This week at mwah. Making Work Absolutely Human we are looking at all things Reward and Recognition. That’s fairly timely for many of our community who are dotting I’s and crossing T’s as FY2019 comes to a close. With it comes a (hopefully) healthy dose of optimism for FY2020  – although the dashboards, targets and budgets reset to 0.

We also know that it coincides with the time of year where the threat of HR teams getting an extra wrinkle or grey hair peaks exponentially.

Enter, the institutional phenomenon of the Rem Review.

It all starts rather innocuously.

Subtly, day by day, requests from leaders dribble in to HR Business Partners or HR Shared Services for any scrap of historical remuneration data. Friendly, and extremely well-coordinated as small, individual requests – the exponential spike is hardly noticed.

The best reflection will come with lagging interaction data, but to be clear, a walk of the floor or office rings like an alarm for the eyes.

Whoop, whoop, whoop.

It’s not an alarm to evacuate (but maybe it should be).

On desktops, laptops, tablets the use of the humble spreadsheet peaks. Yep, even (and perhaps especially) in Finance. The rapid punching of numbers, comparisons, ratios, and rudimentary models shine light on the commencement of what I call the shadow rem review economy. This is the amount of work done by leaders before and outside the actual remuneration review process. And it has some great real contributions to the economy….

We see the already high premium on meeting rooms, and other such quiet work spaces rise to all new levels. Ok, economic impact a stretch.

We see diligent preparation as leaders unite, albeit still separately at this stage, to understand where their team is at on base pay and possibly on bonuses. And where they should be. Quietly pondering who is happy, who is noisy, who is silent presumed fine? What should they be positioning for – by individual, in the aggregate, how will they make it work across the three scenarios they’ve plotted out on remuneration pools and allocations (average year, bad year and doomsday case).

Now – don’t think for a minute I’m being critical of leaders for contributing the shadow rem review economy. This is extremely important to business performance, and the prosperity of the nation…

Not least of which comes to the conveniently positioned coffee shops under office towers, or the slightly more hipster, and typically more isolated places where coffee tastes ‘just a touch dirty’. This is a busy economic time for cafes in CBDs everywhere.

Peers come together to sip a latte and perhaps discuss the finer points on relative team vs. team performance, distribution curves, which percentages should enter the scenario models and whether or not there should be a black Thursday extreme doomsday case in the models, or not. And how to deal with that.

It’s about this time, that secret print runs hit near record highs. Tiny sub 10 point font hits A3 pages at record pace, and ‘missions’ to the printer happen near nightfall. Occasionally leaders wear balaclavas and dark coloured gear to avoid being spotted as they make these print runs or show any other sign of participating in the shadow rem review economy.

Ok, I joke a little bit – although these (for the most part), are all real observed phenomena. And I totally get it. It shows leaders who are absolutely trying to do the right thing for their people. Making sure they get their share. They are paid for their contribution. In fact, in a weird way, not seeing some of these shadow rem review economy behaviours would be alarming.

Why is my leader not going in to bat for me?

So, as seasonality and growth in the shadow rem review economy happens, participate as you will.

Here are the 3 key things I think you should consider:

  1. Know the person, know the motivations.

Reward is a complex issue. It is not linear, pay people a little more, get greater and perfectly linear incremental effort. You need to know the person, and what motivates them. Pay will absolutely play a role. Some might consider the behaviours pay and bonuses drive. I don’t sign up to the idea that ‘people behave badly for bonuses’. It’s possible, and sure, you need to tread carefully – design the right bonuses, the right guardrails and monitor closely. But you’ve got to work on the assumption alongside these that people will do the right thing, contribute to the team and to your purpose – those that do the wrong thing for the sake of a bonus are rare exception, not rule.

  1. Fairness – perceived and actual matters.

For me, this is the key. It’s about our ‘comparison other’ – our spheres of reference. Who do we feel does a similar role to us, internally and in the external market, what’s their contribution (compared to mine) and what should we be paid and why. Sure – there is an element of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ to this – but it is about being paid fairly for contribution. And just leaving the spreadsheet around, or more formally publishing pay is not the answer. It seems highly transparent, and for a minute people process the information, they may even rationalise it positively. This is why there is a difference between them and me. But then circumstances change, personally, their role, the relative contributions. Uh oh.

  1. Pay – has a tipping point.

In the Happy Worker report, we see that pay has an impact, but it is a limited one. Once you hit just over $78,000 a year (ok, where you live has some influence), getting paid more doesn’t make you more satisfied, or happier. It tapers away.

So, they are just the topliners on reward as the year comes to a close.

For any shadow rem review economy aficionados, check out for more information on factors that matter to Reward, and what you should consider.

And as I sit behind the keyboard looking at something other than the shadow rem review economy, I wish market participants all the best for the work ahead.

And for the first time in the article, with real sincerity, I hope everyone has a great end to the financial year, survives the school holidays and has a productive, happy and healthy FY 2020.