Employee Rewards vs. Recognition

employee rewards

As a manager, executive, or business owner, you likely have some baseline sense of how you want your department or company to run. You know what needs to happen from day to day, month to month, quarter to quarter. You know what the deliverables are, and who ought to be working on them. And, you know what level of commitment you need from your employees to reach the goals that you’ve set for them.

But think back for a moment to when you were in the trenches. Maybe it was one of your first jobs, or maybe it was the last job you held before entering management or striking out on your own as a business owner. Now, try to recall what the day to day workings of your department were like. In fact, if you can, try to hold a few different jobs and positions in your mind at once. Compare and contrast them. More than likely, a department at one company functioned better than a department at another. Maybe the difference was extreme, and you even sought out a new job because of the dysfunction. Either way, what were the main differences between the smooth functioning, well-oiled machine of a department, and the clunky, broken down, poorly functioning one?

More often than not, employee attitude and motivation are the bottom line. Skill in a particular task (or set of tasks) is something that just about anyone can train. Sure, there are some people who find it easier to excel in one area or another. But, at the end of the day, most anyone who sets their mind to it can be taught to perform dramatically better with just about any skill. It’s been scientifically demonstrated, in fact, that expertise comes as the result of hard work, not from some innate gift. What does this mean for your company? Essentially, any employee in any department can become much better at their job, regardless of what it involves. And, they can develop related and non-job specific skills, such as working in a team, maintaining quality control under pressure, keeping up with deadlines, and so on.

But here’s the catch: without the right attitude and motivation, none of that will ever happen. If an employee isn’t internally motivated to do better, they won’t make any effort to improve. Whether it’s a skill directly related to their job, or simply the energy that goes into effective teamwork, only a truly motivated employee is going to perform the way that you want and need.

So, this begs the question: where does employee motivation come from? On a practical level, there are plenty of ways to get your team excited and keep them going from quarter to quarter. But, at the end of the day, most of these specific methods fall into one of two categories: employee rewards and employee recognition.

A lot of people confuse the two, which is understandable. After all, rewarding an employee involves recognizing them, and the act of recognizing an employee usually involves giving them some kind of a reward. In fact, though, these two approaches are incredibly different. Understanding how they’re different, how to implement them to achieve your goals, and what types of programs work best with each are essential to achieving results as efficiently as possible.

Ready to learn more about these two categories? Let’s get started.

Employee Rewards

employee rewards

If you want to motivate your team to hit certain goals, be they long-term or short-term, then you need to create an incentive for them.

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One of the best ways to do this is with an employee rewards programs. When you set up your rewards program, you’re offering a kind of bonus compensation to your team under fixed terms. In doing so, your staff will be motivated to reach a specific goal. When they hit the goal, they receive the payoff: easy as that. You might set any number of thresholds for your sales team, and those thresholds can be measured in different ways. For example, they may need to hit a certain dollar amount in sales; close a specific number of deals; or reach whatever other metric might make the most sense for your company.

Just as the thresholds are fixed, so are the rewards. When your employee hits X goal, they receive Y reward. This kind of motivation is very forward-looking; your team is focused on getting to a specific number so that they can reap the benefits of that achievement. That’s why employee rewards programs are so efficient at creating very specific results for your company, particularly in the sales department.

Employee recognition is different, and we’ll get it later in this article. For now, though, let’s look at some ways that you can offer rewards to your staff.

Cash-Based vs. Points-Based

Before deciding which delivery method makes the most sense for your rewards, it’s worth considering the medium of the rewards themselves.

Cash-based rewards are fairly straightforward. When an employee reaches a certain level of achievement on the job, they’re rewarded with a fixed amount of cash. This can work quite well for a lot of companies, and is a pretty uncomplicated option.

Points-based rewards are a bit more involved. Employee achievements are rewarded with points instead of cash, and points can then be redeemed: either for cash or for merchandise through a custom online web portal. Points are a great way to reward your employees in a way that feels different and somehow separate from, say, the commissions that they might already be getting for their sales, or their yearly performance bonus. In the end, you’re still essentially giving your staff extra cash, but by making cash one step removed from the equation, you can give them the illusion of getting something “extra.” Additionally, employees are often more comfortable getting competitive with each other over point acquisition than they would be with, say, comparing how many bonus rewards dollars they’ve accumulated this quarter. Healthy competition of this kind can further increase productivity.

Once you’ve decided on a cash-based or points-based system, you’ll need to deliver the rewards to your employees. There are a lot of ways of doing this, however, there are a few that we recommend as some of your best options.

Prepaid Branded Debit Cards

If you’re looking to offer your staff a fixed amount of cash as a reward for hitting a predetermined metric, a prepaid, branded debit card is a great way to do it. There are a lot of reasons why a prepaid card Visa or MasterCard beats a simple bonus check.

Now, paying your employee a cash reward in the form of a check isn’t “wrong” by any means. However, consider the advantages of a prepaid debit card. Firstly, you’ll be branding the card with your company’s logo, name, and other info. Every time your employee sees it in their wallet, they’ll be reminded of having received the reward. And, whenever they pull it out in public, be it in a restaurant, grocery store, or elsewhere, others will see your company’s brand as well. Over the course of months, that can add up to a lot of free advertising for your business. And remember, your employee isn’t just seeing your logo in a neutral state of mind; they’re experiencing gratitude at having been gifted the reward. This furthers their connection to your company’s brand, and increases motivation.

Prepaid branded debit cards are relatively easy to set up, and are quite affordable. Since money’s not being added to the card over time (as would be the case with a reloadable card), the account setup for the card is fairly simple. You can order a number of cards all at once, and save quite a bit of money in the long run thanks to the economy of scale. Once you have a stack of them on hand, they’ll be ready to go to hand out to employees as needed. These can also be customized to include the recipient’s name, which makes it even more personal.

Reloadable Branded Debit Cards

Another highly successful and preferred option is the reloadable branded debit card. They may cost a bit more to set up, as the account on the backend is slightly more complicated, but they function more like a traditional debit card. Each has an account balance tied to it that you can add funds to over time. However, you could save money in the long run with this option; you give a single, personalized card to each of your employees, rather than ordering stacks of prepaid cards and handing them out on a regular basis.

These cards can be branded just like prepaid cards, and offer all of the same branding benefits. Reloadable cards are a great way to make your new rewards program seem more tangible for your staff. For example, when you launch your new rewards program, you hand out a personalized, branded card to every member of your sales team, with the understanding that funds will be deposited once they reach a certain goal. This makes the rewards system feel real for your employees, and can be incredibly motivating.

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Virtual Debit Cards

As online shopping becomes increasingly ubiquitous, you likely find yourself entering your debit card information into a computer nearly as often as swiping it somewhere. In some cases, you might even make more online purchases than brick and mortar ones.

It’s no surprise, then, that virtual debit cards are becoming increasing popular. If you’ve never had or seen one, they look just like they sound; rather than getting a physical card, you’re sent all of the information associated with one, generally via email. You can use the card information to make online purchases, and in some retail establishments, you can show an image of the card to the checkout assistant and pay with it in person.

Virtual debit cards offer a number of advantages. For one, they’re cheaper to implement than physical cards. Additionally, reloading them is quick and easy, and issuing them is nearly instantaneous. Lastly, they’re especially appropriate if you’re looking to implement a points-based rewards system, as they pair well with an online rewards center: employees can convert their points to cash on their virtual debit card, and then make purchases through your online portal.

Employee Recognition

employee rewards

We saw above how employee rewards can drive employees toward a very specific goal: when they reach point X, they receive reward Y. It’s predictable, measurable, and easy for your team to keep in the back of their mind while working.

Employee recognition is, in some ways, the opposite of a rewards program. Rather than focusing on the future, it’s backwards-looking. You don’t give your employees notices ahead of time that they’ll receive recognition once they reach a certain future goal. If you did, you’d be implementing a rewards program.

Rather, employee recognition can nicely complement your existing rewards program. For example, you might surprise the top 5 highest performing members of your team at the end of the year with some kind of recognition: an award, a bonus, or some other kind of reward.

There’s a lot of room for creativity here, too. You can have your employees nominate one another for awards, which can help to increase solidarity between co-workers. You can also recognize employees for something that goes above and beyond your typical expectations as their employer, but which will encourage other employees to emulate that behavior in the future, e.g. volunteer work, health choices, and so on.

If you’re looking to implement an employee recognition program that involves a points-based or cash-based system, there are a couple of excellent options.

Prepaid Cards

Having prepaid branded debit cards on hand is a great choice for employee recognition; you can simply hand a staff member one of these cards on the spot, with little or no notice. This is simple, easy, and fast.

Online rewards center

If you’re using a points system for your employee rewards program, implementing it as part of your recognition system can make a lot of sense. In this case, having an online rewards center is a great option. Employees who have gone above and beyond can be gifted extra points, which can be redeemed for merchandise through your custom online portal. This is an excellent way to recognize your stand-out employees without having to go to a lot of trouble on your end.

Rewards and Recognition: How to Implement One or Both

employee rewards

So, you’ve seen how many options you have when it comes to motivating your team through rewards and recognition. You’re ready to implement one or both at your company. But, where do you start?

It’s admittedly a bit of challenge to get these kinds of systems running on your own. What you really need is a team of professionals who have the experience, knowledge, and capability to get things off the ground for you.

Level 6 Incentives™

As an industry leader in employee rewards and recognition programs, Level 6 Incentives has the expertise you need. What makes us the best in the business?


With more than a decade of industry experience, Level 6 Incentives offers top tier service for companies like yours. If you’re looking to implement an employee rewards program, or incorporate employee recognition into your company’s routine, we can help you get started.

Custom Software

If you’re interested in offering points-based rewards, the right software is essential. And, even with a cash-based system, it makes sense to offer an online web portal with its own dedicated rewards center. As with anything else, though, this software needs to be user-friendly for employees, and easy to use on your end. That’s why we’ve had our developers put together a unique software portal that’s designed to meet the needs of businesses like yours.


One of the best things about working with us is our turn-key program offerings. No headache or hassle on your end: we’ll have a rewards program set up for you in no time flat.


We’re proud to call ourselves amongst the best in our industry. But, we’re just as proud to say that we offer the best value around. Are you wondering what an employee rewards program might cost you? We’ve created an online calculator that allows you to estimate your costs up front, so you can make the right decision for your business.

Are you ready to get things rolling? Contact us today for a risk-free consultation.

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