• Warrick

5 things to avoid when you are giving money or gifts

Updated: May 7, 2020

Hello fellow Protagonists,


I posted on Facebook not long ago about a valuable lesson I learned at work. This is that a chocolate egg can mean a lot more to people than a small monetary bonus. The eggs were received so positively by pretty much everyone but the money on the other hand, created a lot of tension and angered many. The bonus would have enabled us to buy 10 of these chocolate eggs, so what is that all about? I have picked the situation apart to explain why the money was not as well received and hopefully we can use this information whether we are offering a bonus at work, giving a monetary gift to a child in the family, or thinking about using money to boost morale. I do not want to discuss specifics to highlight the workplace because this is only one decision, but one that I feel there is a lot to learn from.

Mistake 1 – The news about the bonus was given way before it was offered The chocolate eggs were a surprise to us all. We found out on the morning they arrived and within an hour they were distributed out to all areas. Spontaneous gifts feel great. Think about some of the presents you have received for birthdays and how the ones you didn’t see coming were be the best. Plans for the monetary bonus were cascaded long before they were received. This gave people plenty of time to weigh up the bonus. Plenty of time to think about how much it should be and to talk amongst each other about it. By the time the bonus came about, it seemed more of a case that people’s main interest was to see if they had received the bonus rather than in appreciating that it was given in the first place.




Give gifts as a surprise and around the time of the situation you are giving it for. Mistake 2 – As soon as the bonus was offered, on the same day there were conversations that future bonuses will no longer be given to everyone It all comes back to the classic situation of giving a monkey a banana and it is happy, give it two bananas and take one away it goes crazy. We humans are not so different. The problem here was that the bonus was given for a reason that would still be relevant the following month, so to change the rules that others won’t get it in future, caused confusion. I did hear staff say that they would probably have preferred to not receive the first bonus so at least they knew where they stood. The fact that the news was leaked on the same day as the first bonus also made the window of gratitude for the bonus very small before something else became the talking point.



Make it clear if something is a one off gift to set that expectation. As soon as something becomes expected the rules change. Mistake 3 – Rules were created to receive future bonuses that could easily be manipulated As soon as we give an algorithm to receive a bonus, this can change the mindset of people on how to receive this with the least effort. This can take away the intrinsic focus of completing a task to a standard we are happy with. It does also create opportunities to take advantage of the required criteria. This approach can be applied to telling a child that if they tidy away 3 of their toys then they can have their pocket money. How many of the toys do you think will get tidied up? If we tell a member of staff that if they send off 100 letters they will get extra pay, how many will they send? Letter sending isn’t the particular criteria for my personal situation but the premise is the same.

Where possible try not to pin a bonus to a predetermined, narrow outcome. Mistake 4 – A lack of consistency The initial guidance for the bonus came from a national level, then rules were adapted locally. This meant that somebody doing one thing in one site would get the bonus, but someone doing the same thing in a different site may not. A sense of fairness plays a large part in the well being of people in the workplace. Procedural Justice is a term that has been cycled around places of work recently, which includes feelings of fairness when applying rules equally. Even a small difference in outcome can quickly escalate if you know that someone in the same position got more by doing the same thing. Every single one of the chocolate eggs donated was the same. Nobody got special treatment as each person got one each. It was so interesting to hear people who were still going to receive future bonus pays talk about feeling guilty, as colleagues in the same situation were not going to receive it as well. This turned what was intended to be a positive mood booster, into a negative one.

If you are about to reward someone you need to reward those who have done the same thing. Mistake 5 – extrinsically motivated gifts don’t mean as much to us. Think of it this way, if you weren’t struggling financially and your employer offered you the choice of an extra day’s pay, or to take tomorrow off with full pay, which one do you think would make you happier? Each to their own but for me the day’s extra pay would be greeted with a thank you but the day off would put a smile on my face all the way home. We can always use the extra money for an intrinsic experience, like taking our family out for a meal. Let’s be honest though what would the majority of people do with the money, if anything? A day off means the world is your oyster for 24 hours. It is a temporary ticket to freedom. If you want to crack on with DIY, you can. If you want to have some serious relaxation/nerding time, you can. Whatever you do you will be paid for the day, no guilt, no strings attached.



Time is far more valuable than money. Focus on intrinsic rewards. Things that people will truly enjoy. So to sum up, if we are about to give a gift or bonus to someone:

Give it close to the event and as a surprise Be clear if it is a one off Keep future bonuses/gifts open to a broad criteria (not based on one specific outcome) If others are involved, include them as well Give something meaningful to that person What’s the best gift somebody gave you?


Read the follow on post about if we get the short straw.

GLHF Warrick


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