Employee rewards for a job well done should go deeper than a monetary prize or an annual event; Daily doses of thanks and perks go a long way toward keeping staff motivated

Motivated, engaged employees are more productive and more apt to stay on the job. That has been well-known for a long time.

Traditionally, the formula for keeping an employee satisfied was a good wage and an annual bonus. Not so, anymore.

Today’s workforce responds to more immediate feedback, so recognition needs to be at the core of a company’s culture.

In a study by Zippia.com, 37% of respondents said employee recognition is the No. 1 factor in motivation. Everything else pales by comparison. For example, only 7% ranked pay increases most important. This survey also found that strong employer recognition programs can reduce turnover rates by 31%.

Savvy companies strive to build a culture where employees feel a strong connection to both leadership and each other. Smaller, more frequent rewards that impact a diversity of workers work alongside a more common compensation at year’s end.

“We make sure everybody knows they’re important, valuable and part of a team that has a common objective,” said Leo Feuerstein, secretary/treasurer and operations manager for Western Precast Concrete. “That weighs into their decision as to whether they’re going to stay or not.”

Here are some innovative strategies that precast concrete companies are using to reward their employees.

Feeding employees’ desire for recognition

Employee incentives can be big or small, formal or informal, frequent or annual. Using a variety of strategies is optimal, but the most important factor is that employers show their appreciation in ways that connect with employees’ wants and needs.

When Shea Concrete President Greg Stratis visits one of Shea’s plants, he makes sure to say hello to every worker, shakes their hands and engages in small talk. Last year, Shea’s “Boot Truck” visited all four plants and gave each employee a free pair of work boots. During the summer months, the company arranges for food truck visits – everything from an ice cream truck to a fish taco truck – to provide a bit of fun and variety during the workday.

“We’re always doing things like that, just to say thank you,” Stratis said. “If someone enjoys coming to work and likes the atmosphere they’re working in, it boosts their morale, and everyone around them feels better.”

Based in Amesbury, Mass., Shea Concrete’s annual picnic brings all 125 permanent and temporary employees and their families together for a cookout and outdoor activities. Employees also are compensated to attend events sponsored by outside professional organizations.

And, most importantly, the leadership team listens. When several employees suggested a company golf outing this year, Shea Concrete organized one.

Each year, the 75 employees of El Paso, Texas-based Western Precast receive bilingual birthday cards from the owners plus a $25 check. Western Precast also provides catered lunches whenever the company meets its production or safety goals.

“Once you pay a really good wage and demonstrate you’re an environment that treats each individual with respect, then these little incentive boosts throughout the year keep everybody on track and keep morale up,” Feuerstein said.

The company’s annual employee recognition luncheon recognizes every employee and typically features a catered meal and entertainment. Employees receive plaques denoting the number of years they’ve been with the company and a monetary gift.

Tacos, burgers and hot dogs frequently are on the menu for plant cookouts at Locke Solutions in Houston. Recently, the company held a barbecue cookout and gave employees special T-shirts and hats.

Every weekly department meeting at Locke Solutions begins with employees giving a shoutout to others who have performed above and beyond, and this praise is distributed companywide. The company’s Employee of the

Month receives a personal day and a certificate, but the names of all nominees are announced, and their achievements complimented as well.

“Any kind of recognition goes a long way,” Locke Solutions President Asher Kazmann, P.E., said. “If no one says anything, after a while an employee is going to say, ‘What’s the point? Why should I go the extra mile?’ But they respond positively to getting recognized and having people thank them.”

Sarasota, Fla.-based Atlantic TNG operates an onsite kitchen, nicknamed “The Garage,” in honor of a past employee. Employees can purchase lunches there on a donation-only/honor system basis and chill out in a pleasant café-style area. No one goes hungry, even new employees who haven’t yet received a paycheck. Every Wednesday, the café serves a hot meal to benefit a specific cause.

Food and special events are big winners with employees, but other options also are appreciated.

Atlantic TNG managers use T-shirts and gear to reward employees for a job well done or for working on Saturday. For the last three years, the company has used the Crew app to link everyone together. Employees who opt in – and 99% have – can recognize fellow employees with gold stars on a daily basis and wish them a happy birthday.

“Precasting is difficult work, especially for the guys who work outside,” said Megan Kitchner, general manager and owner of Atlantic TNG. “It’s hard for them to keep a positive attitude all the time. Giving daily accolades – a pat on the back and telling people they are doing a good job – is something we instill in our management team.”

Being featured in company newsletters is another way to make employees feel good about themselves and who they work for. Locke Solutions’ quarterly newsletter highlights the Employees of the Month, new hires, promotions and certifications.

Western Precast has published its quarterly newsletter for more than 22 years. Each issue features an employee on the cover. The goal is to give employees something they are proud to show to their families.

“I’ve found it has a lasting effect,” Feuerstein said. “Many employees have told me they really value being honored and being recognized like this.”

Show me the money – and prizes!

Bonuses of one form or another – annual, quarterly, holiday, production, profitability – are awarded by all four companies.

“Everybody wants a bonus,” Kazmann said. “But that’s fleeting. If employees don’t feel good about where they’re at, if they don’t feel like people are paying attention to them or their ideas, I don’t think they’ll stick around very long.”

Each month, Locke Solutions holds a drawing for everyone who completes a safety report. Prizes typically include coolers, gift cards and sporting event tickets. Raffles also acknowledge employees’ efforts. In addition, the company hands out quarterly bonuses.

Western Precast awards annual cash bonuses based on the company’s profitability. It also surprises a different team each month with gift certificates. Other drawings feature technology purchased from NPCA and an annual trip giveaway.

The company’s incentive program uses $25 gift cards to recognize employees who clocked in on time every day during the month. In the past, quarterly incentive prizes have included $500 gift cards and flat-screen TVs.

Shea Concrete has so much work in the pipeline, it recently began implementing time-and-a-half bonuses for employees who work more than five days a week. Some job functions earn an additional bonus on top of that.

Making it personal

Investing in employees’ physical and mental health shows a company’s concern for its employees’ welfare. According to a 2022 Metlife report, holistically healthy employees are 74% more likely to be satisfied with their job and 53% more likely to be productive.

Shea Concrete’s new headquarters features a full gym, and the company’s employee assistance program offers free counseling visits. The company realizes the impact a single employee’s mental state has on overall employee morale.

“If a person has a miserable life at home, they come to work miserable,” Stratis said. “And it really brings down everyone working around them.”

Rather than terminate that person, Shea Concrete chooses to help.

Western Precast reimburses employees gym memberships at 90% and reimburses employees for counseling visits. Western Precast also offers maternity leave for both mothers and fathers.

Providing employees with opportunities to help others increases their sense of value, which makes them more productive and more apt stay on the job.

Atlantic TNG creates and sells T-shirts that support specific causes. For example, the company recently offered a breast cancer awareness shirt and another shirt benefiting an employee who was hospitalized after a serious accident. Donations from the company’s Wednesday hot lunches also go toward fundraising.

“Fundraising has been really strong here for the past three to five years,” Kitchner said. “And we get better at it every year.”

Finally, investing in an employee’s education and certifications is a sure-fire way to demonstrate that they are valued. Many companies pick up the tab for educational classes, and some offer bonuses on top of expenses. It’s an honor to be selected to participate in additional training whether a skills class, leadership class or earning an accreditation or certification.

For example, Locke Solutions selects two employees per year to attend NPCA’s Master Precaster program and plans to send an employee to the Leadership NPCA program each year. Currently, the company is paying a private teacher to help two workers learn English.

“This one is huge,” Kazmann said. “When we put the money down to help employees develop personally and professionally by sending them to a training program, it’s proof of their value. And that’s a huge morale booster.”

Shari Held is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer who has covered the construction industry for more than 10 years.