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If 2018 was the year when rewards finally got the recognition they deserve (see what we did there?), 2019 is the year when they catapult into the mainstream.


As a clued-up HR professional, you know that agile, instantaneous and responsive rewards are here to stay. BUT the vast majority of the world’s employees are still living in a time where they’re grateful to receive a Parker pen and a pastrami panini on the company account. Or at least they were… All the research suggests demand is high for intelligent and agile rewards programs which do what they say they can (i.e. actually reward employees). Which is very good news for those of us who have remained ahead of the curve.

Read on for our analysis of rewards trends and microtrends.

1. Individualised, flexible rewards buffets

If you’re an astute analyst of human capital trends you will have noticed that there is a distinct move away from one-size-fits-all rewards strategies towards flexible, intuitive and individualised rewards buffets. Its current status as a rewards favourite bears out an observation in the 2018 Deloitte Insights report which showed that while 76% of leading companies have recognised the need for a change in their rewards philosophy, only 8% of these companies said that their rewards program was “very effective” at creating a personalised, flexible solution. Not surprisingly, these are the same companies – Patagonia, Zappos, Twitter – people most want to work at.

If ever there was an opportunity to reap maximum reward for minimum risk, this is it. Instead of having to peer into a crystal ball and stick your neck out, simply employ tactics that everyone agrees on and take the credit for being an innovator. If only it were always this simple.

2. Smaller firms will be able to compete on rewards

Rewards are not the exclusive domain of big corporates. Wendy Melville of Personal Group in the UK, says this is the year where “employees at small companies finally begin to get the same quality benefits and rewards that employees at big companies have enjoyed for years. This change will be driven by technology innovation that makes first-class benefit platforms affordable to companies of every size.” White label solutions, such as those offered by GET Rewards allow smaller companies to subscribe to ‘plug and play’ rewards platforms that would cost millions of rands to develop from scratch.

What WordPress did to the world of web design and Airbnb did to the hotel industry is finally happening in the rewards and recognition sphere. And not a moment too soon, if you ask us. Let’s hear it for the little guys!

3. Increased attention on pay equity and transparency

In the post-MeToo era, companies who want to be seen as moral leaders (hopefully that’s all of us) will come under increased pressure to be more transparent about what they pay employees and why. While a World Economic Forum report posited that women in South Africa will have to wait a mortifying 217 years to be paid the same as men across the board, the same cannot be true of the confident and ambitious women who will drive your company forward.

Closing the gender pay gap and obliterating the glass ceiling isn’t just the right thing to do – it will also boost your bottom line. If as many women worked as men, the IMF estimates GDP would increase by 5 percent in the U.S., 9 percent in Japan, 12 percent in the United Arab Emirates and 27 percent in India.

4. A renewed focus on ‘free’ rewards

As we hold our breath to see what happens to the South African economy in the aftermath of the elections, it goes without saying that very few of us are about to splurge on Louis Vuittons and Leathermans for our employees. The good news is that many of the gestures staff value most highly don’t cost a cent. A simple “thank you” or “well done” (especially if you say it in earshot of colleagues) can work wonders for morale and engagement. And a batch of home-baked peppermint swirl cupcakes? Priceless.

5. Rewards and recognition for part-time workers

Until now the entire concept of rewards and recognition has applied only to full-time employees. But as the gig or freelance economy grows (by 2020, 43% of the US workforce will be freelance) this is looking increasingly out of date. Employers who are lulled into believing that they “owe freelancers nothing” forget the simple fact that freelancers owe their various employers even less and can respond to unsatisfactory working conditions by simply moving on.

Because the bar has, till now, been set so low, rewards do not have to be extravagant to be appreciated. Saying thanks for a job well done and paying invoices promptly are two good places to start. An unexpected retail voucher or a cash bonus at the end of a particularly grueling project will really set you apart. And offering some sort of pension or medical benefit – however meagre – will elevate you to Saint status.

6. Agile, year-round performance incentives

Leading talent in the current workforce doesn’t respond well to a single end-of-year bonus, no matter how hefty. These days many companies conduct performance reviews at least twice a year (preferably more frequently than this), but only those with industry-leading HR policies award bonuses and raises with the same regularity. In a world where attention spans have shrunk drastically, countless surveys have found that end-of-year bonuses can actually be demotivating as employees have already forgotten about them by March…let alone October.

study by Globoforce, on the other hand, found that employees who receive regular small rewards, in the form of money, points, or gifts, are a staggering eight times more engaged! What are you waiting for? Instead of giving out lumpsum bonuses at the end of the year, slice them up into bite size pieces for distribution throughout the year. A simple fix like this won’t add to your costs, but it will send employee engagement through the roof. Talk about a no-brainer.

7. Data doesn’t have to be ‘big’ to be useful

Big data – data that is too large to be processed by traditional software applications – is all the rage these days. And so is the technology which will allow smaller firms to actually make sense of it. But let’s leave that for another day.

Size doesn’t always matter and technology has also made ‘small data’ much easier to access, crunch and digest. Harness the power of surveys like eValue to ask employees what they would really like to do for your next teambuilding event (will it be nerf guns or nouvelle cuisine?) or use it to canvass ideas (“Bert smaaks Scrabble”; “Bertha digs Wrestlemania”) for colleagues’ birthday cakes/presents. Today’s recognition and rewards programs revolve around really knowing what people want – and how better to find this out than by leveraging small data to your advantage?

8. A surge in ‘pay to quit’ schemes

US footwear brand Zappos is well-known for offering new employees a month’s salary in return for resigning within the first three months of their contract. Amazon has a similar policy, except their offer is not limited to new-hires. “We want people working at Amazon who want to be here. In the long term, staying somewhere you don’t want to be isn’t healthy for our employees or for the company,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNN. While both of these schemes have been around a while, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that 2019 may be the year when small and medium-sized firms start employing the same strategy. In a small company just one unhappy employee can make a massive dent on morale and productivity – as this fascinating blog shows.

These are the rewards trends that we’re excited to see, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Drop us a line on


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