The Message That Bad Rewards Sends to Your Employees

As I was driving to the office the other day, I caught a news snippet from National Public Radio (NPR) in America about a tea controversy (ahem) boiling in the UK.

Apparently, tea maker Twinings has changed its 180-year old Earl Grey tea recipe, adding extra citrus flavor. The reaction? Extreme anger from loyal consumers who think the new tea “tastes like lemon cleaning product.”

Worse is Twinings’ reaction. Despite a very public Facebook campaign and all the negative press, Twinings refuses to restore the old recipe. Why? Because “market research” says the change is good.

Going overboard with “market research”

While the story at first made me laugh, I then realized – this is a story I hear every time I talk with organization leaders working on implementing a strategic recognition program.

One of the most common conversations I have is about what reward should be offered as part of the program. Most program managers have only ever experienced the traditional catalog merchandise reward program or perhaps an incentive travel program (sell so many widgets or resolve so many customer service issues and win a trip to Hawaii).

Too often, people will rely on “market research” to determine what their rewards should be. Paul Hebert wrote about one such survey in which the most popular rewards were “non-cash rewards” including subsidized training, flex-time, mentoring programs, free lunches and the like. Digging a bit deeper, however, shows the research reflects the opinions of 1,400 CFOs.

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It’s about “what your company will allow”

As Paul points out, “These aren’t necessarily what your employees want – it’s what your CFO is willing to allow.”

That’s what traditional reward catalogs do – force what “you’re willing to allow” on your employees. At least, that’s how your employees perceive it. Click over to the Globoforce blog for today’s post on a true story of just how badly this reflects on the organization.

Tell me – what rewards have you received that were not at all what you would have selected but are “what your company would allow?”

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


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