The ideal situation for anyone who manages people is to have a roster full of devoted employees who are punctual, professional, and devoted to their craft. In this situation, managers spend less time micro-managing and have more time to mentor and engage in meaningful managerial endeavors.

What does one do however, when facing a pool of employees with either stagnant morale or low morale? There are a number of approaches proven to help increase their level of engagement, but the primary technique involves using awards and recognition to improve employee engagement.

First of all, recognizing an employee for his/her great work is a must for any manager. In Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson's famous book, "The One Minute Manager," they write that the "one-minute recognition" is a cornerstone of great management. Taking a moment to compliment employees when they excel or complete a task to your satisfaction is important. It communicates the message that you, as their manager, appreciate their effort and accomplishment. It makes them feel that they are part of a team, gives them a sense of purpose, and empowers them to feel vital to the success of their company. Once this sense of empowerment is instilled, they work as though it is their very own company that they are working for.

So, what more can managers do in the area of recognition besides these cornerstone techniques? Awards. There are basically two kinds of awards: competitive and non-competitive.

Non-competitive awards would be basically a formal version of the recognition described in the previous paragraph. A company might wish to institute a "surprise" style of award, where supervising managers observe their employees from day to day, and when the manager notices the employee doing something exceptional, they present them with a "surprise" award. The award can be as simple as a button or a pin for the employee to wear on his/her uniform or attire.

When the employee receives such an award, they will feel the appreciation and sense of empowerment described earlier. They will have the added bonus of being able to display their recognized award of appreciation throughout every workday. Often, in the case of non-competitive awards, the award itself is the raison d’etre.

Not so with competitive awards. This can take many forms, but the most popular kind of competitive award is gained as the result of some kind of contest. The manager gathers the group of employees together, announces the contest, describes the rules and criteria, and turns his employees loose to have a friendly competition with each other for the reward.

The reward, in this case, is often something more than a medal or a pin, but usually something useful for outside the workplace: gift cards, or even just cash.

The friendly competition will allow the employees to not only feel devoted to their job/organization, but inspire each other to push themselves.

In the end, pushing yourself is the proof that you are engaged. It is possible to get there without awards, but they certainly can help.