7 Questions to Ask Employees About Rewards and Recognition

Anna Straus, CEO at Sparck September 29, 2022

Did you know that U.S. businesses spent $176 billion on recognition rewards in 2022? That number was almost half that at the before of the pandemic.

These programs are aimed at making employees feel valued – a gap that received a lot of attention during the height of the Great Resignation and the COVID-19 pandemic. While the sudden and dramatic increase in employee rewards spending might feel like a trend, it’s also a proven engagement method backed by data.

Here, we’ll explore seven questions to ask employees about reward and recognition to ensure that you’re investing in programs that authentically meet your employee's needs.

Drive Employee Engagement & ROI with Alignment

Before we dig into how to align your reward programs with your employees' needs, let’s talk about why you should put in the effort to match their needs. Currently, less than one-quarter of the global workforce is engaged. According to Gallup surveys, only 21% of employees are engaged at work, while just 33% feel like they're thriving in their overall well-being.

These numbers are lower than in years past. The pandemic, and the general shift in the culture of hybrid work, are to blame on a larger scale. But for individual employers, these low numbers are a sign that it’s time to rethink how you drive employee engagement.

And that’s reflected in companies investing in employee rewards and incentives! The graphic below shows just how many companies are investing in employee incentive programs – up 53% more than 2021.

Source: Incentive Federation 2022

Taking a hint from the radical shift in consumer behavior, we know that values-based interactions, personalized experiences, and authentic connections are what employees crave the most. We think that’s true for employers too.

Sparck surveyed more than 500 employees to learn more about what they really want in terms of engagement. Here are five secrets to employee loyalty that emerged from those responses:

  1. Communication
  2. Fairness and Equity
  3. Growth and Career Development
  4. Recognition and Appreciation
  5. Flexibility to Work Virtually

So armed with these priorities, how can employers drive engagement and ROI? It’s simple – redesign employee rewards and recognition programs with a new perspective. It’s not about what you assume your employees will respond to; it’s about taking the time to learn what they value and catering to those priorities in personalized ways.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few questions you can ask employees about reward and recognition as you rethink your rewards and recognition programs.

Important Questions to Get to Know Your Employees Needs

Designing an effective rewards and recognition program in 2022 begins with a new understanding of what is really important to the individual employees who will be recognized. Here are a few questions to ask about employee rewards and recognition.

1. What are Your Personal Hobbies?

It might seem trivial to some or invasive to others, but there is an altruistic reason behind getting to know your employees on a personal level. Consider the sentiment behind handing an employee a generic restaurant gift card from a stack in a drawer for their ‘extra effort,’ compared to giving your bike-enthusiast employee a gift card to his or her favorite bike shop. 

The monetary investment is the same, but the emotional connection is deeper, making the value of the gift card higher.

2. What is Your Favorite Dessert?

Here, it’s not the question that is important – it’s what you do with the information. Universally, sweet treats tend to be a source of comfort and positive emotions. And, culturally, we’re comfortable expressing our feelings with food in the western world. 

If you know that you have an employee on your team that genuinely loves fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, bring in a box from your local bakery as a small gesture of appreciation.

3. What are Your Personal Goals?

The need for growth is fundamental to human psychological development. Dating back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, psychologists have long accepted that our satisfaction or contentment is tied with life is tied to certain things like growth. 

The traditional ‘career ladder’ is the most common depiction of professional growth. However, that model doesn’t fit every person or every position. In fact, in modern times, growth can look less linear and produce better results. The key is personalized growth.

Asking your employees about their personal goals leaves the conversation open to exploring themes beyond the organization.

4. What Opportunities Do You See in the Organization that Interest You?

Asking them about specific opportunities within the organization is another way to explore growth opportunities that may be mutually beneficial. Do your customer service employees have an interest in developing some introductory technical skills? Perhaps you could build opportunities that include cross-training or credit towards covering the cost of supplemental education.

You may find that some employees are eager to speak up and let you know that they would love to speak at an event or volunteer with their co-workers to help an organization that is important to the company. However, keep in mind that some may not speak up because they aren’t aware of what’s available. Consider your responses through both lenses.

5. If You Were Gifted $50 to Spend on Your Favorite Thing, What Would it Be?

Employees often feel pressured to answer questions from their employer in the context of work. If you ask what their favorite things are, many respond with tailored answers that they feel fit what their employer wants to hear. The problem is that employee rewards based on this perception have no authentic value to the employee. 

Asking a scenario-based question that takes work out of the equation is a good way to get around professional bias.

Thinking of questions to ask employees about rewards and recognition can make all the difference!

This question points to things that make the individual genuinely happy, and happy employees are more productive, by an average of 31%. Perhaps the right approach is to find out what makes them happy and find ways to expose them to more feel-good hormone releases while they’re at work so that you can reap the rewards of a happier workforce.

Suddenly the casual culture of sharing funny pet photos doesn’t feel so off limits. If an employee responds to this question with an indication that they would spend the money to buy pet supplies or treats, then it’s also likely that starting a group chat to share pet pics would provide a similar ‘happy’ response.

6. What Would Make Your Job Easier?

On the other hand, sometimes the right question is going to be about work. If you’re asking what would make the employees' jobs easier – and you’re potentially offering to provide it – that’s going to earn a lot of goodwill with your workforce.

For example, one company offered access to its executive innovation suite so that employees at all levels could see the company’s objectives in action. It was essentially a lab where the C-suite worked on ideas. It was a high-interest perk that cost the company nothing. But the deeper connection that came from providing that access strengthened loyalty and boosted engagement because it made those employees feel like they were included and part of the process.

7. How Do You Like to Be Recognized, and From Whom?

This is another seemingly straightforward question, but it provides important insight into your workforce. Depending on personality, some managers might feel like public celebrations, and celebratory shout-outs are a great way to send praise. 

But if members of their team are uncomfortable being in the spotlight, this could feel like a punishment rather than a reward.

Similarly, some employees only want the recognition of the manager they report to directly while others want to see that their accomplishments are noticed across the organization. There is no right or wrong approach to recognition style. It’s more about choosing what’s right for your team.

Employee Rewards and Recognition Programs are Easier than You Think

89% of companies use recognition programs. You’re likely already spending money on a program to boost engagement and productivity. The only question is – how well is it working?

Learn six reasons why employee recognition programs fail in this article.

Sparck offers a simple, effective way to personalize employee recognition and rewards programs at scale. Our program is based on an independent employee survey to uncover what truly motivates your team members. That data is fed through an AI-driven solution to personalize the experience for each employee.

Plus, Sparck takes your rewards and recognition program to the next level with certification programs for your leadership to help them develop the right skills to support your team. From the employee perspective to the bottom line figures, Sparck provides a positive rewards and recognition experience for everyone.

The Power of Seven Questions About Employee Reward and Recognition

In 2022, many employers are battling dropping engagement rates and dwindling productivity. The disconnect between what employees want and what employers are providing continues to grow. This gap presents an opportunity to redesign your employee recognition framework to meet the needs of your current workforce. 

When you take the time to consider these seven questions to ask employees about reward and recognition, you can connect with your employees on a personal level.

Learn more about how Sparck can help you bring automation and personalization together for a rewards and recognition program that works.

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