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Monetary Vs. Non-monetary Rewards: Which Are More Attractive?

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More and more districts are asking me about non-monetary awards. Why? There's a growing belief that not only would many educators prefer rewards other than cash, but that non-monetary awards are actually "free" or "cheaper" in comparison to bonuses.

What are the differences between the two types of rewards and which are more attractive to educators? Let's explore...

What are monetary awards?

Monetary awards are just that...money. Some people are motivated by money or would simply prefer to be rewarded with a cash bonus for a job well done. This isn't a bad thing. In education, there is an ongoing debate about whether bonuses are the best way to reward high-performing educators. Money may not be the answer for rewarding all educators, but as I have said in previous posts, I do believe it should be considered as part of the discussion around strategies for how best to recruit, develop, reward, and retain highly effective staff.

What are non-monetary awards?

Non-monetary awards may include:

• Restaurant coupons
• Relocation costs
• Movie tickets
• Recognition of birthdays
• Free lunches, snacks, or beverages
• Coveted parking spaces
• Outstanding employee plaques
• Employee discounts
• Tuition Reimbursement
• Preferred office/classroom/team selection
• Flex time
• Job "swapping"
• Personalized items (shirts, jackets, brief cases, planners, mugs, hats)
• Loan assistance
• Paid sabbaticals
• Gym membership, trainers, spa services
• Healthcare benefits
• Additional life insurance
• Daycare
• Free cell phone or other technology products
• Financial advising services

The unique environment in schools does preclude them from using certain non-monetary awards. For example, while some businesses offer employees the ability to 'earn' additional days off, most districts need teachers to be with students as much as possible. There are still many creative programs that can be explored.

Some education leaders are under the impression that non-monetary or indirect compensation awards are cheaper or, at times, free. This is not always the case. While they are called non-monetary awards because no "cash" exchanges hands, they are likely to still cost the district something, from the price of managing the program to the actual delivery of awards to employees.

How do businesses reward top-performing staff?
Check out Forbes "100 Best Places to Work" for examples of business and nonprofit award programs from across the country. Most organizations on the list have programs that award or recognize employees on top of their regular salary.

What are school districts doing to award their best employees?
The Houston Independent School Districts has one of the most innovative reward programs in education. They offer onsite healthcare to any employee with the district's health insurance. The facility has nurses and doctors on staff that can prescribe medication as well as give flu shots, perform health screenings, and more. While many other districts have implemented or are exploring strategic compensation programs or cash bonuses for high performers, very few have pursued innovative non-monetary rewards. This is partially due to budget constraints.

As part of my work with districts across the country, including many Teacher Incentive Fund recipients, I have surveyed hundreds of educators around a variety of education issues, including reward programs. Most have indicated that they prefer monetary over non-monetary awards. Many factors influence theses choices, but based on this feedback, we have worked collaboratively with multi-stakeholder teams to build reward systems that best reflect the needs and desires of highly effective teachers.

Leaders should always think about what drives individuals in their organization. Incentive plans should be developed to meet the specific needs, wants, and desires of individuals. The best way to ascertain what employee's really want is to ask. Even the best incentive program can fail if the rewards are not attractive to employees.


Do you know of any districts providing innovative non-monetary rewards? If so, please share!

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