The motivational value of spot awards comes from using them as a tool for positive reinforcement. Recognizing and rewarding employees for displaying certain behaviors increases the odds of that behavior occurring again in the future. There are four major factors that influence the value of rewards used for positive reinforcement.
- . Contingency
To be effective, spot rewards must be tied to demonstration of certain behaviors. Managers should have clear criteria to use as a guide for when to give employees different types of spot awards. This is also important for ensuring equity by creating consistency across managers in their use of awards. Whether an employee receives spot awards should depend on whether they display behaviors that the organization believes are exceptional, and not their manager’s attitudes about what constitutes exceptional behavior.
- . Immediacy
In the case of motivation, immediacy equals effectiveness. When managers forget about a reward and push it off to the next week, or worse, wait until the end of the year to distribute rewards to employees, the reward will have less effect on motivation than if it had been awarded immediately following the behavior.
- . Satiation
When the same type of reward is used over and over again, it can lose its reinforcing value. In other words, there is such thing as “too much of a good thing” in the context of reinforcement. For example, research has shown that monetary rewards can reduce intrinsic motivation if they are over used. If your organization uses non-monetary rewards in addition to cash bonuses, consider switching up the type of reward given to employees. Keep in mind that reward type should be reflective of the behavior demonstrated, and that not all employees will value the same type of rewards equally. Understanding what motivates each employee can help managers to determine the most appropriate type of reward.
- . Size
The size or value of spot awards should reflect the behavior demonstrated. It is important that managers are thoughtful in this decision and avoid choosing arbitrary values for the rewards given to employees. Employees will use past reward values to create an expectation level against which to judge future rewards. If the reward does not meet or exceed this expectation level, employees may feel frustrated and demotivated.