Employee Rewards: who would you rather work for – Amazon or Apple?

Amazon and Apple are both among the most admired companies in the world. However, feedback from employees on Glassdoor.com suggests that both have historically somewhat struggled with employee engagement – which can cause a whole range of issues. The courses of action they have taken to address this through reward and recognition have been different.

So which approach to employee rewards is right?

Apple believes especially in offering employee rewards for independent thinking. The company compensates its executives by giving them a bonus of 3 to 5 percent of salary. Last year according to media reports, Apple gave out restricted stock units to a majority of its more than 100,000 employees.

Apple also gives discounts on its range of products to further boost motivation, not to mention retail staff’s ability to sell the products. Furthermore, Apple doesn’t just reward work within the company. It also rewards volunteering. The company’s new donation-matching programme, for example, is being rolled out to all employees.

Employees say they find it rewarding that they aren’t micromanaged – a tone Steve Jobs himself set when he gave his team their mission “to create a phone that people would love so much that they would never leave the house without it.”

Perhaps Apple’s greatest achievement is that they have created a feeling that the work itself is rewarding.

‘It’s a company that when you sign on you’re getting to be a part of something larger, you’re getting to be a part of pioneers that are actually making a difference in people’s lives,’ says Business Manager John.

‘I think what Apple gives the employee is the opportunity to be part of something really, really meaningful,’ says Joel, Vice President of Human Resources.

Amazon believes in taking a long-term approach to employee rewards. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos set out his vision in the company’s first ever letter to shareholders, when the company went public back in 1997. The letter’s main point is that we can’t realise our potential as people or as companies unless we plan for the long-term. This is still the company’s philosophy today, illustrated by the fact that this letter has been included in every subsequent annual report.

While Amazon gives its employees – or Amazonians as they are known – the usual benefits, as well as discounts on Amazon purchases, the company prefers to reward employees with long-term stock options rather than cash.

Bezos explains his logic in the 1997 letter: “We know our success will be largely affected by our ability to attract and retain a motivated employee base, each of whom must think like, and therefore must actually be, an owner.”

Here’s the catch – stock options only turn into a reward if the employee stays more than two to five years.

Amazon is also pioneering new programmes for employees who have undertaken one year of continuous service, such as Career Choice. The company pre-pays 95% of tuition for courses that teach in-demand skills, regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. Does this ‘reward’ actually encourage people to leave, rather than stay at the company?

As an article in Buzzfeed recently pointed out, “A revolving door. Churn and burn. An overwhelming need for new bodies… These are all phrases that have been used to describe Amazon’s high turnover rate and fast-and-loose corporate culture.”

Several comments on Glassdoor.com suggest a harsh corporate culture with high employee turnover. A current Senior Product Manager based in Seattle advises management to “treat employees as well as you treat your customers and you’d be better off”.

However, the same employee also states that “Amazon is an excellent place to work if you…enjoy a fast paced and rewarding career with excellent upside potential. I like it how performance is rewarded with increased responsibilities and stock based awards.”

Defining your reward & recognition strategy
Whether you believe that Apple is right, or Amazon with its longer-term approach, it is important to define your reward and recognition strategy. Nowadays it’s easier as more and more companies buy in a reward and recognition programme. If you do this, the programme should be company-branded, tailored so that it reflects internal processes and markets, flexible and easy to use.

Companies need to develop programmes to keep employees engaged and motivated so that they can help deliver the strategic goals. In this regard, we can all learn something from both Apple and Amazon – even if we decide to start with more simple steps to drive engagement.

Which approach do you think is correct? Should employers reward as successes are achieved?

Or should they wait and reward loyalty? Simply download Xexec’s free Recognition e-Book to find out more.