Experiential Rewards: Go For The Money Or The Memory?Paul Brewer
November 15, 2011 — 2,013 views
A group of employees from a not-for-profit organization in Port Moody, BC recently found themselves suspended 30 metres above a whitewater river between Blackcomb and Whistler mountains. They performed aerobatics, turned upside down, and flew along at speed of up to 80 kilometres per hour on a wire. Their employer had not set up the experience as a team-building exercise or a morale-boosting event. Instead, it was a way to say: "thank you."
Today, when developing employee incentive programs, more employers are choosing healthy, outdoor adventures as experiential rewards, rather than cash. These can range from a day of whitewater rafting or skiing to solo indoor mountain climbing or a kayak/canoe excursion.
Do employees appreciate such a healthy gift instead of cash? One who participated in the above event commented: "We had a perfect day. [It was] a great bonding experience for the staff and the weather was fantastic." The activity itself cost less than $100 per employee.
Employee involvement in healthful, activity-based incentives produces long memories of strong, positive feelings, according to a 2004 study by the Maritz Travel Company in the U.S. The study revealed that this proves doubly true when employees have the opportunity to share their reward with family, friends or colleagues.
Sales team seeks rewards it truly wants
Locally, a North Vancouver recruitment company was searching for a way to increase the pre-sales activity of its sales teams. For years, it has rewarded employees with cash bonuses for completed sales; however, it found that once targets had been reached, additional sales calls fell off, resulting in a loss of potential sales.
The organization needed a way to give employees an incentive to make extra calls and follow more tenuous leads. It decided on a program that allowed all sales team employees to work towards rewards that they truly wanted. This involved activities that they might not have done otherwise done, such as driving a NASCAR race car, taking a flying lesson or getting first-night tickets to the theatre.
Traditionally, companies that specialize in products and merchandise have looked after rewards and incentives, while event companies oversee team-building events. However, companies that offer solo or group experiences as employee gifts have recently started to emerge; a typical company will offer more than 300 activities. This industry has seen considerable growth throughout North America in the past two years.
It is clear that giving employees free opportunities for excitement and outdoor adventure can have many positive benefits, both at an individual and growth level. Such experiences not only provide valuable exercise, fresh air, and a chance for self-discovery and personal growth, but they can build morale, boost company loyalty, and reduce stress.
Non-cash incentives boost performance more than cash, says study
Yet proponents of cash rewards still argue that such programs are easy to administer, recipients can choose what to do with the money, and, according to almost every study of employee attitudes towards incentive programs, employees invariably say they want it. No one can deny that cash makes a highly effective form of compensation: people want payment for doing their job. But when it comes to rewarding hard-working employees for going above and beyond, a wise organization needs to show some creativity in how it demonstrates its appreciation.
Recent research conducted by the University of Chicago argued that what employees say they want and what they actually work hardest to receive do not always match. In fact, the study showed that while participants working towards a cash incentive boosted their performance by 14.6 per cent, those who worked towards a non-cash incentive of the same value improved performance by 38.6 per cent.
From a company's perspective, this has potentially serious longer-term implications when considering morale and employee retention. The 2004 Maritz Travel Company study reported that cash, when given as a reward bonus is often forgotten and, if not considered large enough by the recipient, might actually have a negative impact.
In contrast, experiential employee rewards can create lifelong memories and positive feelings. Therefore, as companies continue to fight to attract and retain quality employees, incentives that go beyond the ordinary will likely grow more attractive. After all, what better way to say "thank you" a key employee or department for a job well done than to give them their own special day to remember?
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Paul Brewer is the founder and president of Perfect Day Experiences, a Vancouver-based experience gift company. For more information please visit http://www.perfectday.ca or call 604-630-8516