The Value of a Rewards and Recognition Program

The F & O Rewards and Recognition Program demonstrates the division's commitment to recognizing and showing appreciation to employees.  Research shows that recognition programs positively contribute to the employee experience and impact employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction.  Our goal is to create just that: a workplace where employees feel engaged, motivated, and satisfied; and, a place where they feel rewarded for their contributions.

Purpose of Program

To provide a suite of resources and options to F & O supervisors and employees that demonstrate an open, planned system for recognizing the efforts of staff who support the UI mission and accomplish departmental and division goals.

Eligible Staff

All regular merit and P&S employees in the University of Iowa Finance and Operations Division.

A Note About this Document

This document includes information on the Division of Finance and Operations' regulating guidelines for rewards and recognition programs.  Also included is a list of resources available for departments to use in customizing its own rewards and recognition program.  We would expect that a unit will customize a program for their unit, using a few of the options provided.  Your Human Resources Representatives are available to assist you in developing an appropriate plan for your work unit.

Finance and Operations Division Regulating Guidelines

Business Purpose

Please keep in mind the use of university funds for food, beverages, flowers, gifts and incidental expenses for approved events, employee recognition, training, and university business meetings must have a clear university business purpose for incurring the expense.  A business purpose may be defined as an effort that is of primary benefit to the university and its mission.  Examples of business purposes include: to recognize unit goal accomplishments, to acknowledge performance that supports unit goals, to celebrate the success of a major change initiative, to recognize improvement in processes and services, etc.

Department Executive Officers and their delegates are responsible for ensuring the funds are being utilized for a legitimate business purpose.


Funding for the events is evaluated based on the current budget, the type of event and the justification of the expense.  Non-General Education Fund resources are preferred where available.  Departments that do not have access to non-GEF resources should contact the Senior HR Rep, Finance & Operations (F & O).  Spouses/significant others or family members of employees (who are not also employed within the department or division and eligible for recognition as an employee) may be invited to attend departmental recognition, retirement, and/or going-away events as appropriate and approved by the department.

Generally, food and incidental expenses are limited to $20-$25 per employee, unless otherwise specified.  Justification should be provided for any exceptions.  

F & O Division Years of Service Recognition Program

Division staff celebrating service milestones are recognized with a certificate.  Units will determine the timing and method of presentation to the employee.  Gifts and/or celebrations to accompany the milestone may be provided as per University policy (38.2 Cash Awards and Gift Certificates) and within the guidelines below.  Gifts and celebration expenses are the responsibility of the departmental unit.

Departments and/or units may consider the following model, with the maximum gift amounts* noted.

  • 5, 10, 15, 20 years of service - certificate plus up to $30 gift
  • 25 years - certificate plus up to $50 gift
  • 30 years - certificate plus up to $75 gift
  • 35 years - (and every 5-year mark beyond) - certificate plus up to $100 gift

*Please note:

  • Gifts valued at $100 or more are taxable and must be reported to Payroll.  Gift cards of any denomination are taxable and must be reported to Payroll.

Standard certificate templates are available from F & O HR, if needed.  Units will be responsible for printing the certificates and presenting them to the employees.

Milestone anniversary celebrations may be held during work hours, scheduled as operations allow and with consideration for the celebrating employee’s preferences.

General Recognition Resources

Many tools are available at the University of Iowa to recognize employees.  Units and departments are encouraged to develop a local recognition program tailored for specific local needs and organization culture. Recognition provided can range from a note of thanks to meals and/or small gifts.  The following are examples of events and rewards that may be offered.

  • Employee Appreciation Events.  Examples include Unit/Departmental Staff Appreciation Luncheons or Annual Celebrations, Administrative Professionals Day, Holiday, or year-end events, etc.  Smaller scale appreciation days may simply provide treats.
  • Employee Milestones.  Examples include training graduations or promotions.
  • Recognitions/Celebrations. Recognize employees for behind-the-scenes support, innovation-based process improvements, results-based project completion, customer satisfaction based, results based on cost savings or people working together etc.
  • SPOT Awards.  Individual F & O P&S and Merit staff members may be eligible for Spot Awards of $200 or less or lump-sum flex pay awards (up to 10% of salary) per UI and F & O guidelines:
  • Extra Meritorious Pay.  Individual merit staff may be eligible for extra-meritorious pay per Board of Regents merit rules:  681-3.39(10) Pay for exceptional performance. See Pay for Exceptional Performance – Merit Employees for more information.
  • Create or utilize a "Thank a Colleague Program".
  • Write a card of thanks for a job well done.

Other Employee Support

Certain employee rewards are not recognition-based but may be appropriate to show support for staff at work and/or during life events.

  • Business Meetings/Training.  Departmental, project or other meetings (such as departmental retreats or all-day training events) may be scheduled to include lunch or dinner to better utilize the time of all parties involved.
  • Funerals. Flowers for the funeral of an F & O staff member or their spouse/domestic partner, children, parents, or siblings is typically limited to $100 dollars. Departments may also choose to fund flowers for funerals through a personal donation process.
  • Hospitalization.  F & O encourages departmental get-well cards for hospitalization but does not reimburse for this expense.
  • Other Life Events.  Cards are also encouraged for other life events, such as birth/adoption of a child or marriage.  Departments may also choose to provide a gift or flowers through a personal donation process as well.
  • Employee Retirements and Departures.  The limits for retirement or departure events honoring those with at least 10 years of service to the University of Iowa or 5+ years of service within the department are:
    Gift/Item:  $100 limit – Cash or gift certificates, regardless of amount, are considered taxable to the gift recipient and should be reported to Payroll. Non-cash gifts up to $100 are non-taxable to the gift recipient (retiree or employee).   

Additional Resources

Other U of I Campus Rewards and Recognition Programs can be found on the University Human Resources Campus Awards page and other campus information on other University of Iowa resources are available on the University Human Resources Reward and Recognition Programs page.

Departmental programs must be reviewed and approved by the departmental DEO, Senior VP for F & O, the Finance and Operations Senior Director of Human Resources, and the Department Budget Officer.  Download the departmental recognition program form here FO Recognition Program Proposal Form.

Communication of the Program

DEOs and unit administrators are encouraged to communicate Rewards and Recognition Program(s) to supervisors and employees.  You may want to share the information in your new employee orientation and onboarding sessions.  Employees are the lifeline to our mission of serving students at the University of Iowa.  Recognizing them for a job well done and for their service is essential.

Program Implementation and Evaluation

The program will be evaluated periodically to assess the effectiveness, cost, and impact.

October 2023

Flexible Pay may be awarded for extra-meritorious performance that includes rewarding a variety of outcomes and behaviors.  There are two types of Flexible Pay: (1) SPOT Performance Awards (up to $200) and (2) Exceptional Performance Awards (up to 10% of base pay).

General Information

  • F & O Departments will be responsible for funding Flexible Pay Awards.
  • All regular, Professional and Scientific and SEIU employees are eligible for an exceptional performance award.
  • All regular, Professional Scientific, SEIU and Merit employees are eligible for a SPOT Award.
  • Flexible Pay can be awarded at any time during the year.
  • Flexible Pay should not be used as a substitute for providing ongoing base adjustments that assure equitable and competitive salaries.
  • All Flexible Pay awards must be approved at the Organizational level.  If an award is to be paid in any part by 500 or 510 funds, UI Compensation and Classification will route the transaction to Grant Accounting so they may review the payment request at the time the award is submitted for final approval.
  • Flexible Pay will be awarded in the form of a lump sum payment that is not added to the base salary.
  • Flexible Pay awards must be supervisor initiated (using the appropriate nomination form) and approved by the unit DEO and forwarded through workflow by the Departmental HR Unit Representative to the Office of the Senior Vice President, Finance and Operations.  Awards will not be approved without DEO endorsement. A clear and compelling case for the award and $$ amount recommended must be provided by the supervisor and department.

Here is a link to UIHR for more information on the awards:

Spot Award Criteria

Considerations for determining appropriateness of SPOT Award nominations:  Extra effort in completing a non-recurring task or assignment; exceptional customer service or assistance to another unit or department while performing job duties, etc.

Exceptional Performance Award Criteria

Considerations for determining appropriateness of Exceptional Performance Award and $$ amounts – For sustained commendable or distinguished performance of assigned work duties resulting in a variety of outstanding/exceptional outcomes and behaviors, successful completion of a major project where work is performed outside of or in addition to normal duties, etc. consider 1-5%; For one-time, successful, completion/implementation of a significant project, outcome, development of significant new initiatives, cost savings and/or revenue generation, where work is performed outside of/in addition to normal job duties: consider 5-10%.


March 2021

The following information is intended for reference only.  Pay for exceptional performance is governed by the Merit rules established by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.


3.39(10) Pay for exceptional performance. An employee may be given pay for exceptional performance, not to exceed 10 percent of an employee’s current annual salary, at the written request of the employee’s department head with appropriate administrative approval and the prior approval of the resident director. The request will describe the nature of the exceptional job performance for which additional pay is requested, indicate the amount proposed, and specify the source of funds. The award may be based on sustained superior performance or an exceptional achievement or contribution during the period since the employee’s last performance review. To qualify for an exceptional performance award, an employee must have a cumulative performance evaluation exceeding standards and have no individual rating below satisfactory. Payment will be made as a lump sum award and will not change the employee’s established salary rate. An employee will be eligible to receive multiple rewards per fiscal year but not to cumulatively exceed 10 percent of the employee’s current annual salary.


The following provide illustrations of work that may warrant consideration of exceptional performance pay. The actual application of the rule to any individual or situation is at the discretion of the employing unit. There is no obligation to provide exceptional performance pay, as individual circumstances may be impacted by multiple factors, including the availability of funding.

  • Completion of a major project or initiative led by a merit employee or who had a significant role beyond the scope of their normal responsibilities.
  • Significant and extraordinary effort beyond the fulfillment of normal job duties and expectations of the job – effort that is major, key, or vital to the unit and that resulted in a significant positive impact or productivity gain.
  • Recognition of a merit employee’s exceptional role in revenue generation (or for the support of revenue generation), or cost savings.
  • Extraordinary effort to meet emergent times of critical need (e.g., meeting a crucial deadline that could otherwise have an adverse impact on critical business operations or major project).


  1. Eligible staff are merit employees employed at the University in a regular position for at least 6 months.
  2. Must have a cumulative performance evaluation exceeding standards (reflected on the most recent performance review as an overall rating of either ‘Exceeds Expectations’ or ‘Outstanding’).
  3. Have no individual responsibility performance review rating below satisfactory (if/where individual responsibility ratings are used).
  4. Limited to one Exceptional Performance Award payment per fiscal year.
  5. Exceptional performance pay is a lump sum award and not included in the base salary.
  6. Exceptional performance pay is subject to taxes and paid as part of the next regular payroll.
  7. The nominating department/supervisor must complete the F & O Exceptional Performance Award Nomination Form - Merit.
  8. A Special Compensation – Exceptional Performance Award (Payment) transaction must be initiated in Workflow by F & O HR and approved by the appropriate department head and their Dean, Vice President or a designee with the nomination form attached.
  9. University Compensation and Classification will provide final approval prior to payment based upon the documentation provided, consistent with the provisions of the merit rule.

March 2021