Over the last couple of days, this tweet – which shows NHS workers being sent a teabag as a ‘reward’ for their efforts – has appeared repeatedly in my timeline. It’s attracted a variety of responses – the majority negative – but some have argued that it’s a ‘nice’ thing to do and a recognition that the opportunity to take a break from the workplace can be beneficial.
As with many things related to people management, context is all important. When staff consider they are underpaid, over-stretched and/or constantly dealing with crisis management, a token, even if well intentioned, can seem insulting. It shows a complete failure to appreciate the situation from the frontline employee perspective. On the other hand, a non-financial gift can often be a more effective form of recognition of effort or achievement in a situation where the individual is already satisfied with their pay or working conditions,
Similarly, making a big song and dance of a small reward can be counter-productive. Telling staff that they are going to receive something for their work raises people’s expectations. To follow this up by providing them with a teabag or cupcake is almost certainly going to be poorly received. In contrast, an unexpected gift – even if small – can be a nice way for a manager to thank their team for their work, and will usually be welcomed.
Managing reward and recognition is a complex mixture of economic, psychological and sociological factors. Get it right and it can result in a well-motivated and productive workforce. Get it wrong and it can have many unwanted consequences. Don’t indulge in gesture management – think through what you are doing and why you are doing it, otherwise you may find your positive intention leads to negative results.
Edit: The Chief Executive of the NHS Trust concerned has recently published a Twitter thread explaining why they took this action, as part of a wider process – you can read it here: https://twitter.com/M_J_Hopkins/status/1558043577569234946?s=20&t=3uXk2vvDoflQedGAiRgcXw. If anything it reiterates the point in my main post – that reward gestures need to be thought about fully.