by Roy Saunderson | May 24, 2016
Too often, employee reward, incentive, and recognition programs are viewed more as an expense than an investment. However, recent ROI research shows there's a win-win benefit to employers and employees when recognition and rewards are done correctly. This month's top 10 showcases some unique ways employers have invested wisely in their employees. 
1. Reimburse tuition.
 This may seem like an old concept, but only 60 percent of companies in the United States provide some type of tuition assistance. Lumina Foundation reports up to 129 percent ROI from tuition reimbursement plans, making it a great attraction strategy and as a saver on retention and recruitment costs.

2. Reinforce healthy sleep patterns.
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini rewards employees who sleep seven hours or more for 20 nights in a row (monitored by FitBit technology). Bertolini claims 69 minutes of improved productivity per employee per month. Employees receive $25 a night, up to a maximum of $500 a year.

3. Validate employees' worth.
Identify all of your employees' unique skills and abilities. Within the scope of their work, permit a certain amount of time for them to be drawn upon for their special subject matter expertise. By doing so you are raising their profile in the company and validating their skills and abilities.  

4. Find a fitting reward.
Strive hard to personalize and find the right reward. One taxi company in England gave a driver a month's free rent for saving a distressed teenage passenger; one restaurant gave a loyal female employee with 30 years service a car following the death of her husband.

5. Give whole new experiences.
 Three out of four Millennials would rather spend their money on experiences versus consumer goods. Find experiential rewards that allow employees to connect with their friends, escape into unique, immersive experiences, and simply have fun together.

6. Create an optimum work environment.
The most important place used by employees is their workspace. Design workspaces around your people, not the building. Environment should reflect employees' work and help make them happy and more productive. Build in a variety of setups for different needs while at work.

7. Look seriously at social responsibility.
Integrate corporate social responsibility initiatives into work by scheduling days off to volunteer in the community. Plan social impact travel into your incentive travel awards and make a difference to people in another country and culture for something meaningful.

8. Discover unique travel experiences.
 It isn't enough just to go somewhere exotic. Incorporate things like culinary learning opportunities in native cuisine, cultural art classes, or immersion into a destination's language.   

9. Offer learning for growth and development.
A major engagement driver is growth and development. Carefully plan in career advancement opportunities, provide online and in-person leadership development programs, and give access to specialized learning courses outside of the company.

10. Master the delivery.
Research shows between 40 to 50 percent of an employee's ideal recognition experience comes from the presentation of the award or reward, how it is communicated, and who actually presents it. Take extra care in orchestrating the presentation -- it has a major impact on conferring an award.

Incentive columnist Roy Saunderson is author of Giving the Real Recognition Way and is the Chief Learning Officer of Rideau's Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training company which helps leaders and managers get recognition right. He can be reached at [email protected] Also, check out the library of Real Recognition Radio shows.