Can I bribe you to eat a free lunch?

I recently asked an interview candidate if they thought giving above and beyond rewards for good work was something they would do and without hesitation, the individual answered “no.” 

I don’t think they immediately knew where I stood on the topic as they looked a bit weary after their immediate and vigorous response. 

Yet, after seeing and hearing my support for their answer, they were at ease to elaborate their response. 

This topic has been researched and discussed for many decades and is still being debated today. 

If you have read some of my other blogs, you might be surprised at my position yet hear me out. 

Organizations will often combine the concept of rewards with recognition. You might see a “Rewards and Recognition Program” touted by leadership. 

To me, this is one of the first flaws, rewards are very different from recognition. 

Specifically, a tangible reward is transferable, recognition is not. 

If you win a gift certificate, you can give it to your friend in exchange for their lunch. 

If you are given verbal recognition, that is only for you, that is yours to keep in your memory bank and added to your list of accomplishments forever. 

Going back to the idea that employers should give above and beyond rewards to anyone who simply does what they are hired to do, does not make sense to me. 

We don’t hire someone to do a bad job or mediocre job, the baseline standard should be a good job. 

You would not hire a plumber at home to fix your leaky faucet and still pay them at the end of the job if the faucet was still leaking.  

Moreover, you would not give them an extra tip if the leak continued and subsequently damaged your flooring. 

In my perspective, people should be hired with the expectation that they will do a good job and their so-called reward is their pay. 

That said, if you happen to work in an environment that can tangibly measure output that cannot be refuted by anyone, and, it happens to be above and beyond expectations, rewards might be merited. 

For example, in a sales environment, the month’s top seller might indeed get the bonus. No one would be able to say they should be the one to get the reward because presumably, they would not have sold as much. 

In sports, the team that wins the final big game or series, gets the trophy. This cannot be in dispute. 

Now back to the title of the blog. 

Many years ago, I was faced with the idea for a staff lunch that would be paid by the organization. 

It was suggested that some staff, especially the part-time staff would not attend if they were not scheduled to already work that day. 

The idea was presented to pay them to come eat a free lunch. 

I was somewhat new in my role, so my initial reaction was reserved, yet the idea did not sit well with me. 

Word had spread among the staff of this idea and a few people contacted me to relay their perspective. 

One staff suggested that if someone is not scheduled to work and gets paid to come in and eat a free lunch, those that are scheduled to work, should get additional compensation or compensating time off. 

You might be surprised to hear that I thought their position had merit. 

Another person suggested that a free lunch should not be offered to everyone. Those that did not perform well should not be rewarded and only those that performed well should be given the lunch. 

I took both as food for thought. 

Then, when a staff came to me and bluntly stated “I am happy to get bribed to eat a free lunch,” it hit home. 

A free lunch in itself should be enough incentive for someone to come and spend some time with their colleagues without having to get paid to do so. 

If they don’t want to come, that could be a telling sign of the current state of the culture of the organization. 

Imagine 10 out of 80 came, that would give us an indication of the level of engagement or lack thereof. 

Imagine we could take that 10 to 20 in the next year, we would see progress. 

Imagine 50 to 60 came out of the 80, this is another interesting indicator, yet I digress. 

At the end of the day, we devised a simple informal policy whereby we paid people who were already scheduled to work, and everyone got a free lunch and it was an annual programmed budgeted event.  

If attendance was not mandatory, those that did not want to come, were still expected to work. If those that wanted to come yet could not because they had to cover some essential work, they got a lunch saved for them and were given compensating time off to be used at their leisure within a 2-week period. 

If it ever became contentious and complicated, I considered making the event a learning or training session which would be paid for all who attended. 

I strongly believe in recognition and praise yet am weary on a rewards system that does not have concrete measures as to who gets the prize. 

And, until this day, I have never encouraged bribing someone to eat a free lunch. 

In this case, this really is food for thought.