Employee engagement

Bonusly Data Before and After: How the Employee Experience Has Changed During COVID-19

Connie Du
September 16, 2020
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We’ll cut to the chase. These are strange times. The COVID-19 global pandemic has prompted a quick shift to remote work, and for many U.S. employees, this will continue into 2021.

There are dozens of articles and think pieces out there about the Future of Work, Zoom fatigue, and the perfect home office set up. We even have a few of those. 😉 But in this resource, we’ll take a closer look at the numbers.

We’ll dive deep into data and usage trends from Bonusly customers from March to July 2020, compared to the same period of 2019. We think you’ll find some revealing insights about what the COVID-19 era employee experience is like, including how employees are adjusting their behaviors in response to remote work and how you, as a people and culture leader, can promote engagement and morale during this crisis.

Let’s get going! 🎉


Bonusly is a recognition and rewards software used by thousands of companies in 122 countries around the globe. Each month, employees use an allowance to give bonuses to their colleagues in recognition of and appreciation for the work they do. These bonuses can then be redeemed for rewards. To date, there have been 16 million bonuses given through the platform!

Employee recognition

💡Key insight: Teams are more likely to turn inward now than before COVID-19, and should search for more cross-team work opportunities.

What it means:

Employee recognition can benefit so many aspects of an organization, including employee engagement, retention, productivity, morale, and more. In organizations that put a heavy emphasis on praising and recognizing employee achievements, employee engagement levels increase by nearly 60%.

So, it’s great news that managers and direct reports are recognizing each other! Considering they are the ones likely to communicate the most, especially while teams are working remotely, it’s not a surprise that manager-to-direct-report and direct-report-to-manager recognition has increased during this time period.

But where does that leave cross-team collaboration? Unfortunately, recognition between different departments has dropped compared to 2019. The same reason that managers and direct reports are enjoying a small boost in recognition is likely also what’s driving this decrease—different teams are likely not working together as much, or their work isn’t as visible because they are working remotely.

And people want to give bonuses. Add-on bonuses (where employees can “piggyback” onto an already-written bonus) increased by 10% in 2020. When we’re all separated the way we are, written appreciation is even more important to keep employee engagement and motivation high.

What to do:

While your team is working remotely, you should focus on breaking down silos and encouraging cross-team collaboration. Easier said than done, we know! Here are a few tips to bridge those gaps:


Slack has been a lifesaver in isolation. We can’t have our Wednesday team lunches or hang out around the coffee maker, but we’ve tried our best to make our virtual community a fun and engaging place to be.

We’ve created new channels dedicated to weekly trivia, daily questions, and common hobbies. It can be uncomfortable to switch to fully remote communication, but it’s worth it to keep your team relationships strong.

And it’s not all fun and games, either. For many of us, switching to remote work is an adjustment—so why not try something new? Whether that’s daily team check-ins or a new process to gather feedback, this time of change is a great opportunity to experiment with new frameworks to help your team be efficient and productive.

Ask for feedback

Ask for feedback—not just about individual performance, but for your team as a whole!

Sometimes, it can feel like marketing is wholly separate from engineering, or customer success from operations. It’s easy to be focused on your own teams’ work, but that can lead to information silos, improper prioritization, and missed opportunities. After all, you want to lift up the whole company—not just one team!

Here are a few questions to jumpstart cross-functional team collaboration:

  • What are your goals and metrics? What can my team do to help you reach those objectives?
  • What’s the best way to kick-off a project with someone on your team?
  • Take a look at our priorities for the quarter—is there anything you think we’re missing that would help the company reach its goals?
  • If you could choose one project for us to prioritize, what would it be and why?
  • How often should we share progress? What are your teams’ communication preferences?

Taking the time to build relationships between teams will only increase flexibility, productivity, and employee satisfaction at your organization.

Host a hackathon

Hackathons don’t have to be centered around developers—at Bonusly, it’s a week where the team is encouraged to “hack” anything, whether it’s an outdated process, an old piece of content, or a better organization system for company resources. It’s the perfect opportunity for colleagues from different teams to put their heads together.

The projects that take place during this time are typically those that employees really want to work on, but are pushed aside due to time constraints or other priorities.

[B]reaking out of the day-to-day routine can reinvigorate and inspire staff, but hackathons also demonstrate to employees that innovation is not only welcomed, but also expected.
–Elizabeth Spaulding and Greg Caimi, Harvard Business Review

Some of our most innovative, interesting, and creative features and projects have stemmed from Hackthon ideas. For example, check out Sounds of Gratitude, a hackathon collaboration between two audiophiles on the marketing and engineering teams. 🤓🎧

Employee celebrations

💡Key insight: Traditional employee celebrations like birthdays and work anniversaries are increasingly moving to a digital and asynchronous format.

What it means:

Many companies paused hiring during the height of COVID-19. While the 20% decrease in Welcome bonuses is a bummer, it wasn’t a surprise.

However, the increase in Automated Birthday and Work Anniversary bonuses was unexpected! Employee birthdays and work anniversaries are epiphany moments—moments tied to events or specific dates that may cause an employee to examine their employment choices.

Research has shown correlations between certain dates and job-hunting activities. Here’s how it increased:

  • 6% increase on the hire-date anniversary
  • 9% increase on the anniversary of a promotion
  • 12% before birthdays

Based on our conversations with customers like CB Insights and Chobani, recognition and appreciation for employees on these days can go a long way in affirming their importance on the team. For example, they use Bonusly to give automated Birthday bonuses. Teammates can then add personalized comments to the award, sharing anecdotes about coworkers and emphasizing the importance of interpersonal relationships.

So, why did this increase in times of COVID-19? For one, social distancing has made it more difficult for a team to get together and celebrate one another, and many teams are searching for ways to make these milestone events meaningful despite social isolation.

What to do:

Out of sight should not mean out of mind! Recognition and appreciation for employees is more important than ever, especially on milestone dates like birthdays and work anniversaries. While you likely can’t celebrate in-person, you should be thinking of virtual ways to make these days special.

Here are some of our suggestions:

Remote surprises

Bring the surprise online! 😎

For employee birthdays and work anniversaries, we’ve been huddling in secret to choose a theme (for example, we once all dressed up to look like a colleague’s profile picture) and plan to arrive a few minutes early to our morning video check-in. It’s a cute and cost-free way to show your appreciation for a teammate.


With everyone going into quarantine, there has never been more treat delivery options! Check out remote snack boxes, these incredible cookies, or scroll through local options on Doordash. Even small deliveries can be an exciting pick-me-up on employee birthdays and work anniversaries.

Plus, it takes less time to shoot off a delivery online than running to the store, picking up a card or small gift, running to the post office, buying postage… you get the idea. 😉

Gift cards

Did we mention that with each Work Anniversary and Birthday bonus given in the Bonusly platform, the recipient can then redeem those bonuses for cash and gift cards? 🎁👀

That’s the benefit of having recognition and rewards in the same software! With Bonusly, you can write personal and meaningful messages, and encourage teammates to treat themselves through our extensive Reward Catalog. In hindsight, maybe it’s not so surprising that Work Anniversary and Birthday bonuses increased this year!

Charitable giving

💡Key insight: Charitable giving increased by more than 800%! People are interested in supporting social causes and lending a helping hand.

What it means:

Even in times of hardship, people can be so, so generous. 💚

In this short timespan, we’ve seen people come together to support the Australian Red Cross during the Australian bushfires, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund during national protests against racial injustice, Lebanese Red Cross - Beirut Disaster Relief after a devastating explosion, and of course, WHO COVID-19 Response Fund during… well, you know. 😷

We often talk about how volunteering and other types of charitable work can inspire meaningful team bonding and engagement. Despite quarantine and social isolation, it doesn’t look like peoples’ dedication to philanthropy has slowed down at all. Quite the opposite, in fact!

What to do:

COVID-19 has blurred the line between work and life like never before. Employees can’t (and shouldn’t!) be expected to leave their worries, concerns, and stressors at the door.

Focus on supporting your employees’ mental wellbeing, and if possible, explore ways to support the causes your employees care about.

Flexible scheduling

Employees’ lives have been turned upside down. Mental stressors abound, and they’ll appreciate being able to step away as needed to visit the doctor, help their kids with their virtual education, attend a protest, work the polls, or vote.

Remote volunteering

Maybe when you think of volunteering as a team, you may think of gathering trash on a beach, or helping clean an animal shelter.

While these activities are certainly still possible while remaining socially distant, there are many ways to support a non-profit organization that doesn’t require meeting in person. Consider a fundraising telethon blitz, website maintenance, proofreading or transcribing, and more! VolunteerMatch is a good place to start looking for opportunities.

Charitable contributions

A popular way for companies to support the causes their employees care about is by matching employee donations. Research showed that 83% of people in diverse occupations say finding meaning in work is a daily top priority, indicating that finding purpose is so important for the modern employee.

Even if it’s small, employees appreciate the opportunity to give back.

With Bonusly, users are able to make donations to charities with the bonuses they receive from their colleagues. As you can see from the above insight, it’s a feature that truly makes a difference.


We’re all searching for answers as we work through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our daily lives and habits have changed. Work has changed. The employee experience has changed.

Hopefully, these nuggets of information we’ve pulled from Bonusly data help you move forward in engaging and supporting your employees. If you’re a Bonusly user and are interested in understanding your own company’s analytics, check out this blog post.

If your organization hasn’t yet explored Bonusly, reach out! For a better understanding of how Bonusly can help you find personalized insights, join us for a tour.

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