Employers: How to keep your employees keen…

Posted in Employee Retention, Incentive and Recognition, Engagement Tools, Engage People, Employee Wellbeing, Performance Incentives, Work Engagement, Gift Cards and Vouchers, Rewards Credit Cards, Motivational Success Stories, Staff Incentives, Long Service Awards, Employee Awards, Employee Recognition Platforms

It seems there’s no let-up in the UK’s thriving jobs market as employers continue to add to their workforces across the land... 

The unemployment rate has continued to fall, despite worries about the future of the economy post Brexit. 

Yet, as we’re hearing, the flipside of strong employment growth has been poor productivity. The thought is that if employers are just using more and more staff to produce a given amount of output, it’s likely that productivity has deteriorated. And if that’s true, improving performance needs to be at the top of every HR department’s agenda.

So, what can you do to influence employee behaviour to help your business thrive in these uncertain times?


With employers across every sector boosting their people power, it seems investment and pay rises are stalling. And in a candidate-driven market, employers need to do everything they can to keep their people happy and their output growing. 

Kevin Green, REC Chief Executive warns: “Employers are going to have to think carefully about how they can both retain existing capabilities and find the new hires they need as competition for people intensifies..” 

Losing talent is a costly business, so firms will want to do everything they can to hold on to valuable workers. A key way to retain staff is to motivate and inspire them through channel or employee rewards and recognition programmes. It’s an area that’s set to grow and is harder than it sounds – more than a case of chucking a few treats someone’s way – it relies on a good understanding of individuals, their needs and their drivers. 


While you could choose to reward an employee with something tangible like vouchers, money or gifts, simply giving someone something isn’t enough these days either. Recognition is the driving power that dangles the carrot enough to encourage staff to keep up the good behaviour.

Natasha Omelchenko, Global Health & Safety Reward Program Director at Sodexo, says, “We can recognise without rewarding, but we can’t reward without recognising. We need to praise that member of staff in front of their team. At certain levels of an organisation, like senior management, recognition can show they’re a great boss. It can help fuel morale boosting confidence and their personal growth within your company.”

What we’re saying is, the context of how you recognise is just as important as what… and why.


Whether you’re selling or buying something, changing behaviour is a hot topic for marketers – particularly those incentivising a channel sales force. So, it’s important that companies understand the psychology behind influencing and changing the behaviours of their sales teams to really smash those targets.

Sounds complicated? It doesn’t have to be. The world may have changed, but human behaviour hasn’t. People are a business’ major asset. If you get how they behave, you can interact with them to change your workplace for the better.

Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive & Recognition, Sodexo, explains, “It’s all very well offering a big trip to Dubai as an incentive to drive sales, but employees need to get ‘why’ it’s important to achieve their target in the first place. They need to become ‘emotionally’ attached to the business goal, so employers should try to make that tangible. Spell out what you’re doing, make it crystal clear and be supportive.

For example, if your goal is to put 10% of profits back into new technology or if you want to improve your product so you offer a better service, make sure your employees know this. There’s more at stake here than just doing a job and hitting targets. It’s about creating a way of behaving that becomes the new norm.”

Putting it simply, if you can get your employee to think, ‘why am I doing this?’ they will be more inclined to do it again and again. Think of it as behavioural change, on repeat…


1. Structure is crucial

A well-structured programme needs to reward the behaviours that support what you want to achieve. Random affirmation will be forgotten quickly and is far less meaningful than rewards tied to an actual business goal.

Natasha Omelchenko explains: “Structure’s important when designing an effective reward and recognition programme. In safety, for example, if you reward people based on the injury rate at the end of the year, you’re hoping to see a reduction in injuries. But in fact, you’re really rewarding under reporting, because employees just declare less incidents.”

2. make it simple

It’s not enough to say, ‘we’ll reward you for doing X’. The employee needs to know what ‘X’ is for – and the reward should be simple, inspiring and linked to them. Good communication is critical to success. Employees need to understand exactly what they are being asked to do and why, as well as how they’ll benefit.

Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive & Recognition, Sodexo, adds, “Sometimes we have to tell clients that it’s not a sales incentive they need, but an engagement strategy or recognition platform. Businesses need to address the human factor before any performance improvement drivers will work.”

3. Don’t forget the ‘thinky bit’ 

There are lots of ways staff can be rewarded and recognised, but it needs thought. For example, ‘on the spot’ rewards may be useful for managers to effect change quickly, but if you have hundreds of these managers, how can you make sure they’re being consistent? 

With a bit of extra training, leaders can identify and reward good employee behaviour – it’s also useful for employees to better understand the programme.


It’s no piece of cake influencing and incentivising a channel sales force when everyone else has the same idea. You need to make your programme stand out and stay front of mind – especially if your sales specialist is dealing with a ton of other products or services just like yours.

For example, a well-designed game is more engaging than just offering another store voucher. It can also get employees up-to-speed with product knowledge and create a more exciting, competitive element that keeps staff engaged for longer. If it’s fun, it’s the future.

You can forget about climbing Mount Everest too. Like anything in life, if the goal seems impossible, no one’s going to bother trying to reach it. Top performing members of staff know they will always reach the summit and meet their targets. Big deal – their sales are strong and hopefully they’ll stay that way. It’s everyone else you need to think and worry about.

Think creatively about reaching more of your middle band of performers. It makes better business sense as this is where you’ll see the biggest return from behavioural change.

There’s also a golden rule to remember: if your sales staff expect a reward, you’re not driving behaviour. All you’re doing is rewarding people for doing their job. It’s like rewarding your child for tying their shoe when they already learned to do it months ago. This process shouldn’t be about replacing people’s salaries.


It isn’t always about the ‘prize’ either – but the way it’s delivered. A key factor in understanding behaviour is looking back at what has worked and what hasn’t. Think about the sector and try to understand what the business represents before ploughing ahead with a programme.

We’re not, for example, recommending that you send salespeople from a not-for-profit organisation for a knees-up in Las Vegas. Where’s the logic in that?

As Matt Dawson, former England rugby captain and Sodexo ambassador says, “Understanding the psychology of the team is crucial – on the rugby pitch or on the sales floor. When it comes to changing behaviour, if a culture is forced upon you and it isn’t something you truly believe in, it will be very difficult to drive that culture through yourself and others every day because you don’t feel like you own it.”

Don’t get us wrong – the perceived value of rewards has a part to play in incentivising sales channel managers. But reward programmes need to be tailored to their audience.

It all comes down to treating employees as valued members of staff rather than just numbers. Your rewards and recognition programme needs to shout, ‘we value you!’ from the rooftops. Safely, of course.

Jamie Mackenzie, Director of Marketing - Employee & Consumer Engagement, Sodexo, hits the nail on the head: “Ultimately, you want staff to visualise being immersed in an experience. That will elicit a shot of adrenaline which will be a catalyst for behavioural change.” If it’s worthwhile, it’s working.


When people are engaged, they feel connected to each other as well as the organisation they work for. This drives the cogs of productivity, creating an engaged workforce that’s more motivated and resilient. It gives employees pride in what they’re doing and helps them to feel committed to those around them – and committed to you.

This might also be a good time to mention the ‘M’ word: there are many reports about millennials’ career expectations floating around the internet. These include an acknowledgement that careers have ‘waves’, often changing pace and direction, so employers will have to work extra hard to attract and retain talent through greater employee engagement as time goes by.

In these competitive times, it’s only right that your employees are rewarded and recognised to keep them thriving, increase their sense of value and promote their self-worth within the workplace. Right now, the bottom line is: keep them keen, keep them performing and keep them. Period.

 Boosting best behaviours