DuPont Sees Bottom-Line Boost After Retooling Its Rewards

By Meg Breslin

Dec. 17, 2012

DuPont Co.’s Washington Works plant in West Virginia wanted to create a world-class employee-recognition system to enhance engagement with its 1,650 employees.

Leaders at the plant, which manufactures polymer products primarily for the automotive and construction industries, say that goal was quickly attained. Within nine months of the program launch last March, 95 percent of the Washington Works employees were using the online system, with about 2,600 individual recognitions per month.

Points are also given when sitewide objectives and goals are achieved. Since the program started with the help of Achievers Corp., a San Francisco-based employee-recognition firm, the site has attained a safety milestone: more than 400 days without an event-related injury.

The early results of the program have been encouraging, giving plant leaders hope that the recognition system, along with a host of other plant initiatives, will have a measurable effect on the company’s overall business objectives.

A recent report from Bersin & Associates, a membership-based human resources research and advisory firm in Oakland, California, underscores DuPont’s experience. The firm found that companies that excel at employee recognition are 12 times more likely to generate strong business results than their peers.

As part of that report, Bersin surveyed employees across 261 companies. In conjunction with the research, the consultancy also released its Employee Recognition Maturity Model, which allows companies to strategically assess their employee-recognition programs and take the detailed steps needed to revamp them.

Stacia Sherman Garr, a principal analyst for Bersin and the report’s author, says companies often underestimate just how much a strong recognition program can accomplish. She says the best programs boost engagement, reduce turnover “and ultimately drive business performance.”

Still, Garr says many companies’ programs remain poorly designed and are put together with little thought for how the rewards tie into business goals. For instance, many firms still reward employees for years of service, yet do little to recognize outstanding work on special projects or teams that have clearly boosted company value or customer satisfaction.

Furthermore, companies should ensure employees understand what the company values and where their work attention should be directed. “If you don’t have a sense for what you’re trying to drive, it’s almost impossible to drive what you’re trying to impact,” Garr says.

Similarly, a 2011 study from WorldatWork, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based human resources association, found that 34 percent of companies are now recognizing employees for a very specific set of behaviors that they’re trying to drive, up 9 percentage points from 2008.

“Organizations felt that because of what’s going on with the economy, they really need to direct employees in a very specific way and reward them, especially since there’s not been a lot of merit increases available,” says Rose Stanley, work-life practice leader at WorldatWork.

Garr says many more of Bersin’s members are focused on improving their recognition strategy, particularly by introducing user-friendly online programs that allow peers and supervisors to single out admirable work. A recent Bersin webcast on redesigning rewards programs generated 1,000 participants, she says.

“In general, we used to be less of a sharing culture,” Garr says. “It was more about the CEO going up there to give a single award or a gold watch. That has really changed. As part of this overall trend, we’re seeing a lot more input from employees at all levels. People want to engage with their colleagues, they want to get coaching and feedback, and they truly want to get recognition when they’ve done great work.”

At DuPont, the recognitions are public acknowledgements of a job well done and can add up to points that employees apply toward a range of prizes and gifts, such as $25 gift cards or adventure trips for the top performers. The recognitions come from senior managers and direct supervisors as well as peers.

WorldatWork’s Stanley says much of the renewed focus on reward and recognition is also about retaining key employees.

“Everybody is talking about keeping key talent. Especially as the economy starts to pick up, they know there’s going to be a surge in people looking for new employment,” Stanley says. “Using these programs becomes a key way to keeping them more engaged, and thus keeping them.”

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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