HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Ask the Expert: How to Reward High Achiever without Upsetting Coworkers?

Q.) We want to give an important employee a raise to ensure she stays with us, but we don’t want to be unfair to other workers. Are there other ways to retain this employee without upsetting coworkers?reward

A.) There are many reasons and many ways to sing your best employees’ praises aside from giving them a raise. Additionally, there is every reason to treat your top performers like top performers. The keys to doing this well are:

  • Make sure you can tie the award or other recognition to the employee’s specific goals, milestones, or behaviors your company is saluting; and
  • Distribute praise consistently to employees who later meet the same milestone.

Most important, if an informal award system is adopted, it should be applied without regard to the employee’s race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, or veteran status.

What Are Some Options?

In lieu of giving your best employee a raise separate from your usual compensation assessment, you could offer a one-time bonus, such as a “performance bonus,” to show recognition for her contributions. Be sure to tie the bonus to the specific performance that warranted it.

Employee praise also can be accomplished in less traditional ways than raises or bonuses. Your options could include providing flexible time or additional vacation or personal days to the individual. Your ability to offer flex time is likely going to depend on the employee’s position, but you could allow the high-achieving employee to come in earlier and leave earlier or perhaps work four 10-hour days rather than five 8-hour days.

Additionally, you could provide extra benefits or perks paid by the employer rather than paid straight to the employee. That could include payment of the employee’s tuition for continued learning or conferences. The benefit of tuition payment or reimbursement is that, while it no doubt has a monetary value for many employees, it also communicates your company’s investment in her professional development.

A transportation reimbursement, stipend, or payment is often seen as another much-appreciated non-raise perk. It could include payments for gas, tolls, fares, and parking fees. The company could purchase parking passes or gas outright or offer reimbursement as a set amount of the employee’s expenses each month.

Notably, whatever reward, recognition, or perk you choose, you cannot require the employee to keep it confidential from coworkers.

What Will Other Employees Think?

You expressed concern about upsetting other employees by rewarding a high achiever. Alternatively, you may want to think of the perks as encouraging or motivating others to mirror the outstanding performance and receive similar recognition.

As you consider your options for praising the star employee’s contributions, you’d be wise to provide a clear path for coworkers to achieve similar recognition. They should know what the employee in the spotlight did to be recognized and, more important, what they need to do to be saluted for their work.

If orchestrated correctly with clear, objective standards, the reward/recognition-in-lieu-of-a-raise approach can serve as motivation for both your top performer to stay and for coworkers to step up in the future.

Bonnie Thomas is a labor & employment attorney in Steptoe & Johnson PLLC’s Bridgeport, West Virginia, office. She can be reached at 304-933-8165 or