Motivational Tools: Rewarding with 'Carrots' or Wielding a 'Stick'

December 16, 2022
| ByMadison
In some instances, an olive branch might work better.

In light of breaking stories filling up our news feeds, the harried story of the Twitter workforce told before the world’s eyes has us captivated, regardless of which side of the fence you sit.

As an organization rooted in employee engagement by recognizing, rewarding and uplifting workforces, it’s important to use recent events as cautionary tales for approaches that work or ones that – clearly – don’t.

Of course, we can argue that a harmonious transfer of Twitter ownership to business mogul Elon Musk was inevitably doomed from the start. That’s not to say, however, that altering the taken course may have changed certain outcomes. Politics and public theatrics aside, at the heart of the workforce calamity are people. People who have homes, families, bills to pay and futures to worry about; to have their livelihoods hanging in limbo and played out for public consumption adds insult to injury. The approach could have been different, and may have worked better for the leadership side and worker side in the long run.


Lead by listening, gathering feedback and set the tone

In any workforce, the first key to attempting to reach a positive outcome is listening. It may not necessarily be the outcome that one side hoped for, but at least through listening to concerns and validating that voices should be heard, there is a certain level of respectable engagement as a result. It is implementing a culture of feedback that uncovers the desires and perspectives of both leadership and the workforce that propels an organization forward.

For instance, a blanket statement wielded by a stick telling a workforce they “will need to be ‘extremely hardcore’ in order to succeed. This will mean working long hours at high intensity” at face value can be incredibly unsettling and threatening. As devil’s advocate, taking a carrot approach might have changed the scenario, for example by allowing managers to implement individual performance goals with their employees.

In the first instance, the leadership statement took an assumed position that the workforce was averse to extreme hard work – and followed up with a hardline approach. On the contrary, when a workforce feels supported by leadership, and rewarded for their effort, they increase productivity, engagement and loyalty, and the stats support that notion.

The second approach, led by shared goals and encouragement, may not have quelled the entire mass exodus of Twitter employees who felt threatened by this demand, but it may have been a start to patching up a working relationship that got off to a very rocky start.

“You demand my effort, but you devalue my feedback…”

To illustrate the importance of listening to your workforce, another example lies with the current UAB Football Team and their search for a new head coach. During the national search for the next head coach, the team expressed concerns about the search to university leadership. While they were addressed with a limited public response, reports show that leadership was not made available to them to discuss their concerns, prior to a selection being announced.

A quick response would be to say they ‘are students, not employees and are enjoying the privilege of playing on a collegiate team.’ However, while they may not be a workforce in the true sense, they are a working body that delivers a service and a product to the university, and are expected to give their all to their job at hand. The eventual coaching selection outcome may not have been swayed by their concerns, but hearing their voices may have set a different tone when new leadership commences. With the ‘quiet quitting’ phenomena carrying through our workforces, it’s not unrealistic to think that the same philosophy could apply to other realms – like competitive sports – when the team feels unsupported. In the case of the UAB football team, listening and garnering feedback at the onset may have given new leadership and the ‘workers’ a chance to start their relationship on better footing.

Recognition Creates ‘Happy’ Employees - Increasing Retention and Enhancing Recruiting

A recent report gauged the ‘happiest’ workforces and churned out a list of the top companies to work for. The consensus was resounding – employee commentary noted that feeling valued causes their happiness at work, and feeling valued does not come without recognition, frequent recognition at that. Interestingly, most comments also recognized the impact of their co-workers and working within a great support system. This is notable because a robust rewards and recognition system underscores the importance of peer-to-peer recognition and the positive difference it makes for a team.

"I feel valued. I really like how they take care of their employees. This is the reason why I always chose to stay." anonymous employee, RingCentral.

Here’s an interesting statistic:

“Organizations with employee recognition programs see improved retention rates and lower turnover. In fact, more than two-thirds of HR professionals told SHRM employee recognition helps with retention.”

If the goal is to keep a productive workforce intact with no disruption to business, feeling valued through employee recognition goes a long way.

Along with retaining your workforce, enhancing your workforce with new talent is just as important to remain competitive. Brand reputation is critical to attracting candidates – and watching the workforce leave in droves because of a quick leadership tweet doesn’t help. Plus, employees can be your biggest advocates – or your loudest naysayers. Consider this:

“Fifty-six percent of HR leaders told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that employee recognition programs help with recruiting top talent. As employee satisfaction and experience improve, individuals are more likely to serve as employer brand ambassadors.”

The above data demonstrates that employees are motivated by positive reinforcement and that an organized, comprehensive approach to workforce recognition is a versatile tool to grow and nurture talent.



Rewards, big or small, say ‘thank you’ in a tangible way

Imagine if on the first day of “under new management” at Twitter, instead of walking through the door carrying a kitchen fixture, new leadership instead catered a lunch and held a town hall to talk about the future of the organization? It may not have swayed very many employees to jump on board, but it may have been the olive branch that was desperately needed to ward off the resulting drama that continues to unfold.

Or for a more personalized approach, what if new leadership, during this season of giving, had made a gesture of goodwill by initiating a donation-matching campaign for employees through their existing ‘Twitter for Good’ program? A pre-emptive reward so to speak to employees who were still showing up to work every day, despite the public firestorms occurring around them.

While these examples are focused on specific current events of our time, employee rewards are a proven practice in many organizations as a source of motivation for the workforce. They range from small monetary tokens, to large, incentive-based travel rewards – but they are available to everyone in an organization to create an environment where people feel seen, heard and appreciated.

‘Carrots’ help, but true motivation through empathy, support and genuine appreciation sticks.

The current Twitter situation is far more complicated than any one blog can dissect. Any suggestion that hollow rewards can fix everything is trite and unrealistic. As a champion of employee rewards and recognition, we would never treat this solution as something trivial. In fact, the right R&R solution is anything but trivial; the right solution is a cornerstone of a company’s brand, mission and value proposition to support and appreciate their workforce. Appealing to what employees truly want using an established, fair and modernized tool is an important factor in building up the workforce you have for the future company you want to be.


At Madison Recognition our work is rooted in the belief that unleashing the productive potential of employees with reward and recognition programs and empowering individuals will help us stay ahead of workforce trends. To understand more about the workforce trend of Quiet Quitting, and more importantly ways that employees and employers can break through this barrier together, download our white paper here.

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