To create the best workplace atmosphere for employee retention, enterprises need more than just mere financial rewards. To appreciate the people employers conduct and design various on-going reward and recognition programs for employees.

These trends in any rewards for employees are a grand gesture to thank the employees for their incredible contribution to the organization's progress.

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According to a survey by SHRM, 80% of the organization reported having an employee recognition program that ranges anywhere from an employee of the month to gift cards or bonuses.

Amongst the most common kinds of rewards for employees were those that recognize:

Long service awards: Generally in five-year increments, through company-wide newsletter notices or personal letters from the head of the organization, sometimes also with a pin or a certificate.

Impressive performance: Great performances over time, often for employees who add quality to the work process or product or provide superior customer or client service.

One way to acknowledge such performance is to encourage employees to offer tips to new employees as part of the on-the-job training program. This technique can also help accelerate new employees' growth in productivity.

These rewards and recognition in organizations could be top-down, down-top, or peer-to-peer by nature. Across the employee life-cycle, organizations recognize their contributions and motivate them with performance awards (spot, monthly, quarterly and annual), long service awards, awards to celebrate employee's occasions, team awards, joining delights, referral rewards, wellness rewards, festival rewards, financial rewards, etc.

Across these rewards and recognition practices, innovative rewards such as experiences and vouchers can equip organizations to make inroads into employee culture and connect with them at a personalized level.

Bersin by Deloitte State of Employee Recognition research shows a $46 billion market for employee recognition, and most companies spend in the range of 1-2% of payroll on this.

Companies with the best employee rewards programs also include adventure, gourmet, travel, hobbies, wellness, and activities that rejuvenate employees and establish two-way communication, enabling organizations to stay closely connected with their employees.

Discover 29 trends in employee reward programs that shall help inspire you while you craft employee rewards and recognition programs for your organization.

1. Years of service award

This is one of the kinds of rewards for employees that are most commonly found in organizations - both small and large. This award is given at specific intervals or milestones to appreciate and recognize an employee's continued contribution to an organization over many years.

2. Peer–to–peer recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition makes for a beautiful gesture of appreciation for both the one which compliments and the complimented. With top-down and down-top recognition approaches, it imparts a 360-degree view of rewards and recognition in organizations.

While top-down recognition is a convention across industries, words of compliment from colleagues can do wonders to boost employees' morale. All it takes is sharing a congratulatory note or verbal praise with a colleague.

Most companies with the best employee rewards programs invest in peer-to-peer recognition programs where co-workers and managers are all empowered to recognize and reward the contribution of their colleagues.

At Vodafone, there are 'peer-to-peer' or 'manager-to-employees' programs to recognize and reward outstanding performance. This includes rewards like Vodafone Stars such as SSTars—were through an instant SST that is Speed, Simplicity, and Trust e-card any employee can recognize co-workers across functions.

Then there is Super-STars, awarded for constantly showing Speed, Simplicity, and Trust behavior. Any functional, cross-functional co-worker or team leader, or manager can choose an employee any number of times during the month. Megastars are awarded for symbolizing the Vodafone spirit and being role models for others.

3. Training or mentoring

An employer can provide the employee with training programs to help them gain mastery over their subject. There are courses that employees can enroll in to enhance their skills and gain certification. The employer could provide subsidized or free access to his employees.

TATA – Harvard Manage Mentor self-paced e-learning program is a unique self-paced program conducted by Harvard manage mentor in association with Harvard Business school Publishing. It provides 44 different programs for Tata employees. This program includes: Live e-class room, live video broadcast self-paced e-learning.

4. Seminar or workshops

Seminars/workshops are a great way to engross considerable information, meet people, and expand skill sets. This is one of the kinds of rewards for employees that offers major benefits to the organization, as employees gain valuable skills that can be applied on the job.

At RMSI, workshops on parenting, child psychology, relationships counseling, etc., are conducted to build a bond with families employees.

5. Handwritten 'thank you' notes

“Feeling appreciated is one of the most important needs that people have. When you share with someone your appreciation and gratitude, they will not forget you. Appreciation will return to you many times.”

Steve Brunkhorst - Author - The simple act of writing personalized handwritten thank you notes by top management or the organization's CEO can make employees more loyal towards the company.

The time and effort taken to write personalized notes despite the hectic schedule assure employees that their contribution is valued and their hard work is appreciated.

At PepsiCo, Steve Reinemund, the ex-CEO of PepsiCo, would send handwritten thank-you notes to the employees for a job well done. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, sends a letter thanking the parents of some of the executives who work at PepsiCo. She has even sent similar letters to the spouses of the employees as well. She also mentioned that the impact of these letters brought about some meaningful awards and experiences at PepsiCo.

6. Gift cards

Behind the success of any company are its employees' hard work and dedication. Rewarding them with incentives does not only increase loyalty but also gives a boost to their performance and ensures a productive and positive work environment.

Gift cards are used as a source to motivate actions and reward behaviors of employees. Enterprises could use Amazon Gift cards to reward and recognize their employees for their valuable contributions. These rewards for employees let them choose a reward for themselves from a wide range of options.

7. Offer more flexibility and work-life balance

One of the things that the companies with the best employee rewards programs have in common is the provision of flexible working hours, weekly off, or working from home that can boost an employee's morale and even raise their level of productivity.

Options like these let employees maintain a work-life balance, especially in today's world where the competition is tough, and employees need to put in more effort to achieve their targets and business goals.

For example, Companies like TCS, Wipro, Cognizant, Cisco Oracle, etc., provide flexible working hours for their employees. SAP offers its employees work from a home policy where they can work from home once a week.

KPMG India has a supply working policy, which allows people to "work from anywhere"—be it a patron location or home, provided that the role can be executed virtually and that productivity, performance, and timelines are not hampered, said Shalini Pillay, head of people, performance and culture.

Fidelity Investments study states that 58% of millennials consider the quality of work-life more important than financial benefits. The study also says that millennials are ready even to take a pay cut for improved quality of work life. "In today's tight labor market, proper work-life balance is essential for employee retention."

For instance, Nike offers its employees benefits based on their organization grade and location. Common benefits are paid sabbaticals, discounts on fitness programs, and assistance with tuition fees.

8. Employee stock option plan

Organizations have very often used this as a reward strategy. Companies make use of this reward to attract, retain and reward talent and top performers in the companies.

Employees who are a part of such a reward can earn more wealth than their current compensation. For an employer, this serves to keep the employee loyal to the organization as they are eager to attain the wealth that ESOP promises.

Ujjivan Financial Services is a back that offers an Employee Stock Option Plan for all employees, irrespective of their grade in the organization—whether a driver or the MD. The eligibility for this reward is purely based on performance and tenure. The company has launched an ESOP portal for easy access to its employees as well as regular sessions are conducted, so employees understand the concept.

9. Travel incentives

Incentive travel is an attractive reward that enterprises can trust to encourage partners or employees to drive business targets and boost sales. When integrated into a targeted rewards program, this reward offers an influential spur to achieving results like motivating and inspiring the staff to enhance productivity.

This program gives benefits such as achieving a business goal, giving a sense of universal appeal, increasing loyalty, and making the experience memorable. Mahindra Intertrade Limited: Via the Overseas Incentive Scheme, successful teams travel for four days on a leisure trip. Eli Lilly & Company (India) Pvt Ltd: The top sales performers go on a week-long Lilly International Incentive trip along with spouse/family member/friend.

10. Spot award

As organizations look to align their business strategies with their Reward & Recognition programs, we will see the growth of spot cash bonuses in many organizations for functional roles, a Hay Group study emphasized.

According to Mercer's 2014 Total Rewards Survey, less than one-third of companies think their total rewards and business strategies are fully aligned.

The recent trends in total rewards have established that spot cash bonuses will be crucial in establishing the link between the company's employee recognition program and the business objectives.

The very nature of the reward & recognition that comes with it enables managers and peers to recognize the excellent effort and encourage them instantly. Wipro's Feather-in-My-Cap is an on-the-spot recognition of an effort awarded to a project or project team.

11. Team lunch

This reward gives every member of the team time to enjoy each other's company in a different environment and different context. This reward is a great way to encourage productivity. It gives managers a chance to get better to know their team members, but one should make sure there is no work-related discussion during such team gathering events.

The team can be taken to a restaurant for lunch, or you could even have a potluck plan at your office premises. Such activities help in improving the bonding among team members of a team.

12. Yoga classes / gym / meditation

Yoga, gym, meditation helps one to remain healthy and fit. Offering such benefits to employees can be a great reward. Such benefits keep employees fit and stay focused, which allows them to enhance their productivity. Google has a fully equipped gym for its employees, while Hindustan Unilever provides yoga classes and a meditation room.

13. Idea award

This reward is an appreciation the management shows towards an employee who has thought of a unique solution or idea beneficial for the company. For example: At Wipro, employees who bring out a creative and unique solution or idea receive awards such as The Mastermind Award.

14. The act of kindness or charitable giving

Many of the employees make charitable donations or do an act of kindness. Rewarding them with a small token of appreciation would boost their morale and let them like such acts of kindness.

Manveeyata Puraskar it's a reward program by NTPC for its employees who exhibit a random act of humanity and kindness at their unit or surrounding area. Employees are given an appreciation letter and a gift of up to INR 1000/-. All employees up to E7 are eligible for this award.

15. Performance awards

Employees deserve recognition for their focused contribution made to business from time to time. Performance awards such as spot, monthly, quarterly and annual make for a structured approach to award employees based on merit and business results obtained.

16. Festival and special occasions rewards

Celebration of festivals such as Diwali and events such as New Year allows for establishing camaraderie amongst employees. This bonhomie can be sparked through informal conversations and activities that fit the occasion and organizations wishing employees well through festival rewards.‍

17. Birthday and anniversary awards

Employees' personal occasions allow organizations to communicate that they value them as a part of the family. When employee occasions such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and parenthood are celebrated in the office, coupled with gifts or rewards, employees feel a welcome break from their routine. They feel more connected to their work and the organization.‍

18. Team awards

Teamwork is indispensable to the success of any organization and deserves to be recognized, similar to the way the individual contribution is made. Organizations that give awards to high-performing teams, in effect, inspire their employees to learn to work together more closely and efficiently.‍

19. Rewards that enhance employee experience

Crafting good employee experience has been HR Professional's agenda. The Future Workplace and Beyond study titled "The Active Job Seeker Dilemma" says that 83% of HR leaders admit that employee experience is either essential or very important for their organization's success.

Good employee experience offers plenty of benefits. These benefits range from the enhancement of employee engagement to improvements in ROI. It also controls employee retention and enhances your brand image in the market. HR professionals need to spend time analyzing the journey map of their employees. This means they have to invest in technology and employee engagement platforms.

This will help the enterprise monitor employees' productivity, performance, and learning. Apart from this, it will offer HR professionals insight into their employees. They know what actionable steps they need to take to make their employees better with this insight. For instance, Google, a tech giant, puts a lot of effort into ensuring their employees are happy.

Employee experience practices at Google include optimized processes, paid time off for pregnant women, synchronized onboarding process.

‍20. Joining delights

Organizations hire talent to increase employee strength (basis business requirement) or counter attrition. On a positive note, a start for new employees in the form of joining rewards exemplifies the adage – well begun is half done.

21. Wellness rewards

What makes employees stay and work with organizations for long? Their wellness is one of the factors. When organizations stretch beyond convention to institutionalize wellness practices for their employees, their human capital is bound to rise. 2014 Mercer's Critical Talent Practices Survey suggests 49% of organizations focus on healthy living and wellness to attract and retain the right talent.

22. Personalizing rewards & recognition

No one company is alike. So, why would you expect the rewards & recognition strategy applied for one company to be working for another? A company that chooses to grow talent from within will have a very different pay philosophy than one which looks at hiring the best talent.

Personalization has to be the name of the game. Otherwise, you would risk alienating your employees by derailing their productivity. And that has to be accompanied by freedom of choice so that employees can decide what is best for them.

23. Linking rewards With EVP

Earlier, rewards were doled out in isolation. Not anymore. Organizations increasingly realize the value of linking rewards with the employee value proposition. Hence, rewards and recognition are today closely related to the organization's mission and values, business strategy, and desired organizational culture.

According to Willis Towers Watson, R&R can no longer operate in a one-dimensional silo; it considers the long-term benefits that an EVP can deliver in driving organizational transformation.

While rewards are increasingly linked to talent management and performance, they will also include an individual's contribution to company culture, team leadership, and broader strategy.

24. Career development to take a filip

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According to The Korn Ferry Hay Group Alternative Employee Rewards Study, 90% of organizations surveyed employ four or more alternative methods of rewarding employees. 

Out of these options, career development programs are poised to see the biggest expansion in use across all employee levels.

More than half of respondents indicate they intend to expand career development programs across all employee levels with hard and soft skills needed to assume more challenging roles within organizations. Hay Group's global employee database reveals that a lack of career development opportunities has been cited as the number one reason employees leave organizations.

25. Rewarding meaningfully & with flexibility

Once upon a time, companies rewarded their employees for having impeccable attendance. Then, it progressed to rewarding them for their performance. Not much attention was paid to what kind of rewards were given to employees. Today, organizations realize that it is important to reward employees and ensure they are provided. They range from cash bonuses, verbal thank yous, overtime pay, experiential rewards, health & wellness benefits, vouchers, etc.

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According to REBA-JLT Employee Benefits Shifts Research 2016, companies are looking to introduce more flexibility and variety in the next five years. The idea is to tailor it to individuals rather than implement a company-wide strategy.

26. Increased use of technology for communication

With the advent of mobile technology and social media-based systems, companies envision a more significant role of technology in administering Rewards and Recognition benefits and its communication to employees through web-based and mobile devices.

Pundits are hoping for greater automation, more transparency, a single point portal for all offerings, and intuitive technology to engage stakeholders and provide personalized attention to individuals. Earlier, most employee engagement programs operated in silos under HR. Now, one can get all those engagement programs on the same technology platform making for seamless integration.

These platforms like Empuls provide you with the flexibility to define and design Rewards & Recognition, simplify sales incentives, keep track of the users' fitness levels, provide a referral module for recruitment and nominations and approvals.

27. Responsive reward systems

Companies need to start using new-age employee recognition tools that gauge employees' daily moods and allow HR managers to take corrective actions based on the- employee pulse surveys. Traditional ERPs may not have the in-built tools or functions to gauge employees' sentiments frequently.

28. Customizable reward systems

New products in the rewards space can dig deep; they can find out the innate preferences of employees located across geographies and recommend rewards of relevance for them. The products are also easier to customize and localize than traditional HR systems.‍

29. Integrated reward systems

Modern software in the rewards space can be easily integrated with the existing HRMs / IT systems and include new reward scenarios. For example, a health and fitness section can be combined with the HRMs in a health app. Traditional HRMs / C&B softwares are not as easy to blend. Adding a new module can be cumbersome, and not all reward scenarios might be incorporated.

Next level of rewards and recognition

Your employees are an asset to your organization. As Tammy Cohen states 'A great employee is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.' Hence you must check out and follow the above trends. Offer your employees a reason to stay connected and committed to your firm for a more extended period.

You must ensure that your employees enjoy a great experience and are rewarded for the work they do. Please feel free to connect with us and share your feedback on this blog post. Rewards and recognition programs that aid both the employer and the employee to get what they need from work create an opportunity for a win-win situation.

I hope the above 29 trends in employee rewards programs will help you effectively take on the reward program within your organization and see the positive outcomes!

Simplify employee rewards and recognition with Empuls!

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Daliah Monteiro LinkedIn

Daliah Monteiro is a freelance writer from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.