Non-monetary rewards can be one of the best boosters of employee engagement in your leadership toolkit.

The problem is that it’s not as simple as it sounds.

You can’t just hand someone a gift and expect a miracle. The act of giving a non-monetary reward is a “moment of truth” that can end well or badly depending on how it’s done. Do it the right way and the appreciation the employee feels can lift his or her morale and productivity to a whole new level. Do it wrong and you’ll do more harm than good.

A quiz
For example, which of these gifts do you think makes an effective non-monetary reward?

A. Front row seats to a sold-out concert
B. A signed copy of an author’s recent bestseller
C. Box seats to a sporting event

The answer?

OK, sorry, we ‘fess up. We’ve asked a trick question. Any of the above could be a fantastic gift, but each of them might also miss the mark completely. It all depends on the employee and where his or her interests lie.

The personal touch
To get the positive impact you want from a non-monetary reward, you need to touch the employee personally. One size does not fit all. A personalized gift says, “The person who matters most to me at this company, my boss, gets me and cares. I truly belong here.” One employee may love the sports tickets, but she wouldn’t be as enthused by the book. Yet a different employee may really like the author whose signed book you picked up, while tickets to a live event leave him cold.

Knowing what works and what doesn’t requires careful thought and attention to detail. But it doesn’t require a lot of money.

We’re not talking about spending MORE… we’re just talking about spending SMARTER. Giving effective non-monetary rewards is mainly a matter of listening and understanding what makes your people tick when they’re outside the office.

Learning about them
Managers who really know their people – who take them out to lunch, who listen carefully to chit-chat in meetings, who make conversation at the water cooler – learn what activities and hobbies they engage in. By listening carefully, they gather the information they need to tailor meaningful non-monetary rewards. And their antennae are always up so they can detect opportunities to provide rewards when the impact will be greatest.

Why is personalization so important? Because that’s where most of the impact of a great non-monetary reward comes from. Only a small portion of that impact comes from the gift itself. What matters to employees is that you took the time, and cared enough, to find a reward uniquely suited to them.

If you see the value of non-monetary rewards, if you listen carefully to your people, and if you have the presence of mind to spot opportunities, making employees feel valued with non-monetary rewards isn’t all that hard.

But remember: It’s easy to do the right thing for a while and then lose steam. For non-monetary rewards to be continuously effective over time, you have to maintain your commitment and not let them fall to the bottom of your priority list.

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