How to reward top employees


Countless blue-ribbon panels, reports and training classes have addressed methods to discipline wayward feds. But much less airtime and ink have been devoted to rewarding prized employees. So, to help even the score, here are descriptions of the most common types of awards you may give to honor your star players.

• Grade increase: Most grade increases for General Schedule employees are computed under the “two-step” rule: First, determine the salary two steps higher than the employee’s current step; then, at the next higher grade, find the two steps in the GS range that straddle the employee’s “two-stepped salary”; the higher step is the employee’s grade and step after promotion.

So, looking at the GS salary tables at, suppose you earn $126,251 at Grade 14, Step 7 in Washington, D.C. Go up two steps to Grade 14, Step 9, which provides a salary of $133,264. On the GS-15 range, $133,264 falls between Steps 3 and 4. Your promotion would be to GS-15, Step 4, with a salary of $136,134.

• Quality step increase (QSI): This is a faster-than-normal increase. A QSI may be awarded to any top producer who earns the highest possible rating on his annual review, demonstrates superior productivity, has not received a QSI within the previous 52 weeks and has not reached Step 10 of his grade level. In most cases, a QSI does not delay the timing of the employee’s next regularly scheduled step increase.

• Performance-based cash award: Also known as a rating-based award, this is a lump-sum cash payment. It is designed to recognize superior productivity during a specified rating period, and it may be justified solely by a superior annual evaluation. In most cases, the value of the award depends on the budget of the employee’s office and the discretion of his supervisor.

• Special act award: This type of award is designed to honor an individual or group that exceeds expected productivity in a significant way. It is also designed to recognize major one-time achievements. These awards may range from $25 to $10,000.

• Time off: Time off from work without loss of pay or leave is granted as an incentive or as recognition of a suggestion, invention, superior accomplishment or other contribution that improves government operations. Each agency sets its own policy on the amount of time off.

• Informal recognition: This is given to an employee or group to recognize a contribution that would ordinarily not merit formal recognition. For example, a voucher, gift certificate or U.S. savings bond may be given as informal awards.

• Honorary award. These are generally symbolic and usually do not involve money — with the exception that savings bonds may be given as honorary awards. Honorary awards are generally given as a gesture of respect and to recognize an employee’s productivity and value to the organization.

Managers may use any combination of awards to honor a single contribution, as long as the recipient’s contribution warrants the total value of the award.

Your agency may sponsor awards in addition to those listed. And note that awards are usually accompanied by a glowing written justification.

Worried about the expense of awards? It may cost your office far less to honor worthy employees with awards than to lose a prized employee because he does not feel sufficiently appreciated.


About Author

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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