Rewarding government employees isn’t always easy. Bonuses and raises were reduced or eliminated during the recession, and other rewards used by corporations aren’t feasible in the public sector.

But Travis Pearl, co-founder of MeritShare, seeks to teach managers’ new ways to honor staff. His company sells software to enterprise leaders who use it to broadcast employee accomplishments internally or to the public.

Pearl feels that modern workers deserve to have their achievements broadcast to the world, a change from traditional office ways.

“A lot of companies are still managing recognition through email, a bulletin board in the kitchen or a company newsletter each month,” he said. “I see that shifting into more software-supported tools to manage those programs.”

Pearl’s business involves people’s attitude toward work, so employee satisfaction is often on his mind. He spoke about office culture and offered insight that may help managers better understand how to make their staff members happy.

1 / It’s Not Always About the Gold Watch

Managers shouldn’t be so quick to give gold watches and gift cards to productive employees because material rewards don’t always matter. For some, sacrificing time away from their families isn’t worth a bonus or trophy.

“If you spend nights and weekends working close to a new client and your boss recognizes you with a $50 Starbucks card, it’s attached a value to your extra effort. For a lot of people, $50 may not be worth the time they spent away from their families,” Pearl said. “Attaching an actual value to effort can help demotivate people.”

2 / Recognition from the Top Is Important 

Everyone loves a compliment, but it’s a big deal to employees when a good word comes straight from the top. It’s nice when the boss says the job’s been done well, but it’s even better when the chief administrator or CIO says the same. “That’s going to impact you greatly,” Pearl said. “You’re going to carry that around with you for a very long time.”

3 / Turning Employees into Thought Leaders Helps Them and the Agency 

Enterprises increase their ability to influence peers and customers if people view staff members as industry rock stars. Managers should encourage team members to blog about the industry and offer tips and insight about the field. “You’re seeing a movement right now around thought leadership and guest blogging,” said Pearl, who encourages leaders to groom employees as walking ads for their workplaces. “You can have that person go out and interact in the community. They’re speaking at conferences; they’re writing posts on Mashable.”

4 / Pay Attention to Details

Pearl identified two types of detail-oriented recognition that bolster employee morale and company culture: values-based awards and action-based awards. Managers with a values-based approach are careful to acknowledge employees for behavior that exemplifies the enterprise’s mission and values. In the action-based approach, managers acknowledge the specific actions employees performed in order to earn the kind words.

“Talk about the specifics of that effort the person made and the specific results of that effort,” Pearl said. “It really reinforces to the recipient what they did to get that recognition, and it reinforces that to everyone else in the company who sees that recognition.”

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.