Effective Employee Incentives: Make Sure You Make it an Experience

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Sep 15, 2011

The face of employee incentives and rewards has changed rapidly and drastically over the years.

Gone are the days when you would hand out a catalog with a few nice clocks, maybe a watch, or an engraved letter opener inside of it and be satisfied that this was enough to keep your employees happy.

Today, employees expect something much richer, deeper, and more thoughtful. Modern employees are looking for more of an overall experience rather than picking something out of a line up.

This is why travel is one of the most popular rewards in the business world today. Whether it’s a short weekend getaway, a fishing trip, or a Mediterranean cruise, employees are responding more and more to travel as a way of being appreciated.

Why travel awards can work

Rather than just having something to hang on the wall, or a check that vanishes into their bank account, a travel reward brings new memories that can last a lifetime and bring about good feelings connected with the company for years to come.

Some employers probably cringe at the notion of giving travel as a reward. Surely, you think, it is far too complicated. People have travel-related disasters all the time.

Most are beyond their control. What happens if flights are canceled or something happens that wrecks the travel schedule such as volcanic eruptions, political unrest in a destination or airline strikes?

Travel is something you can give out as a reward no matter what the size of your business or the amount in your budget. It just takes getting to know your employees a bit and then customizing the experience for the employee. If you try to make a one-size-fits-all travel reward, you are asking for more trouble than if you try to come up with something customized for each employee. Not everyone wants to go to Las Vegas or the beaches of Mexico.

Plus, travel is a great reward because it can be so versatile. For example, you can give out several small weekend getaways throughout the year, instead of just one big reward at the end of the year. You can provide more than a standard vacation by upgrading the hotel room to concierge-level or providing tickets to a show or sporting event. If you have a golf fanatic on staff, you can probably set up preferred tee times at their favorite course or tickets to a PGA event.

Flexibility is important with incentive rewards, too

Managing a rewards program like this goes beyond just booking plane tickets and hotel rooms using an online travel site. Such customization requires a hands-on approach.

This is why there are travel agents who can help. If you truly want to know the ins and outs of a particular destination, then travel agents are the way to go. Travel agents make it their business to know their destinations inside and out, can make recommendations based on recent reviews provided by other customers and agent site inspections and make special arrangements for you to ensure that the experience is truly memorable. Travel agents can also make sure things go smoothly should any of those problems, mentioned above, arise.

The second most important trend in incentives and rewards is the growing popularity of the gift card. If you think about it, giving a gift card is giving the employee choice. You are giving them an experience because they get to pick out the award that they want and they are not limited to just what they see in a catalog. If travel just intimidates them too much, then the option of gift cards might be the right solution.

Flexibility is key no matter what reward you decide to offer.

There may be times when giving a cash reward is the perfect solution. If an employee is working hard, earns a reward, but needs to make a house or car payment, then this would be the perfect time to offer a cash reward.

How rewarding is it to get a catalog?

Or, perhaps, the employee is deeply involved in a charity and would prefer that you made a donation to that effort. Imagine the good feelings and public perception personalizing an award in that way would do for morale and for the company image? Even if you decide to offer a travel reward allowing for alternatives makes the reward that much richer.

Just remember why you have an incentives or reward program in the first place. The people who work for you, work hard. They appreciate getting a little bit back in return and they appreciate something that goes beyond a paycheck or a bonus.

An incentives and reward program motivates employees to work harder, sell more or go that extra mile for the company. If the employees do an exceptional job, you want to keep them working with you rather than jumping ship and risk them working against you.

With that in mind, just how rewarding is it to hand someone a catalog? Will a pen and pencil set really be the thing that prevents an employee from considering an offer from a competitor?

Or will providing them with a flexible travel award that sends them to a place that has deep meaning for them work more effectively? Or will a gift card to their favorite place be the thing that works? Regardless of which reward you give, it’s really about the kind of customization and effort on your part that shows that you care about them.

If you have doubts, remember that there are people out there who can help. They can help create the awards, fulfill them and keep the employee engaged in the awards program. It’s a small investment to get some help and advice in order to keep the best employees from leaving you high and dry.