Inclusion, diversity and the challenge of rewarding everyone equally

Posted on August 11, 2022 by Kess Crighton

Over the last five to ten years, inclusion and diversity have been the watchwords within forward-thinking HR departments. A diverse workforce, in which every employee feels comfortable being their true self, brings with it a whole host of benefits. 


To name just a handful:

– Creativity and problem-solving are enhanced by having a variety of perspectives on tap.

– Employee morale and engagement is prioritised, and so productivity is maximised.

– Top candidates from across an array of backgrounds are attracted to the company.

– Employees feel happy, secure and valued, and so work becomes somewhere they want to be, rather than somewhere they have to be. As a result, turnover rates fall.

As extensive research shows, the more diverse a company is, the better it tends to perform financially. 

(If you’re interested in looking over M&S’ own inclusion and diversity policy, you can do so here.) 


That’s not to say that inclusion and diversity doesn’t present the occasional challenge. One such challenge is creating an employee reward scheme – or corporate Christmas gifts programme – that works for all.

In a diverse and inclusive workplace, a one-size-fits-all approach to rewards can come unstuck if those rewards won’t flex to suit the full panoply of backgrounds. With rewards, equality shouldn’t equal rigid uniformity, and thoughtful HR managers will want to stress-test any proposed scheme against a variety of potential variables: age, sex, gender, race, religion and so on.  

To give a fictionalised example of how well-intended rewards can go awry: Routinely rewarding employees who’ve performed well with bottles of champagne may, on the surface, sound like a winner, but it fails to take into account those who can’t or don’t drink. Such a scheme not only alienates employees who don’t drink for religious reasons; it also disregards, for example, the 26% of Gen Z-ers who are teetotal.

And yes, a non-drinking employee who receives a bottle of champagne for their efforts can always hand that bottle to a friend or colleague who would actually enjoy it. But that, of course, defeats the entire purpose of the gift, which is to make them feel seen and appreciated as an individual. There’s a definite limit to ‘It’s the thought that counts’.  

When devising a rewards scheme, then – or, again, a Christmas gifting solution – it’s essential to consider what those rewards are ‘saying’ to their recipients. Cash gifts are, naturally, suited to all, but research shows that the impersonal and slightly abstract nature of monetary bonuses means that they fail to properly connect, emotionally, as rewards. They’re appreciated, but they don’t make employees feel appreciated.

If you opt for corporate gift cards as rewards, you want those gift cards to provide affordable access to a wide range of goods while simultaneously guiding employees to ‘treat’ themselves in some way. A voucher for everyday grocery shopping, for example, will be suitable for people of all ages and backgrounds – after all, everyone needs milk, bread and loo roll. But will milk, bread and loo roll feel like well-deserved little luxuries? Probably not.

Take M&S Gift Cards, for example. To the recipient, they represent an invitation to treat themselves to a cheeky indulgence from our expansive – and ever-expanding – product range. There’s our nationally beloved M&S Food collection, of course, taking in everything from Percy Pigs to prosecco. But beyond that, we also offer hundreds of thousands of homeware, furniture, clothing, flowers and beauty items, alongside a growing number of products from our ‘guest’ brands, including Superga, FatFace, Jaeger, White Stuff, French Connection, Clinique and L’Occitane.    

(Of course, if the recipient wishes to spend their voucher on something resolutely practical and sensible – a full upgrade of their socks rotation, for example – then that’s obviously fine too.)   

It’s all about hitting just the right balance between accessibility, extravagance and appropriateness. That way, your rewards scheme will complement your inclusion and diversity efforts beautifully.