World at Work 2022

3 Minutes Read

II attended the 2022 World at Work Total Rewards conference last week.  I left with such a favorable impression of all the excellent work being done in the fields of rewards and compensation. There were some great discussions on the subject and a lot of exciting work is being done in the field. 


This year, my presentation was on emotional intelligence in employee rewards and recognition.  If you’ll allow me a moment to brag, the presentation was a full house which I think goes to show that organizations are focused on the new hybrid work world. 


It’s time to let your employees know that they matter to you as people. It was a very candid and thoughtful session and I was able to speak to a number of people afterward who all see the challenges posed by employee engagement and have some interesting ideas about how to improve. 


Here are some of the key takeaways from the conference:


  • Personalize and be open and candid with your praise
  • Don’t feel the need to bring in expensive research and analysis operations for your reward programs
  • Be expansive in both your rewards and your rewarding


Let’s look at this in more detail.


Personalize and be open with your praise–When I am talking to HR leaders on behalf of KangoGift there is a disturbing trend I have noticed, and caution strongly to avoid.  It’s the idea that all recognition is good recognition. For example, I have shown person A acknowledgement last time so now I have to give it to person B.  Or give it to everyone like some type of award for showing up.


What you need to do now is double down on what you are doing by making it hyper-personal. You need to show your team that you are recognizing them as individuals and as people. The acknowledgment and award are as important as ever but now you need to let person A know why you appreciate them specifically.  If they made awesome fudge brownies recognize them for that, not just a general contribution to the team. 


Don’t bring in expensive research and analysis operations for your reward programs–I was surprised by how many people shared my concerns about the emergence of complex and complicated methods of measuring and analyzing employee rewards.  We’ve all noticed the rollout of many models and complicated formulas for determining if your employees feel engaged.

Well, there is an easier way that I shared.  Ask them! If you want an accurate reflection on how much your employees like your recognition program and how effective they think it is, ask them if they think it is effective! We also need to make sure we’re doing the right measurements.  There is really no way to accurately determine if gift cards are 10.3% more effective than televisions which are 5.7% more accurate than ice cream and so on. 


You need to sit down with your employees and ask them what they think might work best. But when you do this, make sure you’re asking them as people.  A focus group may make sense at some point but you want to start off with one-on-one conversations. 


Lastly, this should help you to know your employees better. Why bring in outside parties to measure something that not only can you measure yourself, but that you should measure and, more importantly, should know. And I'm not starting a flame war with research firms. They are critical and essential. Not just in this specific use case. 


Be expansive in both your rewards and your rewarding–I’ve been saying this for some time now and that is employers and managers need to avoid the trap of seeing rewards as another item to check off the list.  I am finding that a lot of the human resources executives I work with regularly also see this as a problem. 


A key talking point of my talk was to share that we need to be more expansive in how we reward.  This differs from offering more rewards in a very big way.  For one thing, by being expansive you are thinking about how to reward your employees on a more personal level so that it becomes a true reward and not another office thing like free water. 


By being expansive you are offering rewards that truly meet and exceed the employee's expectations.  Are you offering rewards that mean something personal to your teams?  Maybe you could offer some more PTO or a weekend trip? 


Also, periodically redefine what is something worth rewarding.  This is exactly what I mean when I say you have to talk to your employees about what they think is worth rewarding.  Maybe a work anniversary doesn’t mean that much at one company as it does at another while getting a product update means more. 


The point here is that you should be constantly reviewing your reward program to look for new rewards to offer, new ways to reward and what your employees think about the program itself not just what they get.


I’d like to leave you with a few action items.


  • Treat employee rewards and recognition as the one-on-one event they should be.  The whole idea of rewarding is to make someone feel special.  Go to those extra lengths so your employees know you think they are.
  • Do your own research!  There’s no need to bring in outsiders to measure your employee engagement when you could, and SHOULD, be doing it yourself. 
  • Be direct and personal with your awards and make sure you’re rewarding your employees that the things that have that personal touch necessary to truly engage.


The World at Work Total Rewards conference was both interesting and rewarding.  It’s nice to see how many of us are on the same page and moving forward with workable programs that truly contribute to the organization’s success.  It’s also nice to see that the struggles we face are not faced alone.  Personally, I took great satisfaction in the truly creative approaches to solving these challenges. 

Todd Horton