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When it comes to workplace rewards, many South African companies are somewhat dated in their approach. It’s time to leverage the progressive, tech-driven attitudes of the 4th Industrial Revolution.


With our economy only growing a paltry 0.8% last year, many companies probably found it very hard to justify significant investment in employee recognition. While their intentions may have been good, their logic was most definitely flawed. As Kerstin Jatho, positive psychology life coach at 4Seeds, says, “Disengaged employees are expensive. You are paying a 100% salary but you are not getting 100% output.”

Just like that, the whole argument seems to turn to dust. Investing in employee engagement isn’t a luxury – it’s one of the most fundamental (and profitable) investments you can ever make. So, what is new in the world of employee recognition? And how do you know if your workplace rewards are outdated?

Here’s how you know you’re living in the past:

If you’re still fixating on the total rewards mix, you may as well be living in the dark ages. That’s not to say compensation, work-life benefits, and career pathing opportunities shouldn’t be on your radar. These very worthy concerns are the foundation of modern employee recognition programs which focus on the tech-driven immediacy and personalisation of recognition. Especially as they relate to performance and service recognition.

In a world where distant friends are only a Whatsapp away and turning on the telly involves selecting from hundreds of entertainment options, your employees are looking for agile, in-the-moment, reward programs and incentives that are tailored to their unique professional skills and personal values. If Dawn scores a big new client today, she doesn’t just want immediate recognition, she also wants a reward that matters to her. Some time off to visit her ailing parents may mean much more to her than tickets to the rugby.

Read on for a taster of the cutting-edge concepts that are at the vanguard of modern workplace rewards. We’ve written this article to help you to design and implement your 2019/2020 reward strategies with a creative, forward-thinking outlook.

Without further ado, here are the 6 workplace reward trends that will make you rethink your strategies in 2019:

1. The year of the employee experience

Forget about your website and your marketing budgets, your employees are actually the most valuable customer touchpoints you have. Nothing and no-one has a bigger impact on the customer experience than your staff. Their passion and engagement (or lack thereof) directly influence how your brand is perceived and what sales figures you are able to achieve. For this single compelling reason many leading global firms are rethinking the physical, technological and cultural environments that make up the employee experience.

In the modern way of thinking, traditional perks and employee engagement tactics are viewed as short-term fixes. While these still have their place, the main focus is on building long-term relationships with your employees (much like you would with a consumer journey map).

The good news is that employee experience (EX) design is a relatively formulaic process. Much like design thinking business analysis, you follow a series of stages. Namely empathising, defining, ideating (yes, that is a word), prototyping, and testing. Rolling-out a new and comprehensive EX is a long-term commitment. But if it ensures you retain top talent, it’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

2. Change is the only constant

Transformation is in the air. The rapid breakthroughs in high-speed mobile internet, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and cloud technology are shaping a brave new world that is all but unrecognisable from the one we grew up in. Let alone the one our grandparents inhabited.

Don’t think of change as a threat; rather embrace it as an opportunity. “With advances in technology, change feels faster than ever, says Gemma Dale, senior HR professional and Co-founder of The Work Consultancy. “The role of an HR leader is to prepare their organisation for it.”

Facing the disruptive advancement that lies ahead, means moving away from the old-fashioned, task-oriented culture of HR. There needs to be flexibility and collaboration across company functions. Metrics should be the guide. And leaders need to take on the role of both architect and “destroyer of worlds” as they navigate internal restrictions and embrace modern innovation.

As a recent KPMG report puts it, “In today’s digital world with its myriad complex people challenges, HR leaders and CEOs have a great opportunity to double down on transformation to help their organisations stay relevant and sustainable amid the forces of disruption.”

3. Performance management is being revived

Ticking the same old boxes on performance evaluation forms simply won’t cut it this year. While work performance assessments are still key drivers in engagement (in fact they’re more important than ever), the data capturing process needs an overhaul. Say goodbye to stubby HB pencils and fuzzy Xeroxes and say hello to technology.

Think real-time feedback tools which allow both managers and employees to resonate with the reasons behind data-driven performance management processes. (These are, after all, the very means by which your employees most profoundly impact your business.) Think also about how employees’ personal goals can align with those of the company’s, as this kind of idyllic synergy can only result in overarching success.

4. An augmented reality

If you’ve been wondering what to do with your people data, then look no further than ‘augmented analytics’.  A smart software solution that makes analysing people a lot easier for HR professionals.

Advances in technology have given us all access to Big Data, but what can the average SME do with a string of numbers that stretches to Uranus and back? Up until now, says Bill Su in a fantastic article on Medium, going from raw data to insights, has required jumping through many technical hoops, including:

1) Collecting data from multiple sources

2) Cleaning data so it is ready for analysis

3) Conducting the analysis

4) Generating insights

5) Communicating those insights with the organisation and converting them into action plans.

Even companies that can afford to fork out millions of dollars on the above have still only been able to mine the tip of the data iceberg because data scientists are human beings. Or at least they were. Augmented analytics, experts agree, is – according to Gartner – “the future of data analytics.” Aadil Bandukwala (Belong’s Outbound Hiring Evangelist) describes it best: “Augmented analytics is an approach that automates insights using machine learning and natural-language generation. An augmented analytics framework can automatically go through a firm’s data, clean it, analyse it, and convert these insights into actionable steps or insights for executives, with little or no supervision from a technology specialist.”

5. The human-machine frontier

In 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released a key findings report on the future of jobs. According to the paper, robots will displace some 75 millions jobs by 2022. But – and this is the bit alarmists forget to focus on – they will also create an additional 133 million new ones.

This will mean drastic shifts in business models, not to mention the core skills you require from your employees. Making reskilling imperative and humanisation essential. That is to say, skills that AI and machine learning can’t perform, like creativity, innovation, persuasion, people management and emotional intelligence, will become highly sought after. It’s up to you, as an HR professional, to ensure that your brand stays ahead of this curve.

6. The authentic VISUAL brand story

Storytelling is perhaps the most human of traits, but today’s most compelling stories are told visually. Weaving visual storytelling into your employee experience is a powerful bonding tool. While it can take a lot of time and money to translate your business’s authentic brand story into a visual format, once you’ve done it you will never look back. A visual branding story can be used to make scores of HR processes more compelling and memorable, including onboarding, training and consumer branding to name but a few.

Visual storytelling is also an important recruitment tactic. According to Glassdoor, job postings with videos are viewed 12% more than postings without videos, and companies receive a 34% greater application rate when they add a video to their job post. In support of this trend, expect to see more and more software that incorporates video, enabling you to showcase your company, and attract top talent.

Cutting to the chase

Standard Bank Group CE Sim Tshabalala believes that, “by embracing exponential technologies we can drive Africa’s growth.” The banking industry was an early adopter of AI, blockchain and machine learning, so his input certainly highlights potential.

There is an exciting shift happening. One that could usher in increased productivity, higher returns and more engaged employees. It’s all about how you adopt and adapt to the new, the tech and the demand for personalisation from your staff.

Within this landscape of change, there are almost endless opportunities to use rewards towards building a great, people-centric culture. GET Rewards can help you develop a performance and service recognition program that’s aligned with these 6 trends. Let us help you to foster a culture built on loyalty, recognition and appreciation.

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