A rewarding conversation

I read a lot of blogs from the HR community, both here in the UK and in other less developed countries….like the US. I read good, bad and indifferent posts about a range of subjects. I read about engagement, resourcing, learning, strategy (pause for theatrical laughter) but I seldom read about reward.

The very essence of employment is reward. We might try to shy away from it, we might try to avoid it, but put simply, work is undertaken only for reward. Whether it is the exchange of goods, the promise of salary or of course the contentious bonus.

We work for return.

So why is it that we talk so much about so many other areas of our remit, but so little about reward?

Is it too hard? Is it too sensitive? Or have we forgotten the essential element that underpins our existence as HR people, because we would rather focus on the froth?

Reward has been the driver behind so much of our corporate success and corporate failure over the last gazillion decades. It has taken more mainstream column inches than any engagement initiative or recruitment technology. Yet for all the creative thinking that the blogosphere offers, so little of it is dedicated to the biggest prize of all.

When I’ve written about reward in the past it has had a mixed reaction.

My mind boggles, I need to address these topics, I need to think about these things more clearly. I don’t have the answers, I’m not even sure I have the questions, but I know that as a profession we need to be thinking about this topic in so much more detail.

So…..why aren’t we?


  1. Doug Shaw · October 1, 2012

    A good question. I think in part, the reason for the lack of discussion is because we tend to be so secretive about reward. Personally I think this sucks, and first wrote about my frustration about this back in October two years ago here:


    There’s so little openness about this stuff that I think there’s a real fear that we daren’t open the discussion for fear of finding out we’re paid way more than or way less than others. That will of course be the case, but I think it suits employers to throw a veil of secrecy over pay/bonuses, whatever you want to call it. It’s one of those things I think helps ‘keep people in line’.

    There was an interesting experiment around pay transparency shown on the telly recently, which showed initial tensions as people revealed their pay to one another. Over time (not overtime), the experiment moved towards devising a ‘fairer’ remuneration policy and staff got involved in coming up with ways to improve and to some extent, level the playing field. I wrote about this here:


    I probably need to revisit the bonus thing but in 2010 I spent some time reading and researching bonuses and why they drive such awful behaviour in companies. I published what I found here:

    One last thing for now. I think more discussion around reward might also help companies if and when they need to ‘rationalise’. Too often redundancies are announced as a ‘headcount reduction’ exercise. A greater understanding of where the reward flows could lead to much more intelligent decision making when people need to be let go. Guess what? Yep – I wrote about that too, but I’ll save you and your readers yet another link.

    I long to see this subject being talked about more widely. Hopefully your blog post will encourage more conversation on a fascinating subject.

    Cheers – Doug

  2. Lee · October 1, 2012

    Interesting post and I’d like to raise the question of performance management which is inextricably linked to the issues you have raised. Specifically I would like to mention the Balanced Scorecard and the forced distribution curve that this ‘performance tool’ produces which in turn determines pay levels/rises and bonus payments.

    I have thought for some time now that this approach is fundamentally flawed – the argument being, how can you encourage and foster teamwork when employees are competing against other for as large a proportion of the ‘pay rise’ pot as they can get. And why… I would suggest because of the cloak and dagger nature of reward in many organisations, as you allude to above. In order to move forward and encourage improved performance by workings together for the benefit of the organisation this area of ‘Work’ has to become more transparent and open between people within organisations.

    • Flora Marriott · October 4, 2012

      Bizarre that you only have 2 comments on this post thus far. I guess that proves your point.
      My guess is that reward is a specialist area that HR people don’t always feel confident about. It’s a whole lot easier to discuss engagement and such matters.
      I work in L&D and I know that people tend to congregate towards things like NLP rather than get their heads down and study neuroscience – which would be much more useful. People tend to avoid the difficult thinking. And also maybe it doesn’t get written about as much because it is harder to discuss specific examples or ones’ own experiences.

      But as you point out, reward is absolutely central to work, to people at work, (and to engagement!)

  3. Meg Peppin · October 9, 2012

    Reading a good book at the moment “Punished by Rewards”, Alfie Kohn.

    My take on it – reward has become a specialist subject, and an industry has built around it and then – the specialism becomes something to be protected and built up. Hands off. Maybe that’s why people don’t have much to say.

    Complicated and secretive pay and reward systems further distance manager and non manager from each other and encourage self interested behaviour and internal rivalries. The manager gets further distanced from being able make decisions, HR systems become more opaque, and we kick the manager again for their ineptitude at differentiating.

  4. Chris · October 22, 2012

    Have there been a gazillion decades? And for the record, I think most HR people don’t do Reward because of the sums. And we don’t like sums.

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