Goodies and Gimmicks Won’t Get You a High-Performing Workforce

A while back, I was doing a public program on how to keep employee morale high and shared my “Forget the Goodies, Gimmicks, and Gala Events Approach to Building Employee Morale” maxim.

I’ll talk a little about that here, but if you want to read a more in-depth riff (rant?) on it, go to Are You REALLY Serious About Improving Morale?

After I shared my thoughts about the all-too-common Goodies, Gimmicks, and Gala Events approach to morale and engagement and why it’s such a huge mistake, an HR manager raised her hand and shared her experience with this approach.

Each year, her employer spends about $20 per employee on a Christmas gift (this was before the PC Police starting trying to make people pariahs for using the world Christmas). They have about 3,000 employees, so this was a $60,000 per year expenditure.

An all-too-familiar story

She said how one year the gift was a plush beach towel and the previous year’s gift was a really nice picnic basket. She commented on three things she noticed:

  1. Employees now expected some kind of gift, so leadership felt obligated to do something each year, even though they questioned whether these gifts really made a positive difference.
  2. There was a fair amount of grumbling because regardless of the gift, it was “wrong” gift in a certain percentage of employees’ eyes.
  3. She realized that she herself had stuffed the picnic basket in a closet and had never used it.

Does some variation of that story sound familiar?

After she shared her story, I found myself thinking:

“What a classic example of wasting money on the Goodies, Gimmicks, and Gala Events approach to employee morale and engagement! Not only does it not improve morale and engagement, it also often leads to an entitled ‘what have you done for me lately?’ mentality. How much more of a difference would it have made if they had invested that money in finding out what aspects of their employees’ day to day work experience were leading to disengagement, working on removing them, and/or investing that money in management development?”

3 things you can do

It isn’t just the fact that I provide these services that this thought crossed my mind.

It’s because, as you know, an employee’s daily work experience and how their manager treats them play a far greater role in how happy employees are, how hard they work, and whether they want to stay.

Yet, think of how many places you’ve worked where the mentality seems to be: “If we could just find the right benefit or gift, one-size-fits-all-management-fad or engagement-building program, or fun event … we’ll solve our morale and engagement problem.”

If this sounds like the mentality currently held in your company, I recommend that you:

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  • Share this article and the one referenced in the beginning with your leadership team.
  • Find out what specifically you as an employer do that positively and negatively affects employee morale and engagement. Clone those things that are being done well. This is perhaps THE most effective thing you can do. Identify Bright Spots—practices that are working really well—acknowledge and celebrate them … then spread the word. For those things that negatively affect employee morale and their ability to do their jobs well — eliminate or minimize them.
  • Assess the skill level of your managers and invest in professional development and coaching to help them bring out the best in their people.

Representative of their work relationship

Now, IF you have great labor/management relationships, IF employees feel respected and valued and what they do is meaningful and important, and, they get to excel on the job, /then and only then do goodies and gala events “work.”

Companies like Google, SAS Institute, and Zappos are known for showering their employees with goodies, fun programs, and other bonuses. It clearly works for them. It works for them because those things are congruent with the daily employee experience of being valued and respected, and knowing that what you do matters.

So I’m not recommending you abandon such practices. I’m imploring you to not do them INSTEAD of doing the important work it takes to create a work experience that is inherently satisfying and intrinsically motivating, and enables employees to perform at their best.

If your employees’ regular work experience is of feeling respected, valued, and valuable, goodies and fun events are seen as an authentic representation of their relationship with leadership, sort of like when someone you loves gives you a cool present. That present feels wonderful because it’s congruent with, and symbolic of, your relationship. Getting a cool present from someone who is usually not nice to you doesn’t have quite the same endearing effect.

Stay away from more goodies

So, don’t waste your money heaping on more Goodies, falling for the latest Gimmick, or putting on big, fancy Gala Events.

Instead, focus your finite time, energy, and financial resources on creating a work experience out of which naturally springs passion, commitment, and go-the-extra-mile effort.

You’ve got three recommendations on how to get started.

So if you’re serious about having a high performing workforce, get started today.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," as well over 100 articles and book chapters. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at


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