Experiences Over Stuff: The Better Rewards and Recognition Strategy

My 1st grader comes out of school most every day chomping on bubble gum. When I was a kid in school, gum at any grade level was strictly prohibited, so this peaked my interest.

“Where and how did you get bubble gum?”  I asked one day when he got in the car.

“I turned my penny in for it, my teacher gave it to me.” He said.


“How’d you get the penny?” I asked.

“I helped clean up,” he said.

I realized his teacher was using a method that is hot in HR now regarding employee rewards and recognition. Many systems allow bosses and peers to give employees points (i.e.- pennies) to cash in for things the employee (or first grader) desires.

When I was in his class for open house a few weeks later, I realized that his teacher’s system is even more like the rewards and recognition tech systems on the market today.  You can save up your points (pennies) to earn bigger prizes. Four pennies gets you trip to the treasure box for a toy.

My son never brings home a toy. He is still chomping away on bubble gum whenever I pick him up from school. Maybe he can’t ever earn more than one penny because he hasn’t done enough to be rewarded, but he is a child that gravitates towards instant gratification instead of the delayed variety.  As soon as he gets the penny, he cashes it in.

And some of your employees may be like him, whereas others may hoard points or pennies for greater rewards.  Today’s tech-based rewards systems play to

  1. Personality and
  2. Personal preferences related to what “stuff” is most desired

in an automated way.

But this way still feels somewhat impersonal for some strange reason.

The latest- and I think more interesting- trend in employee rewards and recognition revolves around experiences.  Because let’s face it, who really needs more stuff these days? We are flooded with stuff. And experiences are highly personal.

I got a chance to see Blueboard in action at the #HRTechConf competing for the prize of the Next Great HR Tech Company.  They won my vote. They are reinventing the rewards and recognition space by focusing on a scalable and easy to use rewards system that gives away experiences not stuff.   

And, wouldn’t you know, my 1st grader’s school is onto this trend too.  At their Fall Festival, many of the silent auction prizes were for experiences with different teachers at the school. Go get ice cream with Ms. Smith. Get to build a Lego farris wheel with Mrs. H. (aka- Lego Lady- we love her!).  

You would guess correctly if you assumed that these door prizes had the highest bids placed. Forget the basket of actual Legos, parents know their kids would rather have an hour of Mrs. H’s undivided attention with the Legos.

So I don’t know what came first- schools catching onto this motivational trend or companies. But, I’ll say, the experience of Vegas with my husband and the #HRTechConf with colleagues has been a much greater reward and motivator than the purse that I for a split second thought about buying while here. I’ll save my pennies for the next experience.

What do you value more- stuff or experiences?


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Mary Ila Ward