The right (and wrong) way to give nonmonetary rewards
  • leadership
  • Blog post

The right (and wrong) way to give nonmonetary rewards

I learned the “First Rule of Gift Giving” in my early twenties. It was on my second date with a girl I really liked. When I picked her up I brought her a fairly pricey mixed bouquet of flowers. As I handed it to her I expected shortness of breath or maybe a blush. But I got a frown. “I’m sorry, I should have told you,” she said. “I only like white roses.”

Okay, she was a bit too picky, which could be the reason I don’t recall a third date. But I got an important life lesson — when you give a gift, it has to be tailored to the recipient. You’ll never get the full effect of a gift — and let’s be honest, you usually have an ulterior motive for giving it — unless you know what the person truly values.

This is just as true when it comes to the non-monetary rewards we use to show our employees how much we appreciate their contributions to our companies.

Here are some examples of rewards that laid an egg:

Company X bought each of its employees a beautiful compass. People gathered in hallways and joked about the clumsy attempt to win them over. “Do they think we’re lost?” one person said. Ouch.

Company Y offered tickets to baseball games to employees who worked on special projects. But several recipients didn’t like baseball. Yawn.

Company Z gave everybody a box of chocolate-covered peanuts for Christmas. Several people in the company were allergic to chocolate, peanuts, or both. Are they trying to kill us?

In each case, an attempt to do something positive resulted in indifference, confusion, and even anger. Sure, the company spent a lot of money on these gifts. But they still cheaped out — in terms of the amount of effort. It’s a lot of work to figure out what’s going to be meaningful to each recipient. That — not the price tag — is what makes a non-monetary award valuable.

photo credit: Kaz Andrew

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