Confessions of a benefits manager: Points make prizes

A new recognition programme is supposed to improve staff motivation, but Candid sees only self-indulgence on the horizon

Let’s face it, no one comes into work because they like it here. Least of all me. No one is so motivated by the company mission statement that they spring out of bed each morning, just itching to make us the world’s most profitable organisation. I know I don’t. Sure, we talk a lot in HR about making it a great place to work, about offering special career development opportunities and other such propaganda, but no one, not even the Higher Beings (our management team), could be dumb enough to believe their career will flourish any better here than it would somewhere else. Anyway, I’m here to tell you that it won’t. No, the only reason anyone is here is for one thing: money. Flash the cash, and our people will do just about anything to get it.

This is why Big Bad Boss thought a new recognition programme would go down a storm. In some ways, he is right. Bonuses come but once a year, if we are lucky. The results are so massaged by finance that really anything could happen. We have had great years with no bonus, and terrible losses with a full payout. Even if there is a sensible payout, the Higher Beings will tinker with individual results to favour their mates and punish their perceived enemies, so it is just a mess. People have so little influence over their final bonus that it is seen as a sort of corporate lottery.

A recognition programme, on the other hand, gives managers a chance to directly reward an employee on the spot for some special project, without any interference from corporate head office. Big Bad Boss is sold on revamping the programme. He wants to improve the tarnished reputation of our team, and HR as a whole, but, more importantly, he wants to look good. So the decision is made. We just need to figure out how we will do it. Big Bad Boss has already allowed several companies to woo him, so he has whittled down the potential shortlist of providers to just two. One of them, presumably the one that took him for the best lunch, is demonstrating its online system to me today.

I have to say, the presentation is very slick. It has our company logo on every screen. It tells me a manager can have a personal budget of recognition awards to offer, or we could adopt a points system and let employees collect bonus points, like a sort of company loyalty card. With the budgets, we will know how much a manager can spend on their team, and with their online tools, we can track that spending very easily. On the whole, it all looks very glossy and neat.

The points system, on the other hand, has me worried. It works like this: every manager gets a number of points they can dish out for good behaviour. In addition, we can assign further points for long service, for introducing new staff, for punctuality, safety, completing training, and so on. Each employee gets their own login to track how many points they have earned, and can choose from a list of gifts according to how many they have saved. The gift choices are vast, ranging from DVDs to holidays. Employees can set up wish-lists of gifts to save up for, and, most scarily of all, they can read special pages describing how they can earn more points.

So why don’t I like it? Well, I know our people, and how they respond to dangled carrots of excessive consumerism. I can see it now: the boys in IT will spend their entire working day browsing the catalogue for gadgets; the girls on reception will be selecting perfume instead of taking calls; and as for the Higher Beings, given all that golfing equipment to choose from, how will they ever get any work done? Not that I have seen them do much more than check their investment portfolio in between meetings, anyway.

Once the presentation is over and the provider has gone, leaving a shower of gift cards and sample recognition certificates, I express my concerns to Big Bad Boss. But he is not listening; he is using the card to log on to the online catalogue. I mention the additional maintenance required by the points system, but he is busy typing the password. I mention the extra cost of the programme if we take all the optional online facilities, but he is unconcerned. He has already pulled up the sports equipment section and is browsing golfing gifts. I tell him I do not think the tool meets our needs as much as a simple recognition budget, but he is checking the points price of various items. I go back to my desk in disgust. This company is all about service; not for our customers, as we pretend it is, but self-service for our managers.

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The provider has left me with a login card too. Just out of curiosity, you understand, I use it to log on myself. It really is rather clever. There is a page greeting me by name and suggesting gifts I might like to save my points towards, based on my age and gender. The screen tells me I already have 1,000 points. I know points make prizes, but what does 1,000 points get you anyway? I click on Accessories. It seems 1,000 points gets you a rather nice Radley handbag. Hmm. Call me a hypocrite, but maybe this isn’t so bad after all.

Next time…Candid helps to sell a business