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It is socially acceptable in most cultures to be publicly recognized for a positive achievement. On the other hand, bragging about cash is generally considered crass. The recipient of recognition or an openly displayed non-cash perquisite can be used as a positive example by the employer, affirming both team status and group objectives, without offense.

Some people would do more to have a personalized parking space close to the entrance with their name on it than they would for $10,000. One gives glory, but the other (cash) disappears into the bank account where it is co-mingled and loses both its identity and its utility as a reinforcement element.

Funnily enough, we were just at a wedding where the bride and groom wanted cash instead of presents. I guess they have enough stuff and/or didn't want friends and family inflicting their horrible taste on them. In Japan cash is the standard wedding present.

Nice point about cash and motivation, however - once you've banked it, the warm glow is gone.

Jim, that's an excellent point about bragging. Symantec shared with us on a webinar that's one of the reasons they're so pleased to have moved away from cash rewards. Now they're starting to hear how employees are enjoying their rewards: "Oh, I went to the spa." You certainly can't have that conversation in the hallway with a colleague if you get cash: "Yeah, I got a 100 bucks!" Just doesn't work...

Laura, that's an important point, too, about merchandise rewards. Though I didn't get into that in detail in my post, hand picked merchandise offered through a catalog is nearly as bad as cash. The catalog provider is, as you say, "inflicting their taste" on the reward recipients. Far better to give employees full choice - the fungibility of cash - while avoiding all the negative.


I agree with your point that durable gifts can mean more than a significantly larger amount of money. Company must also be aware that these durable gifts can also be worth much less than the cost and effort of supplying them.

In both weddings and rewards programs people sometimes choose to gift items that are unique and special to themselves, but very few others. Providing a gift like this can often serve as the butt of a joke or as a constant reminder of the disconnect between the giver and the recipient.

Care must be taken when selecting a gift or reward. Many people will not return or exchange gifts even when they HATE them. They will likely still remember the gift, even if they don;t like it.

Give rewards that your employees want, not those you wish they would want (or that you want yourself)

Dan, couldn't agree more, though I didn't go into this level in the post. That's why we offer gift cards to 2500+ brands around the world. This lets employees choose from, ultimately, 25+ million reward items, experiences, adventures (even charities) that are not only personally meaningful, but actually desired - and that no manager or peer (however well intentioned) could possibly know about.

I think there is a balance to be achieved between the generic gift card which can be used anywhere and knowing your employee. I think one of the lost arts of management these days is understanding who your employee is and what motivates them or excites them outside the work place. When rewarding an entire team it may be difficult to have this level of 'intimacy' and a gift card or similar may be best. When rewarding an individual it would behoove the manager to actually know the individual - do they have a favorite sports team, restaurant or food type, going fishing, trips to the spa or whatever. That gift has meaning in more ways because it shows you take interest in who they are not just what they produce.

Nice article. I have written several articles on the power of a physical, tangible gift vs. cash.

Once the cash is put in a purse or wallet, it is never thought of again. Instead, it often gets thought of in the same terms as bills, which it too often goes to cover.

A merchandise reward shows thought and will go toward something that the recipient might not have originally purchased for themselves, though wanted to.

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