by Alex Palmer | November 25, 2015
Mid-sized American firms are more likely to run employee reward and recognition programs than their small- and large-sized competitors, and are increasing their investments in these incentive programs at a more rapid rate as well.

That is one of the conclusions of "The American Express Employee and Customer Recognition Survey," which focuses on incentive and engagement programs for both employees and customers.

The report finds that 83 percent mid-sized firms -- defined as those with 100 to 999 employees -- offer some type of incentive or recognition program, compared to 77 percent of small firms and 72 percent of large firms. In addition, 42 percent mid-sized firms expect to increase their spending on incentives and rewards, compared to just 28 percent of large firms and 25 percent of small firms. 

The report drew on the responses of 500 "business decision makers," most of them managers, directors, or C-level executives. Overall, it found that work anniversaries are the most common reason to recognize employees, with two-thirds of companies providing these "years of service" awards. Next are periodical top performer awards -- monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. -- with 64 percent of all employers. Three fifths offer year-end or holiday rewards and nearly as many (59 percent) offer spot recognition awards. The main reasons for these programs were to boost morale (80 percent) and encourage employees to exceed expectations (73 percent).

While fully 91 percent of large companies feel employees should be recognized for years-of-service anniversaries, less than half that number (45 percent) give awards with a monetary value for them. Mid-sized companies are most likely to invest in these awards (54 percent). Just 36 percent of small companies do so. 

Top performer awards are more prevalent, with 72 percent of large firms and 71 percent of mid-sized firms providing these recognition awards. Only 40 percent of small firms do the same. The gap was a little smaller on the question of spontaneous spot awards, with 65 percent of large firms and 60 percent of mid-sized firms providing them, compared to 47 percent of small firms.

Curiously, this pattern was flipped on the question of recognizing workers during the holidays and at the end of the year. While 53 percent of large firms and 60 percent of mid-sized firms implement employee recognition during the holidays, 69 percent of small firms do the same. Half of large and mid-sized firms (50 percent and 51 percent, respectively) believe it's appropriate to give a monetary award for the end of the year, but 70 percent of small firms say the same. 

Gift cards were the most popular type of award, with 85 percent of respondents from large firms, 83 percent from small firms, and 80 percent from mid-sized firms agreeing that they are "a great idea to give employees." This was well ahead of entertainment awards like movie of sporting event tickets (63 percent overall), small electronics such as mobile phones, headphones (53 percent), experiential awards including a spa day or round of golf (53 percent), and wellness awards like a gym membership (51 percent).

When asked which factors are most important in encouraging worker morale, 37 percent cited the monetary value of the reward, followed by the frequency of recognition (22 percent), wellness offerings (19 percent), and teambuilding benefits (12 percent).