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Employee rewards.

Another holiday season has come and gone, and I'll bet many of you - more than would probably admit - handed out the usual holiday bonuses to your employees, then sat back to watch them ... yawn.

I revive my complaint about this tired old tradition every few years because it remains so inexplicably entrenched and because it is such a good illustration of the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.

Why are holiday bonuses so ineffective? Because doling out a predictable reward at the same time every year - consultants call it "jelly bean motivation" - is not only a poor motivator, but can actually have the opposite effect on excellent employees who see no appreciation or acknowledgement of their beyond-the-call performance. Why work your tail off when the slackers are getting the same "reward?" Even mediocre employees don't see it as a reward; it becomes an entitlement - an expected, meaningless component of their normal compensation.

In "1001 Ways to Reward Employees" (Workman Publishing, 1994), Bob Nelson wrote: "While money is important to employees, what tends to motivate them to perform - and to perform at higher levels - is the thoughtful, personal kind of recognition that signifies true appreciation for a job well done."

He lists three simple guidelines for effectively rewarding employees:

* Match the reward to the individual. Reward each person in ways that each individual employee finds rewarding.

* Match the reward to the achievement. An employee who successfully completes a yearlong medical records reorganization deserves a more substantial reward than one who simply runs an errand for you.

* Be timely and specific. To be effective, rewards must be given as soon as possible after a specific laudable behavior or achievement, and the employee should always be told why he or she is receiving it. A reward coming weeks or months later, for no particular reason, is no reward at all.

So how do you know what rewards your employees will find rewarding? Ask them! I periodically solicit suggestions for non-monetary rewards from my staff. "I can't give you money" I tell them, 'but I'll consider just about anything else."

Some of their ideas have been surprisingly creative - and cheap. For example, my employees are required to park their cars each day on the other side of the hospital campus from my office building. One of them suggested that a closer parking space would be a good reward. So I obtained an extra access card for the doctors' lot right next to my building, and each month one "Employee of the Month" gets to park there. This reward - which costs me nothing - has become the most hotly contested in the office.

A lot of good rewards cost little or nothing. As Bob Nelson put it, "A sincere word of thanks from the right person at the right time can mean more to an employee than a raise, a formal award, or a whole wall of certificates or plaques." One of the strongest motivators is the confidence that you, the boss, will take the time to notice a job well done and praise it publicly, in a timely manner.

Time oft is another powerful motivator; who (including you) doesn't appreciate a bit more free time?

Creative reward options are abundant and easily found; a fast Internet search will give you plenty of ideas. Virtually anything you choose, if given with sincerity, will yield far better results than holiday bonuses and other empty ges tures tossed out in a thoughtless manner for no particular reason.

DR. EASTERN practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, NJ. To respond to this column, e-mail Dr. Eastern at our editorial offices at

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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Author:Eastern, Joseph S.
Publication:Internal Medicine News
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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