Employee Rewards Can Be Corrosive

One of my meetings this week was down on Wall Street. It was great to see the progress of the rebuilding going on down there. Lots of visitors to the 9-11 Memorial.

While sitting with a couple of executives (one Marketing and one Human Resources), overlooking the New York Harbor, we discussed what they were doing to build a workforce that can truly be a part of their valuable brand. We talked about their compelling business model and how they differentiated themselves by their innovation. We discussed new uses of social media that would thrust them ahead of their competition. And then they mentioned how to motivate their workforce and I heard the word “recognition” which immediately raised a red flag.  Over my years of experience, I’ve begun to cringe at the whole idea of employee rewards and recognition as a technique to develop a culture, or instill the “correct” behaviors. Shouldn’t employee behavior be a result of something deeper than a $25 giftcard?

The brandful workforce roadmap requires a successful business model and organizational mission. If that’s in place, that should be the motivation behind the workforce – to fulfill the higher purpose behind the organization. Wouldn’t that be more meaningful than a getting recognized for a specific behavior – to know that you are contributing to a greater good?

Then, the executives in the meeting looked at each other and agreed. They told me that in thinking about rewarding employees, they had seen it backfire so much so that they said it was” corrosive.” Recognizing individuals for specific behaviors can actually take focus away from collective efforts and overarching goals and divide employees rather than unite them.

I realize that there are entire businesses dedicated to helping organizations with rewards and recognition programs, but are they really needed? What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Employee Rewards Can Be Corrosive

  1. What I think is that you do not understand recognition if you believe that it is about a $25 gift card! Recognition is something deeper and cannot come from monetary gifts of any denomination. Money has again and again proven to be a poor motivator, even when disguised as a “gift”. Deeper recognition is about the emotional connection an employee has with the company. It is about alignment with an organizational strategy and communication of the mission. Programs backfire because they are poorly thought through and/or not developed with the ‘right’ goals in mind. Manipulating people with ‘rewards’ is not a recognition program, nor is it a rewards program. It is a lazy attempt to try to elicit more from people, who would willingly give more if they believed they were valued by their employers.

    • Thank you Carl. You have a good point. It all depends on how you define and perceive recognition. Unfortunately I do believe that many organizations see it as a way to control behavior. But, if you look at it your way, it does make more sense.

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