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Need Help Retaining Employees? Some Apps for That Social media-style programs give workers public kudos when they go above and beyond. Consider these employee rewards-and-recognition apps.

By Michelle V. Rafter

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Need Help Retaining Employees Some Apps for That

Recognizing an employee for a job well done can be a big morale booster and doesn't have to cost a lot.

These days, you can choose from a variety of low-cost web-based rewards-and-recognition programs to give employees a public shout out.

The best part: These apps are based on the same kind of social sharing that make Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest popular, which means employees pick up on how to use them fairly quickly, and they're fun. And while you're recognizing someone for going above and beyond, they can share their accomplishment with other employees, and in some cases family and friends, making them look good -- and you too.

Getting staff to feel good about what they do and where they work pays off, according to a recent employee engagement survey from Aon Hewitt, a human-resources consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill. As the economy improves, it is likely to get harder to hold on to top talent. Smart organizations will find out what matters most to workers and find ways to provide it, it says.

One way companies are improving employee engagement is by singling workers out for their accomplishments more often -- in some cases on a daily or weekly basis -- and encouraging other staff to do likewise, and be public with their praise. The popularity of big social networks such as Facebook and Twitter has pushed long-time vendors of rewards-and-recognition programs to incorporate their own social-media platforms into what they offer, and lured startups into the business. Because many entry-level versions of these social sharing apps cost nothing or next to it, businesses of all sizes in all kinds of industries can, and are, using them, including companies in everything from pharmaceuticals to retail.

Related: How to Attract -- And Retain -- Staff When You Can't Pay Big Bucks

Many of these services can be used as desktop or smartphone apps. Most have dashboards that managers can use to track staffers' recognition and rewards activity, budgets and spending. Here's some of what's available:

Employees can use Terryberry's virtual bulletin board to give each other virtual high-fives, then share recognitions they receive on Facebook and Twitter. The program connects with a company's intranet so employees can use their existing user name and password to log in. It can be used on its own or as part of the Grand Rapids, Mich., company's complete suite of employee rewards and recognition programs.
Fun fact: Employees can earn instant Billboard music downloads.
Available on: Web-based desktop application, iPhone, iPad or Android app
Cost: 30-day free trial; after that, prices start at $99 a month for up to 50 users.

The iAppreciate smartphone app is one of several offerings O.C. Tanner Co. has unveiled as the 85-year-old Salt Lake City company integrates social media into its extensive rewards-and-recognition product line. A company owner can use the app to set a date for an employee recognition event, invite people to speak, create certificates in 14 languages, and set reminders for birthday and anniversaries. Employees can use the app to send e-cards to fellow workers. Related applications let people share their accomplishments on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and use a virtual bulletin board to post digital certificates and notes.
Fun fact: The app can be used to create "e-buttons" with messages like "You Did It!" or "Great Job!" that employees can display on their digital bulletin boards.
Available on: iOS, Droid and BlackBerry
Cost: Smartphone app is free; costs for other O.C. Tanner applications vary.

Related: Gordon Ramsay's Lessons for Motivating a Sales Team

Launched in February by Charleston, S.C., startup SPARC LLC, Sparcets are virtual recognitions that managers can give to employees or employees can give to each other via email along with a personal note explaining why they're giving someone the digital thank you. Employees can sign up for the service by uploading an existing Facebook or LinkedIn profile. They can also link their Sparcet account to outside social networks.
Fun fact: Managers can use the app's group message function to tell a project team or entire department they've done a fantastic job.
Available on: Desktop, iOS devices and Android phones
Cost: Free; beta version of upgraded SPARC'D employee-recognition service with more features is $3.89 per employee per month.

Company owners can use the app from Achievers Inc., a San Francisco and Toronto-based rewards-and-recognition vendor formerly known as I Love Rewards, to award points to workers for sharing a job opening on their social network, achieving company goals, or just because. Employees use a Facebook-style personal page to track points that they can save toward trips, gift cards or merchandise. They also can use the app's news feed feature to give fellow workers points or comment on their achievements.
Fun fact: Besides using them toward trips and merchandise, employees can turn accumulated points into a donation to a favorite charity.
Available on: Web-based, mobile-optimized application works on desktop computers, smartphones and tablets
Cost: Varies by company size and how program is structured, but generally about 1 percent of total annual payroll.

Related: A New Tool to Compare Health-Care Plans

Michelle V. Rafter covers business and workplace issues for a variety of national publications. She is based in Portland, Ore.

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