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The Art of Motivation: How to Create Employee Incentive Programs that Work

Happy and engaged employees are one of the best investments a company can make. But let’s be honest, no matter how much you love your job, your monthly paycheck is your biggest motivator, right? Employee incentive programs are like mini pay days. They give your employees one more reason to push forward.

Here’s a statistic that speaks to the importance of ongoing employee incentive programs in the workplace. According to a study from Gallup, only 34% of American employees claim to be actively “engaged” in their jobs. That’s a bummer for employees and a huge loss for employers. A lack of enthusiasm means a lack of profits.

In today’s modern workplace, “good” job packages aren’t good enough to motivate most people. Fair pay, quality benefits, and a clear path to advancement are key factors in employee retention, but in the long run, it takes a little more to keep people satisfied, challenged, and motivated.

If you want more from your employees, you’re going to have to give more too.

An intelligent employee incentive program can give your most valuable people a reason to reach a little further, try a little harder, and do a little more. Plus, incentivising employees not only increases productivity, it raises morale and shows your staff members that you truly value their time and effort. At the end of the day, when everyone is excited about the same goals, work is a lot more enjoyable.  

A recent survey of college grads from LaSalle Network found that although 69% of job seekers ranked “compensation” as the number one most important factor in a job, a surprising 61% listed “company culture” second. What does that mean for you? An employee rewards program can work double duty, adding both monetary and cultural value — if it’s done right.

Designing an Employee Incentive Program that’s Right for You

First things first. When designing a rewards program for your business, it’s important to do some due diligence. Incentives are great for helping you attract and retain the right talent, recognize achievements and boost employee engagement, but if your program feels hastily thrown together, it could easily detract from the many potential benefits.

The most successful rewards programs have a reasonable budget and include every staff member, even contract employees. Being inclusive helps encourage teamwork instead of competition. Instead of delivering one big prize at the end of the year, consider giving out smaller, more affordable incentives on a regular basis to an entire team of people.

According to the Human Resources blog, Effortless HR, “Giving out smaller rewards more frequently allows you to award a larger number of employees and should also help to eliminate the jealousy and negativity that may be directed to anyone who earned larger over-the-top rewards.” With multiple opportunities to earn rewards, it’s a lot easier for people to feel excited for their peers.

Of course, there’s a fine line between keeping everyone happy and being overly generous. Be sure to make your goals challenging, but achievable. In the article, Assessing Risk in Employee Compensation Plans, The Wall Street Journal warns against poorly structured employee payment and rewards programs:

“On the one hand, the goals should not be too easy, as it may result in out-sized payouts that are not supported by the company’s performance. On the other hand, if the goals are set too high, it might encourage a ‘swing for the fences’ mentality, wherein managers may make risky decisions to achieve unrealistic goals.”

Fortunately, avoiding these risks is easy. Before implementing your program, take the time to set a clear budget, research examples, create clear, specific, and achievable goals, and make a plan to track successes in a fair and measurable way. Department heads can help you review past achievements and numbers, while HR can help manage the specifics of the program and make sure that it works for everyone, from higher ups to brand new hires.

Remember, employee incentive programs are not about pushing your staff to the limit, they’re about keeping them happy, engaged, and motivated. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  

What Kind of Rewards Do People Want?

Ok, now you know how to design a program that will get results. But what about the rewards themselves?

We’ll give you a hint: your employees are not motivated by a mail-order desk plaque.

Modern demands require modern methods.

In today’s digital world, consumers demand expanded choices and real-time delivery. The same is true for employee rewards programs. If you’re handing out rewards that feel cheap or outdated, you can expect a nonplussed reaction to the program in general. Poorly designed sites, hard to use APIs, long wait times for rewards, and other issues that seem minimal at first can actually be a huge hindrance to your program’s overall success. A simple, inclusive program with valuable, fast rewards is always the best route.

Instant, customizable rewards that can be redeemed on any device are now leading the pack as small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike make the switch to virtual rewards.

According to a recent study of 1,000 U.S. consumers from the Retail Gift Card Association, “61% of respondents have received a gift card as a reward or incentive, and 91% liked it.” When it comes to a one-size-fits all gift solutions, those stats are pretty amazing.

Since almost every American with internet access has made an online purchase, it’s no surprise that employee incentive programs have gone digital too. As more and more people choose websites over brick and mortar stores, it makes sense to incentivize them with rewards that are optimized for the digital space. Although employers may not like to admit it, people often shop online directly from their desks and phones during work hours. Rewards that go from inbox to checkout in seconds deliver instant gratification and a fast, seamless experience.

Some of today’s most popular gift card options include, Visa® and MasterCard® Virtual Rewards, the widely-loved Amazon gift card, and flexible choose-your-own reward options such as GiftCard Pass.

Although bulk plastic cards are still a good option for some companies, virtual rewards are quickly replacing them as employees find value in the easy-to-purchase, easy-to-use virtual solutions that eliminate the lag time between achievement and reward.

Modern Advancements in Employee Incentive Programs

Virtual rewards technology has come a long way. Now, your company has the option to work with a fully-inclusive rewards service, as opposed to a limited gift card fulfillment company.

Here are some of the best ways that modern technology has made employee incentive programs better than ever. Keep these options in mind when creating a program of your own.

Enhanced Customer Service

Don’t sign up for more than you can manage. The best incentive companies offer a mix of up to the minute technology and good old-fashioned customer service. It’s important to go with a company that offers intelligent program management and ongoing customer service for you and your employees. With that off of your plate, you can reap all of the benefits without any of the stress.

Global Solutions

As technology allows companies to grow on a global scale, virtual rewards make it possible to deliver a single rewards solution to an international workforce. Prepaid gift cards have universal appeal, across cultural and demographic lines, while Virtual Visa® cards allow recipients to purchase what they want, at any time, from any online retailer, almost anywhere on earth.  

Advanced APIs

The smartest rewards platforms are the easiest to use. Look for user-friendly solutions. Nothing is more frustrating than a website or platform that just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. In today’s digital world, it’s simply unacceptable. A slow or confusing rewards platform is a poor reflection on your business and puts a damper on something that’s supposed to be fun—redeeming rewards!

Mobile Delivery

According to a 2018 study, 39% of online shoppers use their smartphone to shop—and that number is rapidly increasing as more consumers become savvy cell users. Mobile-first technology makes redeeming rewards while shopping from smartphones a breeze.

More Choices

Gift cards are great because they allow your employees to choose anything they want, from any online store. But sometimes, choosing from a predetermined list of brands can be a fun social activity, or a great way to mix things up and keep your program fresh. Virtual Incentives proprietary GiftCard PASS allows businesses to choose from a list of over 600 retailers in order to offer their employees multiple options for their employee incentives.

Customizable Options

Sometimes, people hear “virtual” and tend to think “impersonal.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Virtual gift cards, GiftCard PASS, and Visa® Virtual Rewards offer complete customization at every turn. You can make your rewards feel personal with customizable content that gets your brand’s message across and makes your employees feel as special as they are.

Instant Delivery

We already know that digital delivery of rewards offers instant gratification to your employees. It’s also incredibly helpful for your HR team. With digital delivery, your staff can automate, organize, and control reward distribution all from one central portal. Instant rewards also act as reminders of the achievement that led to the reward, which is a great way to reinforce positive behaviors right on the spot.

With Employee Incentive Programs, the Future Looks Bright

At Virtual Incentives, we believe that employee incentive and rewards programs have the potential to transform the way we think about and relate to our jobs. In fact, we have proof.

The 2018 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey found that companies who invest just 1% or more of payroll into employee recognition programs are tied to higher percentages of retention rate among critical employees, strength of company values, and overall employee happiness.

As stats like these gain momentum, companies are starting to recognize that rewarding employees should not be an afterthought. At Virtual Incentives, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we offer all of the solutions you need to show your top performers just how appreciated they are. Our virtual and physical rewards were developed to be easy to send, easy to redeem, and fun to use. The result is a more engaged workforce full of employees that truly care about each other and the ultimate success of your business.

We’re here to help you brainstorm which reward option is best for your goals and then custom build the program and delivery methods, all while staying within your budget. When you work with Virtual Incentives, you get a partner for the long run. We’ll be there every step of the way as you continue to order, track, and manage your employee gift cards going forward.

Your rewards should work just as hard as your top performers do.

Our API lets you deliver turnkey digital gift cards immediately and automatically with zero manual input. Plus, our enterprise-level fulfillment portal lets you order, manage, and track your entire rewards program all at once so you can see the difference that a modern employee incentive program is making in real-time.

Together, we can help supercharge your team’s efforts and morale with one easy program.

If you’re ready to learn more about our industry-leading employee incentive programs or to start building one of your own, let’s talk.

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