The greatest employee reward will depend on what your employee’s needs and desires are. If someone is in dire straits and about to get kicked out of their house, or have their utilities turned off, the greatest reward might be money so they can make a payment to keep their house or keep their utilities on for another month.
Maybe the greatest employee reward would be a few extra vacation days, to spend special time with family or friends. Or just time away from work to recharge. The greatest employee reward will really depend on their circumstances.
But there is one reward that should always be on the table, and sometimes combined with other rewards: empathy.
In today’s world there is a lot of stress and contention. There’s an idea that employees are out to take, take, take. Some managers feel their employees are opportunistic and need more oversight and rules.
Most of the time employees, who are simply human, just want to be heard. They want to be understood and have their ideas respected. They don’t need to get their way all the time but they want to be treated with human dignity.
This is what empathy looks like.
Imagine going to a job where you are expected to make widgets. All you need to do is clock in on time, make a certain amount of widgets during your shift, then clock out. Don’t rock the boat, don’t create problems, don’t try to change the process that management has refined. Just come do your job and then leave.
How long would you last in that environment?
I wouldn’t last very long. I have a need to contribute. I want to improve things. I want my ideas to be heard and respected.
I also have a life outside of work. I have obligations and people I love and care about who have unique needs. Sometimes those relationships can be messy or overwhelming and, try as I might, I sometimes bring that overwhelm with me to work.
I don’t need a pity party. I don’t need extra special concessions. But I would appreciate some empathy. I want to know you see me as a human with real needs and emotions as opposed to Prisoner 24601, or a cog in your massive system.
The Greatest Employee Reward
I recently read a story about someone who unexpectedly went to the hospital and was stuck there for several days. They immediately called in sick to their manager, letting him know of the situation. Instead of getting ahold of the manager they left a voicemail. This was repeated multiple times over the next few days, checking in, giving an update, and basically reporting they wouldn’t be at work.
When they got out of the hospital and went back to work they were shocked to learn they had been marked down as absent without a word. All that reporting was basically unreported. Why?
The boss who got the voicemails was fired the day that employee went to the hospital and no one checked the boss’s voicemail!
The other management didn’t care that this employee, who was stuck in the hospital, had checked in multiple times. They were mad the employee wasn’t at work.
Wouldn’t you think that explaining the story, and perhaps listening to the voicemails, would have changed how management handled the situation? It didn’t.
This is a perfect example of the opposite of showing empathy.
I’m not saying you need to go outside of policy and procedure and give concessions that are unreasonable.
I’m inviting you to think about your employees as humans, with human needs, and maybe even reword your policy and procedure to allow for more, and appropriate, empathy.
In a time of need, your empathy, your kindness and treating them with dignity, could mean the world to them. It could be much more valuable than $10, or $100. Knowing they matter impacts how they feel about you and their job.
The Greatest Employee Reward Impacts Culture
When people know they matter and their feelings about their job change, because of your empathy, other things can change. They might like coming to work more. They might volunteer for harder shifts or tasks that nobody else wants. Their employee performance increases, productivity increases, and they say nice things about you and your organization.
When your employees say nice things about you and your organization they are reinforcing a positive employer brand. This can lead to better hiring, attracting better talent, and better retention.
People around them, at work, see what’s happening. When they see one of their own being treated with dignity they appreciate your management and leadership. This is a perfect example of a rising tide raising all ships. Your genuine empathy can really go a long way to improve the entire culture.
The Greatest Employee Reward Doesn’t Hit Your Expenses
Sometimes we feel like we need to purchase the benefits listed above: higher performance, higher productivity, better retention, etc.
But empathy, perhaps the greatest employee reward, doesn’t need to show up on your P&L.
Wait… let me back up a bit… it can indeed hit your P&L. You could see increased profit… but it doesn’t have to come at an expense with money being spent.
It’s simply about seeing your employees differently.
Snowfly’s products are all about recognition and rewards, incentives and culture. We love processing financial incentives for our customers, either through Amazon gift cards, reloadable debit cards, or other tools, because it shows someone recognized efforts, progress, results, loyalty, etc.
But we know some organizations don’t have an incentives budget. In those cases, using the manager and peer recognition tools, which don’t need an incentives, rewards, or bonus budget, can be very effective.
“I appreciate all the work Jimmy put in this weekend to get ready for a new client launch. He came in and made sure everything was in order so Monday morning the client wouldn’t have any delays. Kudos to Jimmy and his team for taking pride in our services and making sure our new client has the best launch they could!”
That’s an example of how to recognize someone’s efforts that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. How do you think Jimmy would feel about that message, shared with the entire organization?
Empathy is how we think about and treat others.
In parting, remember something very important: The empathy your team member gets at work might be the only time they feel heard and respected. They might live alone, have a very limited social life, or have a bad family environment. In that case, any respect they get at work can feel magnified.
I created a course titled Leading with Emotional Intelligence, where I talk about empathy (and other EQ ideas). I definitely recommend it to leaders and managers.
We love culture. We love all of this stuff, including recognition and rewards. If you want to make changes at your organization, with culture and productivity, performance and retention, employer brand, etc., reach out. We’d love to talk about what you are doing, where you might have improvements, and the tools have to help improve your organization.