward their staff, trading company coffee mugs for 6-month subscriptions to Rdio. These new options let you hand out employee perks online in real time and some also add in a social media platform so your team can openly thank colleagues for a job well done.

Of course, no rewards program is a substitute for an in-person “atta-boy!” “There’s never a good replacement for face-to-face interaction,” says David A. Owens, professor of practice of management and innovation at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. “You have to walk around your office and check in with off-site employees and know what the members of your team are dealing with.”

And regardless of what system a company chooses, recognition should recognize special achievements or contributions. “Too much public recognition can lead to the Lake Woebegone effect of ‘everybody is above average’” explains Ravi Gajendran, associate professor of business administration at the University of Illinois College of Business.

We looked into a few new services and asked the experts to weigh in on implementation. Here’s what we found:

This social-media based recognition program lets your entire team award points to their colleagues that can be redeemed for a variety of different rewards. “We provide a curated master catalog of gift cards from top retailers and donations to a variety of meaningful charities,” explains Steve Semelsberger, chief executive officer of YouEarnedIt, but notes that companies can also build in their own rewards such as a day off. One company even offers a “Coffee from the Boss” where employees redeem points to get a hand-delivered coffee from their manager.
What to keep in mind: Bosses need to know what they want out of this or any program – and continue to evaluate if the program is meeting their company’s overall needs. “Obviously, we want people to be able to say thank you to each other, but rewards need to align with where you want to go,” Owen says. 

7Geese. Another social-media based program, 7Geese is focused on replacing classic HR programs with online reviews and forms. Managers can set up online goals, people directories and organization charts so that team structures are clear. Rewards come in the form of recognition badges that are pinned to company core values. The badges can then be shared on social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. “We didn't expect it, but people really love the recognition aspect,” Amin Palizban, the chief executive officer of 7Geese. “It’s currently the glue of 7Geese because it brings people to the app on a continuous basis.” Bad reviews are private, but can include requests for one-on-one coaching sessions
What to keep in mindGajendran thinks a program like this is best suited to a collaborative workplace with many shared projects so teammates could report on project progress, discuss what problems are holding them up, and get coworker feedback. In more competitive workplaces, like a sales office or a call center, such programs might not be as close a fit since coworkers compete with one another. In these workplaces, Gajendran says, it's more likely to be used as "a strategic tool to toot your own horn.” 

Kiind. This straightforward gift card campaign company lets managers send gift cards to employees online, but the company isn’t charged until the gift is redeemed. Says Leif Baradoy, chief executive officer of Kiind, the platform also allows managers to send out multiple gifts such as subscriptions to Rdio with employee-specific messages while tracking fulfillment. “If an employee chooses Amazon, an employer can make sure to put Amazon in the next reward email,” Baradoy explains. “It increases personalization and is one of the big values we bring to the table.”
What to keep in mind: “You have to evaluate if people already find an intrinsic value in what they are working on—and whether they need direct gifts,” Gajendran says. “But if you have a work force doing a common job that isn’t rewarding, having a clear link between your job and a gift is great.” So someone doing basic data entry or coding might see this as a huge incentive, while an architect or marine biologist might not need this type of carrot.