Those days are long gone when employees worked just to earn a paycheck every month and put up with any work environment, no matter how positive or negative it was. Today, employees look for a rewarding experience and want to be valued for their talent, productivity, and ethics. This is why, as an employer, you need to understand what a reward is, how it is different from an award, and how you can create a successful award or reward program.

Put simply, a reward is a reinforcement and stimulus that helps all living beings to alter their behavior and actions. According to psychological experts, rewards are given out to instill a positive behavior or value. The brain enjoys and looks forward to rewards and changes appropriately to increase its odds of getting rewarded.

Rewards work exceptionally well in the workplace too. An employee rewards program is now an integral part of compensation and benefits to help employees do better and stay motivated.

So, what are all the differences when it comes to reward vs award? As an employer, do you need to include both these factors in your benefits plan?

Keep reading to know more.

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Reward vs award – What is the difference? 

In many places, the words award and reward are used interchangeably. However, there is no doubt that these are different from one another.

An award is bestowed as an honor for merit, extraordinary achievement, or winning something. For example, the Oscar is an award, and so is the Olympic Medal. Awards are usually given in the form of medals, trophies, certificates, and prizes.

A reward is, however, more of an acknowledgment or an appreciation. For example, you could be rewarded for participating in an event or making a reasonable effort.

People can be rewarded for their honesty, hard work, determination, or even empathy. Employee reward ideas can be monetary or non-monetary in nature, depending on who gives them out.

When it comes to the difference between award and reward, here are other subtle variations you should know about.



Usually given out in public, in front of an audience  May or may not be publicly given out 
It is a mark of excellence  It is a mark of appreciation/gratitude or motivation 
Awards are given out at specific pre-defined instances  Rewards can be given out at any time  
Awards are given to appreciate a past behavior  Rewards can be given to encourage future behavior 

Is it essential to define the difference between award and reward?  

Yes. As an employer, you need to understand the correct definition of both these terms to be able to design the right employee rewards program. Awarding an employee multiple times a year may cause a loss of interest in the awards conferred. They need to be backed by a spectacle as well. 

On the other hand, rewards are very adaptable and forgiving.  

Rewards can be small, frequent, and affordable. The only idea behind these is to keep the employee pumped up to stay engaged and motivated.  

Why should you use rewards to achieve your goals? 

Yes. As an employer, you need to understand the correct definition of both these terms to be able to design the right employee rewards programGrasping on the award and reward difference will help you offer the right one at the right time.

Awarding an employee multiple times a year may cause a loss of interest in the awards conferred. They need to be backed by a spectacle as well.

On the other hand, rewards are very adaptable and forgiving.

Rewards can be small, frequent, and affordable. The only idea behind these is to keep the employee pumped up to stay engaged and motivated.

Why should you use rewards to achieve your goals? 

A goal is the desired result for which people work in the present. All workplaces have both organizational and individual goals. Rewards are one way you can help employees align their actions towards achieving goals quickly and effectively.

According to experts, two kinds of rewards can help reinforce a certain behavior and achieve goals. (Meanwhile, click here to learn the value of recognizing employee behavior)

  • Intrinsic rewards – Such rewards are usually internal pleasures or gratification that help a person to move towards a specific goal.
  • Extrinsic rewards – These are rewards given out by an external factor for favorable behavior.

All Human Resource experts agree that specific goals lead to higher performances than more open and generic goals. They also believe that a good employee rewards program can offer both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to people.

Here is how rewards work.

  1. Every time you are rewarded for your behavior, you get happy with the reward, and as a result, the body releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
  2. Dopamine has an impact on cognitive abilities, attention and learning skills, and performance.
  3. Your body will start looking forward to more dopamine and as a result, behave in a specific way.

Let’s say you reward an employee for finishing a course that will help them to achieve a pre-decided goal – transforming a business process. The reward will tell them that the behavior was favorable, and their brain will start finding similar ways to get rewarded more. As a result, the employee will be fully focused on different ways of getting closer to the goal.

In workplaces, rewards are effective ways to mold employee behavior and activities to align individual goals with organizational goals.

How to create an award or reward program for your company? 

Assuming that you have picked up the difference between award and reward, here is a four-step strategy to revamp your existing employee rewards program and include suitable awards and rewards into this system.


Assess the current system in place. You can get the help of an expert to analyze the existing processes and changes needed. Internal surveys are also great ways to determine what is working and what is not in the current rewards program. Make sure your assessment answers questions like:

  1. Are employees happy with the current system?
  2. What kinds of behaviors and actions are being/to be rewarded?
  3. What is your budget for the reward program?
  4. What kinds of rewards should you offer?


Reward vs award – When it comes to both rewards and awards, the way they are designed matters the most. Therefore, make sure the HR team and top management get together to design this right.

Here is where a third-party partner like PossibleWorks can help.

Our tools and software are designed to create a culture of recognition and rewards at the workplace and automate the process to make it frequent and holistic. With our tools, you can develop virtual rewarding and recognizing programs, automate milestone awards, support peer-to-peer endorsements, and explore more innovative ways to recognize and reward employees on limited budgets.

Get in touch with us for a consultation and free demo right now.


The execution is an integral part of the rewards program and starts once your team implements the employee rewards program, and the employees get to use it. Training is vital in this stage. The HR team and employees need to be trained to use the program. The program needs to run consistently for the employees as well as the organization to enjoy its benefits.


Evaluation is a measure of how well the program is doing and can help you understand what you need to do to improve it. It also includes using the reports generated by these reward tools to make future decisions. All of PossibleWorks’ tools generate critical reports populated with business and employee insights.

What can your company do to increase employee engagement and motivation? 

Both employee engagement and motivation can affect overall employee experience and productivity. So, keeping rewards in focus, here are some ways in which your company can increase employee engagement and motivation levels.

  1. Celebrate special moments and milestones. Invest in small yet meaningful rewards that show your employees that you care.
  2. Invest in flexible rewards. Let your employees choose from multiple options when it comes to rewards.
  3. Try customizing employee rewards ideas, so an employee who loves gardening gets a gardening book, and a cricket enthusiast is presented with a sports jersey!
  4. There are three broad categories of rewards – cash, gifts, and experiences. Invest equally in each one of these.

Recognition strategies can also work as intangible rewards to keep employees motivated and engaged in the workplace. Here is a list of the 21 best rewards and recognition strategies you can try to implement in your workplace.


This article must have helped you understand the basic award and reward difference and the importance of creating a holistic awards and rewards system.

All in all, an award is given to recognize a job well done, whereas a reward is given to encourage a specific behavior or action. An award is given to recognize and honor a person’s achievement, while a reward is given to someone who completes a task successfully. Rewarding people can create more positivity in their lives and improve their attitude towards the job.

So basically, you don’t need to award your employees multiple times a year. That can bring down the importance of awards too. However, there may be multiple instances when your employees deserve rewards. Do not shy away from rewarding and recognizing employees who deserve such positivity.

Employee rewards programs that recognize the right behavior can help make such positive behavior permanent. And this can contribute to your company’s growth in the long run.

Are you using the right technology for your Recognition programs?

Checkout our Buyer’s Guide to Employee Recognition software Or Book a Demo

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