During the depths of the recession, many companies either cancelled all staff events, rewards and incentives, or conducted them in secret.
Those which ran incentive travel programmes were forced, by those who deemed such spending was “inappropriate” during a recession, to deliver vouchers or tickets unbranded to their staff’s home addresses.
End of year thank you events to staff, such as big parties and branded conferences, were axed.
It’s fair to say that in 2008 and 2009, Christmas was cancelled for thousands of UK employees.
Why? Public perception. The media were on a witch-hunt for excess or the “jolly”, even when rewards had been earned.
Those companies that still rewarded sales staff or top performers had to provide their incentive rewards in total secrecy: hotel bookings were under individual names, not as a group, and there was never company branding.
For many of those who earned these rewards, some of the excitement of celebrating, particularly together, was removed. It was like being given a ticket for the Cup Final, but among the opposition supporters. Celebrating privately when your club scores is much less enjoyable than it would be openly with your friends.
Over the course of the recession, it has been top performers, especially in sales, who have kept companies trading and even growing. This is an aspect overlooked at the expense of public perception. That’s despite the fact that well-planned thank-you events and incentive travel are always self-financed by the efforts of those who earn them.
Now there’s a danger that they will be demotivated and tempted to move elsewhere if their efforts are not being recognised and rewarded.
Take HSBC and Apple as an example. Both companies have thrived in the recession and both have rewarded staff accordingly.
Unlike other banks, HSBC – along with Barclays – was not bailed out by the government and taxpayers. Yet it has come under media fire for its staff bonuses. Why?
Nobody would dare criticise Steve Jobs or the Apple executives for receiving dividends, bonuses, rewards or incentives for helping the company thrive as it has over the past few years. So why should successful British companies who have managed their own affairs without government support be criticised for what they do with their money?
Private companies that profit as a result of their own and their staff’s hard work must realise the danger of not saying thank you in the right way because of the witch-hunt of public perception.
When rewards for hard work and performance are due, they should be paid – it’s a basic breach of contract if they are not.
In addition, with our exorbitant 50 per cent tax rates for top earners and punitive corporation tax on retained profits, surely it’s in the government’s and the ordinary tax payers’ interests to gain as much revenue as possible from successful companies?
Frenzied moral outrage is unhelpful and potentially expensive – even for those who are outraged. Having a culture of success is important not only for a thriving business but for a thriving economy. Let us not dampen our potential in the wake of public perception.
Nigel Cooper is executive director at Motivcom.
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