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Rewarding Good Performance

Employee receiving a bonus gift for good work

As any manager or team leader who has attended a business coaching course or session will already know, the rewarding of good performance is typically a vital component and tool in a manager's armoury for getting greater productivity out of the employees. Offering incentives, whether monetary or in another format such as a tangible gift for example, can increase the performance of workers who need to achieve a certain goal or target in order to acquire the reward.

Along with providing incentives for increasing productivity and achieving a future target, rewards can also be given out for good past performance when no incentive scheme was actually provided. In the same way that diners may be so impressed at the level of service or the quality of the food in a restaurant that they feel inclined to leave a tip, so too may managers be so impressed by the level of work produced, or be so grateful to one or more employees for going over and above the call of duty such as working a weekend to get a big project completed, that they feel inclined to reward them.

Potential Pitfalls of Employee Rewards

Rewarding good behaviour is a vitally important element of effective management, but can be extremely damaging if used too often, too little, or in an unfair way (either perceived or indisputable).

Rewarding Too Often

If bonuses and rewards are given too frequently, employees will start to expect them on a regular basis. Not only will this become expensive for the company, but can often actually result in lower productivity in the long-run as employees expect to receive more for doing less work. There will also be a significant decrease in morale, motivation and effort if these regular rewards were taken away.

Rewarding Too Little

Whilst rewarding too often can lead to complacency and high levels of expenditure over and above what is already paid in wages, rewarding too little can be just as damaging. Many managers may be of the opinion that employees who receive a good wage should do what they are told, and more specifically, should do it to the absolute best of their ability at all times. Whilst this attitude is understandable, the reality is that no employee will work to 100% of their potential every minute of every single day.

Not only will an incentive be required every so often to provide a temporary boost to performance, but it will most certainly be needed if a manager desires their employee(s) to undertake work outside of their contracted hours such as in the evenings or at the weekend when a deadline is looming and a project must be finished. Failing to provide this may mean the deadline is missed or the extra production required is not fulfilled, which may be extremely damaging for the company, and cost far more money than any bonus or reward would have done.

Rewarding in an Unfair Way
Colleagues and co-workers in a business arguing with each other

As shown in the paragraphs above, rewarding too much or not enough can cause major headaches for a manager, but the fairness of the rewards is an area which is fraught with danger as far as morale and motivation are concerned.

It is unlikely that every employee will receive the reward. Rather than company-wide bonuses, rewards are typically given to individuals or specific team members. This can obviously cause jealousy and resentment amongst others, especially if they have played some part in the successful fulfilment of the objective. A classic example is the winning of a big new contract. The sales team who won the order may be given all the plaudits and rewards, but the efficiency and professionalism of the administration department may be overlooked even though they projected a professional, efficient and competent image of the company which played a major part in the big customer choosing to work with them.

If the admin department feel aggrieved at their contribution being overlooked in such a way, their motivation and performance levels will drop significantly, possibly to the point of open rebellion if they feel especially angry. This can have serious consequences for the successful operation of the company.


Not only does a manager need to understand the importance of bonuses, including when to use them and when not to, but they must be acutely aware of how the rewards will be perceived by other people who are not receiving them. Otherwise, they could find that their attempts to reward and incentivise some staff members end up alienating and greatly upsetting others.

Be Careful Which Behaviours You Reward

Making Use of Rewards and Incentives to Change Behaviour

When it comes to managing a business, team or department the rewarding of good performance and behaviour can condition those workers to perform like that as a norm.

Reinforcing positive behaviour and actions can lead to a repeat in the hope of another reward in the future and has been a proven technique over the years for training of both workers and animals alike. It is one of the most effective and powerful strategies that can be employed in order to raise the performance of employees, which is why it is discussed on many business coaching and executive coaching sessions with those in charge as a means to overcome issues with the workforce.

Using This Method Too Often Can Lead to Problems in the Future

This power and ability to alter behaviours means that those in charge need to be careful to exercise caution and restraint in its use. Over-use leads to a loss of effectiveness and an expectation by employees that they should receive a reward or incentive every single time they are asked to do something at work, and can place a significant financial burden on the company as they need to fund these bonus and reward schemes.

Rewarding Poor Performance

However apart from the cost, one of the most potentially damaging consequences that can come with being too free and easy with reward schemes is that it may inadvertently reward poor or mediocre working practices and methods if bonuses are handed out without requiring too much effort or hard work to achieve.

This can be a particular issue with group or team bonuses, where some individuals may not be assisting the team as much as they could be - although in their defence it is often inadvertent - but are still credited with a reward. Without being told or pulled up on it, these workers are likely to carry on as they are and doing the same thing if they receive the bonus anyway.

Not Rewarding Can Be Just as Bad as Rewarding The Wrong Things

Utilising Rewards and Incentives to Change Employee Behaviour

Providing performance incentives and rewards for achieving certain targets can be a powerful motivator for employees to raise their performance levels, which can be especially useful when there is a particular need for this such as to fulfil a major order. The reinforcing of good behaviour and working methods can make workers more likely to repeat positive behaviour and working methods in the future, hopefully from the manager's point of view without the requirement for costly incentive schemes, although employees can become reliant upon and expectant of them.

Failing to Reward Good Performance and Achievement

Keep in mind though that the failing to reward good performance can sometimes be just as harmful to the long-term performance levels of employees as rewarding the wrong things or handing out rewards that haven't truly been deserved. Whilst rewarding undeserving work will likely cause a repeat of that level of performance, not rewarding good performance that does deserve it will in all likelihood give off the impression that exceptional performance or increased effort does not really matter much to management and will not inspire the employee(s) to put in such an effort the next time they are called upon and the business requires them to go the extra mile to fulfil a target.

Managers Need to Recognise the Achievements of Everyone

Sometimes this effort will be put in by the quiet workers who do not shout about their achievement. It is all too easy for managers to overlook these people and sometimes to forget that they are there, so it is extremely important to recognise their contribution to the success of the business, department or team.

Reward and Reinforce Good Behaviour

Rewarding Good Behaviour in the Hope of Repeat Performances

Whether it is an employee, dog, or performing seal, they all have something in common: rewarding them when they do something that is desired will reinforce the message that it should be repeated, with the potential prospect of receiving a reward the next time. For animals, the reward is likely to be a tasty food treat. For people this is more likely to be either a financial reward or a non-financial type such as recognition, job enrichment or more authority.

Rewards Can Lead to Expectation and Dependency
A dog receiving a treat reward for good behaviour

This method can change the behaviour and habits of both workers in an organisation and animals. The downside is that it can also lead to dependency and an expectation of a reward every time.

Whilst for pet owners this can mean getting through a lot of food (and possibly a fat animal), workers who expect and get a reward each and every time they perform a certain action can end up costing the business a lot of money or other resources.

Although animals will not know any better, workers should know that sometimes the behaviour that is expected of them such as the willingness to go above and beyond so that the company they work for can achieve a certain objective is something that they should be doing anyway as a condition of being paid a salary in the first place.

Stopping Rewards Once Started Can Result in De-Motivation

As far as animals and workers are concerned, both will be disappointed, de-motivated and begin to wonder what they did wrong if the reinforcing rewards stop coming. So for managers in a business, they need to weigh up the pros and cons of rewarding behaviour and actions. Whilst it can increase the productivity and motivation of their employees, they need to consider the consequences of making it a regular expectation. A little reward every now and again is a powerful motivational tool, but too much of a good thing can spoil workers and make them greedy.

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