The Riddle of Reward

10 minute read

Reward| noun | a thing given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement.

I go to work. My reward, I get paid.

I hit my targets. My reward, I get a bonus.

I helped hit a milestone. My reward, I get a gift.

Most people think of reward as simply a label, a thing that indicates and describes what will be given to compensate for a specified action or behaviour. But is life merely a set of transactional dealings? Is it simply a never-ending negotiation of offers in return for our time, attention and energy?

Now let’s modify that noun to make it an adjective.Let’s see how it can change things….

Rewarding | adjective |Feeling satisfied, enriched, fulfilled, pleased, gratified, worthwhile, valuable.

That trip away with friends and family a few years ago was so worthwhile and left me feeling grateful.

That book/film from last year left me feeling satisfied and pleased at the end.

When I eat my subsidised sandwich I’m overwhelmed, feeling gratitude and fulfillment.

That conversation I had left me feeling enriched and pleased, as it was so valuable.

The thought of that bonus/pay rise three ago fills me with joyous memories and gratitude.

Clearly, as an adjective this has a very different meaning, or at least describes a very different set of feelings, doesn’t it? But did you spot the two that don’t ring so true?

Unfortunately, the power of the traditional tangible rewards diminishes over time and can in certain circumstances begin to have a negative effect. The pay rise was too small, the subsidised sandwich could be more.

In short, the extrinsic(tangible) rewards will probably never be enough. This is because these rewards are first expected and then seen as an entitlement. You get it and then you want more. what’s next?

One solution that overcomes the potential negative effects is to simply make the rewards a surprise, not a given.However,a more effective approach is to go beyond the traditional tangible rewards and tap into an individual’s ability to realise their own ‘rewarding’ experiences. Here we’re talking about intrinsic rewards.

What follows is designed to demonstrate how you can motivate, recognise and help people within your workplace feel rewarded, rather than merely relying on extrinsic benefits.

Many clever people have experimented, tested and studied what makes us tick and there’s a lot to digest. To save time I have summarized and grouped similar themes.

  1. Achievement /Self-esteem/ Contribution
  2. Social needs / Affiliation / Teamwork/ Connection
  3. Growth/ Variety / Learning
  4. Control/ Autonomy / Responsibility / Power

Most organisations want to improve their employee experience, but employee needs can vary from person to person making it feel like a hugely complex challenge to deliver.

Warning! Security, stability and certainty are a priority, but they are not a given in life. When they are missing, people tend to perceive threats or danger, they don’t want to draw any attention to themselves and go into survival mode. When job security and doubt is present, discussions about contribution, variety and growth can be difficult and if handled poorly, utterly counterproductive.

Some of you may be nodding along and thinking…“Ok, well we have some stability now, but if the traditional rewards aren’t effective long term, what should we do?”

Well dear reader, the answer lies in your ability to simply generate a little bit of curiosity. Most people go through life unaware of what makes life feel truly rewarding. Using the list above, you have the power to help enrich someone’s life by piquing their interest and providing clarity on what they really want, rather than rely on the traditional transactional rewards.

Below is a rough outline of how you could help generate rewarding experiences for people as a leader, teammate or friend.

“Hi XX, What new with you? How you feeling today?…

I’d love to talk to you about something interesting and I think really quite useful. Have you got a second?Like most of us I’ve wanted to feel happier and motivated at work, and indeed in life in general, so I’ve been reading and listening to those who know how to do this.As I result I have found a way and it’s pretty simple. Do you want to know what it is?

Ok, well the good news is the first bit is quick and easy, but you do have to take some responsibility your side. I need you to think and be honest to make it really work, shall I go on…?

Most people think the important things in life are simply money and job security. This is true of course, however as you know, there is a whole lot more to life than just this.So,I’ve got a list of the other things that make life really rewarding; things that we all need to some extent and in some way. All you have to do is look at the list and choose which things you are missing or want more of and put a tick next to them. Simple enough? You can interpret the words in whatever way works for you,just think about it and be completely honest.”

We have now created connection, learning, autonomy, and your time/attention. Notice the questions? They give the other person choice. We are giving them control. We are trying to get them thinking, rather than us merely telling them all the answers. We want to create interest – this creates insight, which subsequently creates inspiration, which then leads to profound realisation, and then last but not least, action.

The conversations can then continue by building clarity around the words they have chosen. Work with them to explore what it is about those words. Choose from 1-10 how important that really are to that person.Ask them how much they want them.

The final part is to hand the control, autonomy, and power over to them to decide the best way to get more of these things at work. Being able to identify what they want is the first step. You can then support and create opportunities that allows them to explore and use this knowledge and motivation to enrich their own lives.

For you or the person you are talking to this may be too much. Perhaps it is too deep, too‘fluffy’? Perhaps you need a softer slower approach? I’ll let you judge that. But don’t write it off. The key is to plant that seed of curiosity and intrigue in their minds. Sometimes as a leader you feel you must have all the answers. Not only is this hard work, but it may well not be right for that individual. Using this approach, you simply ask questions and let them guide you.

It worked for me. I made sure I got more valuable team time and greater clarity on how I was  contributing to help others in what I do. I must say, it’s made a massive difference.

And it can work for you too. Why not try you own little audit, and then go share, enrich and inspire others…