Optimizing Employee Incentive Programs

Employee incentive programs are a great way to build engagement and drive employee performance. In fact, 78 percent of U.S. companies have an incentive program in place to motivate and engage their most valued employees. Yet, despite this prevalence, only 17 percent of employees feel that the programs are strongly supported.

There are many reasons why an employee incentive program might miss the mark. For example, the program might not be tailored towards employees’ needs, leaving them struggling to feel motivated by the program. By optimizing your existing employee incentive program, you capitalize on employee engagement and success.


Reasons employee incentive programs struggle

Cash isn’t always the best option

Employee incentive programs often have a crucial impact on participants’ overall job compensation and satisfaction. In fact, incentive programs can directly account for up to 5 to 10 perfect of an employee’s total compensation in sales and call center positions. That said, it might come as no surprise to learn that cash is the most prevalent, easiest and most timely method of reward. Despite the popularity of cash rewards, the most impactful employee incentive programs tie in experiential and material rewards as well. Including things like a travel incentive program or a quarterly reward party can boost a cash-focused program.

Programs aren’t individualized

Similarly, programs that are not tailored to employee needs can see a lack of optimal performance. Employees might not feel that the program is designed to help or benefit them. One-size-fits-all rewards programs can create a sense that management is disconnected, or management doesn’t care to get to know the employees and their needs.

Distributing rewards takes too long

Rewards are most effective when they are timely and directly connected with the desired behavior. Delays between performance and reward can create too much distance in connecting the behavior with the result, causing a lackluster response from employees.

incentive program

Ways to improve your incentive program

Set simple, measurable benchmarks

An important step in improving an employee incentive program is to revisit your strategic goals. If the goal is to increase performance while reinforcing employee engagement, set simple and measurable benchmarks that are easy to understand—like a salesperson needing to reach specific numbers to move up in the rewards system.

Once the program goals are clear and specific, focus on the actions and employee behaviors that will lead to the desired outcome. For example, let’s say your call center wants to see wait times decrease. To achieve that outcome, reward employees who use all the tools at their disposal for notes and information gathering—behavior that increases connected time and decreases non-customer facing time.

Make it collaborative

When employees enjoy working with their co-workers, everyone benefits. Plan a collaborative and inclusive reward system using employee feedback and input panels in order to build an amazing work culture. Inclusion of the social aspect will produce an encouraging and supportive environment between colleagues, and team rewards will build a team-focused workforce.

Plan a “just because” reward

Rewarding your employees intermittently, without a planned schedule of reward giving, will develop an intrinsic sense of satisfaction within the employee and keep them engaged for a longer duration. Smaller surprise rewards can develop a deeper sense of accomplishment and a belief that the company sees their employees’ work and recognizes their part in the business.

Employee incentive programs can offer businesses boosted engagement and performance while improving office culture. In fact, companies that find ways to successfully say thank you to their employees on a regular basis experience, on average, a 30 percent lower turnover rate and 14 percent more productivity. A balanced incentive program is worth the investment.

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