carrotThe purpose of employee training is to change behavior.  And, truth be told, if the training doesn’t lead to some form of changed behavior, then the training has ultimately failed.

For any type of desired change in behavior, one can use either the “carrot” or the “stick” method.  And, for employers who wish to use the carrot method, the motivation will then come through employee training incentives as a method to entice employees to change behavior.

In her paper, “The relationship between rewards, recognition and motivation at an insurance company in the Western Cape”, Roshan Roberts found that “there is a positive relationship between rewards, recognition and motivation”1  With this in mind, how can rewards and recognition be used to motivate employees to complete their training?  And, more importantly, how can employee training incentives be used to help achieve the goal of training which is to lead to changes in behavior?

Rewards as an employee training incentive

Let’s face it: Money Talks.  For a large subset of your employees, having some financial incentive to complete employee training can be a strong motivator.  The reward can be in the form of a one-time bonus or the reward can be made a permanent part of an employee’s salary.  And, depending on how the reward is structured, it can lead to long-term changes in employee behavior.

One-time bonuses can be a straightforward way to motivate the completion of training.  This one-time bonus doesn’t need to be large, and can take a variety of forms.  For example, upon successful completion of training, an employee can be rewarded with a half-day off.  This would result in minimal outlay on the part of the company, and would be an easy way to inspire everyone to complete their training.

Another “bonus” can be in the form of a gift card.  You’d be surprised at how many people get excited by a $25 gift card to Starbucks.  And for smaller companies, this could be a very cost-effective way to provide a bonus.

Care must be made about the timing of the bonus.  For example, if you give an employee a bonus just for finishing a training course, then you’re giving your employees the message that the training itself was the end goal.  And, perhaps for a compliance course, this is all that you’re interested in.

bonusHowever, if the one-time bonus is given after a measurable change in behavior, then the bonus will serve the true goal of most types of training: to get the employee to behave differently.  Therefore, one needs to think about what behavior should be linked with a reward.

As one example, let’s consider a bonus incentive for a safety training program.  Instead of providing a bonus incentive right after an employee completes a safety training course, give the bonus one year after an employee is not cited for any safety issues.  For customer service training, provide a bonus if the number of negative customer service reviews drops by 50%, 6 months after the training.  And, give a bonus after completing a sales training if the number of sales goes up by 10% within 6 months.

Regardless of the situation, you can tie the bonus to both the employee training and some definite measurable result in changed behavior that occurs within a specified time-frame.

Offering a more permanent change to one’s salary is another incentive that can be tied to employee training.  If the raise is a permanent one, then the increase in salary will be mentally tied to the change in the behavior resulting from the training.  For most people, there will be the feeling that the new behavior must remain changed since the salary has been changed as well; if you pay a person for something, they will feel a sense of obligation to fulfill what was paid for.

However, there is a potential downside to this approach.  For some employees, the connection between the higher salary and the desired behavior will be “forgotten” over time.  And, if the new behavior reverts back to the old behavior, then the only recourse would be a cut in salary.

And, while this is one possible approach, cutting salaries when employees don’t live up to changed behaviors can be fraught with landmines.  First, there would have to be a crystal clear set of metrics which one can use to determine whether a salary cut is warranted.  If there isn’t, then salary cuts may seem capricious to the employees.  Second, if the behavior changes in a positive way after the salary cut, there could be some employees whose salaries go up and down every few months which could have an impact on employee morale.

Recognition as an employee training incentive

I still remember learning my multiplication tables. Knowing that 9 times 12 was 108 hadn’t really been a priority for myself or my classmates.  However, if we could correctly solve 81 multiplication problems within two minutes, then we became part of the “81 club”.  And for a third grader, this was huge!

Can this work for adult employees as well?  Let’s face it: we all still have a little bit of third-grader inside of us!

certificateHave you ever received a plaque of recognition or a certificate for some community work that you did?  Or perhaps a thank you note for a donation that you gave? If so, then I bet you still have it somewhere in your office.  As human beings we love to be recognized.  And for some, a note or a plaque of recognition can be just as important as getting a raise.

In employee training, recognition can be used as a low-cost but powerful means as both inspiring employees to complete their training programs, and ultimately can be used as a tool to change behavior.  And, the effects can be multiplied when the recognition is presented at the team or department level.

Recognition gives us social validation and makes us feel like we are valuable human beings.  And, when the recognition comes from an executive or supervisor, it gives us a sense that somehow we’re higher up in the pecking order.

The best part about recognition is that from a financial perspective, it can be extremely low-cost.  The possibilities are endless, but a few are listed below:

  • Plaque in the Main Lobby for the department with the lowest number of accidents
  • Special breakfast with the CEO for the group of employees with the highest level of customer service
  • Hand-written note from the branch manager to the sales group with the largest increase in sales


Rewards and recognition are two tools that employers can use to bring about changes in employee behavior.  And these tools can be tied to the training process as employee training incentives to maximize the results from employee training.

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