There’s nothing like the fluttery feeling you get when being recognized for what you do. But sometimes, praise can take a backseat when there are never-ending things to do at your company. The thing is, spinning inside those special moments are a lot of momentum: Nearly three out of four people would work harder if they were recognized more at work found a recent study by Globoforce. The problem? Only 20 percent of employees have been given kudos in the past month. Combine that with the fact that not feeling appreciated is the main reason people leave their jobs, and Houston, we have a serious problem.

Combat those statistics by braiding recognition into everything you do. Hear a few pro tips from small businesses on how to keep your team motivated with the power of praise.  

Pepper smaller bonuses throughout the year

Many businesses have a yearly bonus structure in play. However, when you’re waiting 365 days before receiving a cash kudos, it can be extremely demotivating. That’s why many successful companies are starting to rethink their entire bonus structure from the ground up.

For Pasadena development agency, Freya Digital, bonuses aren’t a once-a-year affair. VP of Operations, Brian Knouft, says that they sometimes give people a small bonus for birthdays along with a cost-of-living increase when they hit a work anniversary. His rationale for making bonuses more free-flowing? “We don’t want people to feel stuck or that there’s no upward mobility.”

Owner Bruce Bell of Albuquerque’s ABQ Manufacturing is also a fan of the frequent bonus mindset. So when things are going well, he likes to surprise the team with a little extra cash. “We try to share the wealth when there’s wealth to be shared.”

Subculture Corsets & Clothing shoes

Subculture Corsets in Jacksonville, Florida also goes beyond the yearly bonus structure through something even more up-to-the-minute — daily bonuses. A big reason they’re able to hit $1 million a year in sales comes from the way they empower their incredible team of salespeople. Subculture’s incentives program is based on reaching daily sales goals, allowing employees to earn an extra $150 per day. With the bonus program in motion, many folks can earn nearly double their hourly wage. The company also gives everyone $50 on their birthday and a $500 bonus during the holidays. Basically, whenever there’s a chance to shower the team with appreciation, Subculture is all over it.

Bonus time! A few ideas to get your juices flowing:
  • Sign-on bonuses for when new hires start
  • Daily or weekly bonuses tied to sales goals
  • Spot bonuses for recognizing people spontaneously
  • Referral bonuses for referring new employees
  • Birthday bonuses for, well, being born
  • Anniversary bonuses for hitting a work anniversary
  • Holiday bonuses to end the year on a high note

Get creative

Dave Hickman, owner of construction firm Jeebs & Zuzu, believes recognition can be a little more fun than the typical gold-and-wood plaque. He’s planning on creating a Wheel of Fortune-like game that his employees can spin whenever they go above and beyond on a project. The plan is to get people to spin it during staff meetings so they can win different prizes, and ultimately help them “just feel good about their work.”

At Fat Bottom Brewing in Nashville, each employee gets a free beer when they’re done their shift, and they can also haul a growler home once a week. For employee anniversaries, Oklahoma City’s Echo Energy gives everyone $50. They also get a special gift that is tied to how long they’ve been with the company.

Peer into the world of peer recognition

TINYpulse found that employee happiness is 23 percent more related to people’s connections with coworkers than managers. So when it comes to recognition, it’s the same game. At Perks, a software company that recently took home Arkansas’s “Best Places to Work” award, peers recognize one another for doing a great job, being helpful, or just showing that they appreciate all they do.

The recipient racks up points, and can then shop with those points to get physical gift cards. They can even be used to earn time with a massage therapist who visits the office every month. At Perks’ monthly meeting, they also recognize employee anniversaries, and give teammates the chance to write special notes to their peers, which they then read aloud. Finance Director, Tracy, explains: “It’s a little thing that takes five minutes but it makes people feel really good.”

Do it in real time

When gymnasts snag a medal, it usually happens right after they complete that triple back handspring — not months later when they’re onto their next routine. Recognition in the workplace should follow a similar routine, especially for younger folks who want more immediate feedback. OC Tanner found that among employees who received praise in the past month, 80 percent said they were happy with their jobs.

Two Knives Catering croissants

Becky McKinley and Kristi Aragon, owners of Two Knives Catering, are big believers in that constant feedback loop. The two chefs told us about a time when one of their customers was over the moon about a cake they’d ordered. The two of them asked the customer to give the praise directly to the chef who whipped it up. “It gave her a real sense of pride and ownership when she saw for herself how much the customer loved the cake,” says Kristi. “She was beaming.”

Kira Deutch Kira Deutch is a former Gusto editor. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups.
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