Employee Engagement Plan – Dumb or Dumber? You Make the Call

Employee engagement doesn’t need any more bad ideas.

Since being crowned the “it” girl in roughly 2005 by HR and every business consultancy with a pulse and a research arm, I’ve seen more bad ideas around engagement than you can shake 100 sticks at. (How Pokemon Go can drive employee engagement with virtual workers will soon be the next BIG idea – trust me.)

But I usually try to let those terrible ideas just go by with little notice hoping they die a quick, ignominious death. But not this time. And truthfully… depending on the reception this post gets … it might become a monthly feature series…

Time to Play – “How Dumb is This?”

That’s right players. Step up and play the newest game to hit the Employee Engagement Midway – where con men and women hawk their wares and urge you to part with your money for fame, fortune and employee retention.

This time the game is:

Using your award points EARNED in your company’s recognition and reward program for things you should be getting without points – and truthfully – should be getting if you are the WORST employee in the company and have never earned recognition or rewards.

Stay with me folks… this is true and this is fact. I am NOT making this up.

Pay to Play – Payola in the Career Advancement Space

Would you ever take a portion of your pay and give it back to the company in order to meet with a member of your company’s management team? Think about it. Would you PAY to meet with a manager at your company? And if you would – would you think it might help you get further in your career? Would having that access to your boss – or their boss – be helpful in getting promoted and getting raises? And do you think that access could be a function of how much money you have (money the company gave you initially)?

You’d probably think so right? Heck – isn’t that why we have lobbyists and PACs?

I’m guessing a lot of you are scratching your head thinking – that can’t be right. It almost sounds illegal. It sounds like “payola” or the old “pay to play.”

It sounds wrong.

Now let me ask this.

Substitute “reward points” for money. Would you use your reward points earned in a company sponsored reward program for access to senior leadership and other career enhancing activities? Would you think there was anything wrong with that? Some of you are thinking hard right now. But let me put your mind right.

Any attempt to connect “pay” – whether company funded paychecks or company funded awards to your likelihood or probability of advancement – is the WORST idea ever.

Putting a program in place where (in many cases) subjective criteria allows employees to earn points that then can be redeemable for access to leadership and career enhancing options is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Yet a well-known “guru of gratitude” just sent an email update praising a small recognition start-up for doing exactly this. To quote from email (names have been changed to protect the clueless…)

It’s been several years now that I’ve been hoping that an incentive company, that is, a service provider that helps companies set up recognition & rewards tools, programs and systems, would start featuring Career Development opportunities as reward options that employees can redeem with points they’ve earned. It finally has happened! A [recognition company] allows employees working for companies who use their software platform the option of redeeming points they’ve earned for career development activities such as a meeting with their manager’s manager to discuss their career and future with the organization! 

Employees can also earn points by learning new skill sets that put them in line for future opportunities with the firm. Perhaps soon employees will be able to redeem points to attend external education opportunities or a conference of their choice! All of this is key because recent research shows that Career Development is the #2 driver of employee engagement (after Recognition, which is the #1 driver of employee engagement).  The ability to integrate Career Development with Recognition & Rewards strategies will be increasingly important in years to come as companies are moving away from using performance reviews, which traditionally have been used to help justify merit increases and job promotions.

I am totally on board with rewarding people for TAKING classes and TAKING initiative in their career – that is a behavior we need to reward and embed in our companies. I also agree that career development is a HUGE engagement play.

But using points earned in these programs to advance your career is bribery at the base level. Why even bother to use points? Why not do it like we do with extra vacation days and simply let people give money back to the company in exchange for new job opportunities, dinner with the company CEO, better laptops? You name it – it’s just a marketplace right? And if a conference is good for career development why wouldn’t the company fund that anyway? Why make the employee do that through the awards they earned?

BTW – if you’re redeeming points for access to company management the company is really just laundering points so they don’t have to pay for the normal redemption options that cost them real money – like TVs and putters. With this strategy the program is less expensive to the sponsor if the points are redeemed inside the company for things the company really isn’t paying for.

Does anyone support this idea? What am I missing?

You make the call. “How Dumb is This?!”

Love to hear your comments.

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Danna Blum says:

    Wow. Dumb is a gracious label in this case. It sounds like someone who is just trying to hitch onto the gravy train that the Reward and Recognition game has become. Sadly though, there will be those who will glom onto this as the next new thing, the cutting edge strategy to increase engagement.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      And… I didn’t mention this in the post – but if your company is such that you can’t make an appointment to see a manager without “paying” for it – you have much much bigger issues than engagement and recognition. Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading Danna!

  2. Chris Birtles says:

    The ‘ole Company Town rising up from the foundations of commerce… “Thank you for working so hard, here is your pay. If you need groceries, clothes, boots, whatever please feel free to visit the Company Store. This way you can also ensure that you will get paid next week too; shoot, it might even be with the same exact dollar bills!” If only Adam Smith’s invisible hand would rise up from the ashes…

    • Paul Hebert says:

      You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
      Another day older and deeper in debt
      Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
      I owe my soul to the company store

  3. You must make this a monthly series. There are a lot more “dumb” ideas floating out there. My favorite being – ‘Shuffling desks of employees results in a spike in engagement.’ While it may be true, it doesn’t mean that you shuffle desks every 3 months. It only leads to never knowing where to find anyone. (Which could be a great tactic in itself.)

    • Paul Hebert says:

      I actually did a post on that exact thing – I called it the Hawethorning of Engagement and said that everything and anything that a company does impacts engagement works because of the Hawthorne Effect.

  4. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    Am I a cynic, or would any employee that works at a company that would do this ACTUALLY PAY to meet with these guys or gals?

    Great post.


  5. Julien Emery says:

    If using points is the only thing driving employee engagement, one might want to consider less “dumb” alternatives. Jack Welch’s method of cutting the bottom 10% of the workforce could help drive engagement. Yes, the draconian nature of it creates a sink or swim work environment, but at least it doesn’t mask bribery. Another option could be to improve the hiring process. Yes there will always be bad eggs, but hiring someone as a 1099 for their first few months certainly sets the stage for genuine engagement.

    Thanks for telling it like it is, and please make this a monthly series!


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