Cash Is King—and Workers Want More of It

By Dana Wilkie May 9, 2016
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In recent years, plenty of employee engagement consultants have suggested that workers care just as much—and sometimes more—about intangible recognition for a job well-done as they do about earning higher pay or receiving bonuses.

Not according to two recent surveys that collectively canvassed more than 2,000 workers and job candidates in the U.S. and the U.K., which found quite the opposite. 

Four in 5 employees would prefer a 3 percent salary raise without a promotion rather than the higher title without the pay raise, according to an April 20 survey from the online HR services company BambooHR. In addition, 2 out of 3 workers said they would rather get a $500 bonus than be recognized for their accomplishments in a companywide e-mail from an executive. 

BambooHR polled more than 1,000 U.S.-based employees. In a press release, interestingly, BambooHR focused on the benefits of intangible rewards, noting that “1 in 5 employees would prefer to receive a promotion to a higher title without a 3 percent raise in salary,” and that “nearly one-third of employees would rather be recognized for their work accomplishments in a companywide e-mail from an executive than receive a bonus of $500 that isn’t openly publicized by a superior to their co-workers.”

“Money is not always king,” the release said. “Simple employee recognition, a higher title without a raise and employee perks can be just as effective, or even better, ways to reward [or] recognize employees.” 

Amberly Asay, a publicist for BambooHR, acknowledged in an e-mail that “while money is still the No. 1 choice for many, it is not always the right reward for every type of employee.”

“What the study is encouraging employers to do is to recognize and appreciate employees for their contributions, but consider the options and learn what types of rewards or recognition work the best,” Asay said. 

Another recent survey by Laudale, a specialist recruitment and interim consulting business in the U.K., resulted in similar findings. The poll of 1,000 job candidates in the U.K. found that money was the most important thing that 78 percent of respondents considered when looking for a new job. Location came in at No. 2 and benefits was No. 3.

Sixteen months ago, Glassdoor—the online provider of company ratings and salaries—found that more than 1 in 3 workers said they’d look for a new job if they didn’t get a pay raise in 2015, and about half expected that raise to be 3 percent to 5 percent of their current salary.

Rusty Lindquist, vice president of human capital management strategy and intellectual property at BambooHR, said it’s not surprising that monetary recognition is workers’ No. 1 choice of reward.

“It’s the primary reason most people work, after all,” he said. “What is surprising, though, is just how much nonmonetary recognition actually means. What our survey showed was that a full 20 percent of employees would actually prefer a title promotion over a 3 percent raise. That means increasing the satisfaction of 20 percent of your company is within reach without ever touching your pocketbook. This is a beacon of hope for many organizations, who simply aren’t in a position to give financial rewards or increased salaries, but who still care a great deal about their employees and want to make them happy.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM. 

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