Should choice of awards be a prime consideration in designing an incentive and recognition program?  And if so, who should define “Choice” the sponsoring company or the participant?

We’ve seen articles where the subject of choice is discussed with a conclusion that too much choice can be de-motivational.  Articles have gone on to say that people are becoming increasingly unhappy with too much choice.

Companies that foster this conclusion have a different agenda then trying to design the best incentive or recognition program.  They are often protecting their own award offerings that have traditionally only a small number of items in a category simply because it is too costly to offer more.

Let’s take an example of a big screen TV.  In a recent award catalog we counted six different models and sizes of TV’s.  The sponsoring catalog company would have you believe that having six models was enough choice.  Compare that to a company that offers gift cards as the reward and the employee can chose Amazon as their card of choice.  The difference between the six models offered by the incentive supplier and the numbers stocked and sold on Amazon  is without comparison.

Doesn’t your employee deserve the best choice of awards they can get?


def incentives

The assumption by many is that these two types of activities will change behavior and produce results equally.  The reality is that they are not interchangeable with regard to producing results.  Don’t expect a high degree of behavior change for the majority of your participants when they know that only a handful of them will be recognized or rewarded.

One of the most common misconceptions in the employee award industry is that an incentive or performance improvement program is the same as a recognition program.  And a company that provides one can provide the other.  But that’s just not the case.

This if often overlooked by recognition planners as they try to design their award programs.  The easiest way to differentiate the two is with the budget.  For long term programs do you have enough budget set aside to issue awards to upwards of 60% of your employee base with @ 5% of their income?  If it’s not even close to this number you should be planning a recognition program that requires far less per person cost.


yrs of service

Would it surprise you to learn that according research conducted by The Incentive Research Foundation almost 40% of today’s years of service programs contain some gift cards?  That’s actually up over 25% from the previous year.

Why the growth?  Why are gift cards now accepted as suitable awards in years of service programs?  For years those programs contained only traditional recognition awards like silver and crystal, plaques, jewelry, watches etc.  Then they evolved moved into useful everyday types merchandise like TVs & Barbecues.  But Gift Cards??

For years. the OC Tanners, the Terryberrys and every recognition company did everything in their power to convince HRs buyers not to use gift cards in service award programs.  Gift cards were anathema, impersonal, didn’t provide that recognition appeal that management wanted, they showed the price value of the level you were rewarding (as if the employee couldn’t find that out with about two clicks of the mouse.)

But times change.  The culture changes, those being awarded and those deciding on the awards change.  Maybe HR folks  got tired of being ripped off by the ridiculous pricing that the recognition companies were charging for their items.  Maybe someone finally did a research project that looked into how those old traditional awards were being used or displayed.  Or did they see too many of them on eBay, stuck in the back of the drawer, or in the closet?   Maybe when employees received a “$500” value item for their 15 year award, and compared the item online and saw it was worth just about half that or less, they commented to management that they weren’t getting the full value of the award.  Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt things are changing.

Should you look into incorporating some type of gift card system as options to your traditional years of service programs?

Recognizing performance is critical in any employee force.  Years of Service programs are wonderful ways to thank employees for continued long term performance.  Why not look into great ways to provide less expensive recognition items that do last and will be displayed and then give them an option of choosing a gift card that will provide something that they want.  That can be a great combination.

wellness & safety

Gift cards make terrific wellness and safety awards.  They are not cash but have the best value the incentive industry can offer and they can provide for an unlimited choice in awards.  The budgets for wellness or safety programs are typically small on a per person basis and gift cards are perfect for these types of budgets. Cash is often lost in the paycheck, and when your total wellness budget is about $25 per person per month, how much excitement are you going to get when combined with a bi-weekly check?

In a White House Conference on productivity several years ago, it was found that it takes $3 in cash to drive the same performance in an incentive program as $1 in non cash.  Doesn’t it just make sense to maximize your program budget with gift cards?  Driving wellness in an organization is extremely important and will only become more important.

Gift cards can be very instrumental in motivating employees to join in your wellness and safety efforts and improve performance.

social media


Social media helps companies integrate employee recognition into the corporate experience.  Many large corporations are finding that using Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and others, are excellent ways for employees to share information with each other and for management to share information with employees.

The opportunities for peer to peer and management to peer recognition within social media are endless.  While first incentive responders to this phenomenon are company’s who want to sell complete and expensive electronic point based platforms using the traditional high priced merchandise.

If you have a points based programs that include a limited number of gift cards, they can easily be modified to include hundreds of them.  Why force your employees to redeem their points for a merchandise award that may be 100% higher cost than retail.  Give them a gift card option.

But, gift card systems can be an easier and far less costly option.  They make it easier for you to stop transacting awards and start to energize and inspire people.  It will help you to better interact with your employees and make your program a lot more personal.

Not all gift card systems are the same.  If you would like a short paper that will give you a guide to what features and benefits to look for, please let us know.

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