Many companies offer some type of rewards program—and the kinds of rewards systems you’ll find are as varied as the companies themselves. This is a good thing, because it means that companies are customizing their programs to fit their needs—and often their employees’ preferences. And since reward programs are aimed at motivating employees, it’s an area I think employees should have more input and control in.

More often than not, decisions of when, how, and what employees receive as rewards are made around a conference room table by a handful of people, rather than as part of a conversation with your workforce. Since this is the usually case, employees usually have no control over what the rewards are and who gets them. This raises questions about whether they are fairly distributed, which can lower rather than boost company morale. Here are some key questions to consider when analyzing rewards systems.

Who holds the keys to the kingdom?

As part of any rewards system, there is probably a small group of people who determine what criteria must be met, and who receives them. When you take a good look at this group in your organization, think critically about whether or not it makes sense for these people to hold the keys. The people in this group should be there not based on their titles or positions, but rather on their knowledge of your employee base, their proximity to both key leaders and the rest of the workforce, and the personal balance they strike between sticking to the budget and valuing employees. The truth is, the fairness and success of a rewards program relies greatly on those who govern it. That’s why the team should be varied and diverse so that employees of all levels, duties, and tenure are considered.

Do employees have any control?

While you wouldn’t want your employees to have direct control of how, when, and what they receive as rewards, what level of control should they have? This is where their input can come in, in terms of what goals they are striving to reach, the rewards they may receive, what criteria is used (for example, tenure vs. performance), who they elect to represent them as part of a rewards committee, or even what changes they can make or implement in order to reach their goals. These are all types of control employees can exercise as part of a rewards program. But the key here is that they should have some control.

Who has a say in the day-to-day reward decisions?

A significant factor in the success or failure of any group of employees is the attitude and fairness of the people overseeing them. Similarly, a rewards program can be structured effectively but still fail if the ground-level decision-makers aren’t using it correctly. Are managers rewarding all of the workers fairly, or are they playing favorites, which will ultimately lead to bitter employees? And do the employees have any say in whether their peers or even themselves receive rewards? This can get tricky, but the opportunity to nominate a peer or state your case for a reward yourself can take a rewards program from something that plays quietly in the background to something that motivates employees to go the extra mile.

Overall, an effective and motivating rewards program needs to find a delicate balance between what’s good for the company and what’s good for employees. However, most organizations find that rewards programs turn out to be a worthwhile investment that motivates employees to make the company more successful as well.

How does your organization’s rewards program give employees control over their rewards? Let us know in the comments section below.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.


  • Avatar Anna K. Lee says:

    If you truly know and have good relationships with your team, you`ll be able to guess the type of reward that would make them happy. Or they will be comfortable enough to clearly tell you that when asked. These are the things that have always guided us when rewarding our employees. The fact that we have always had a close and transparent relationship with them makes it easier for us to make decisions about reward programs.

  • Avatar Tom says:

    Sometimes, the company doesn`t have the resources to be very fair in giving out the rewards. I think it is very difficult to do so in large corporations, for example. This is why I try to always work alongside the HR department in order to monitor and evaluate the merits of my team. Leaders are also a great resource to do that, but the one-on-one conversations with my HR department proved to be the best alternative so far.

  • Avatar Lori Bloofield says:

    My relationships with my employees has always been transparent so leaders always come directly to me when they want something for their team. I trust them completely and, judging by the results of their teams, I am not wrong to do so. Even if I am not always able to be close to the entire staff, managers keep an eye of what makes everybody happy and we try, as best as we can, to meet their wishes.

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