Back To Compensation Today

Unique Employee Reward Systems & Motivation

Incentive Pay & Employee Motivation: Create an Experience

More and more companies are using incentive pay to reward their employees. It is easily linked to pay-for-performance and as one-time events, the costs are contained; making them attractive compared to merit increases that perpetuate expenses into the future. Sometimes during this economic recovery, the amounts of money to spend are, shall we be polite and say, modest? You want to reward performance that stands out, and yet the bucks just are not there to be shared. What can you do?

How well do your employees understand your compensation plan and philosophy? Simplify how you explain it to them. Download
"4 Tips for Communicating Your Compensation Plan to Your Employees."

gross pay, I’d say don’t bother. That small amount will probably just be swept into the checking account and be applied to next month’s credit card balance without a second thought. The resulting bang for your buck: next to zilch. Looking for alternative pay incentive programs that still take into account the reality of your budget?

Create an experience for your workers. That experience will then be the source of a memory that will produce a lasting impression and a more durable positive result. What experiences are we talking about?

You are limited only by your imagination. And the very best will only be limited by the imagination of your employees, so give them the opportunity to give input. I assure you they’ll suggest some rewards that were not on your list before. Remember what motivates you may not be the same as what motivates others in your organization. Celebrate that variety; don’t try to force a fit that isn’t there. Not everyone appreciates opera or NASCAR and with creativity behind your employee rewards system, not everybody has to.

Learn More About Our Compensation Software


Here are some experiences I’m recommending to prime your thinking. They fall into five categories where gift cards or certificates can direct your employees to those memory-creating experiences.

1. Food

Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need and appreciate food. The food I’m discussing here is not the same as when you bring on-site a catered meal for the whole crew.


• Which is the 4-star restaurant in your area? I recall hearing this summer with tremendous pride a father sharing the news that his daughter, just a few years out of college, had been given a $200 gift certificate for the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California for a job well done.
• Help the employee treat his or her family to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant, like an Applebee’s, Chili’s or Olive Garden. That might not be your thing, but if a spouse has reduced earnings, this might really be appreciated.
• Where is the favorite local lunch spot near work where almost everyone goes? If the average tab is just under $10, a $50 gift certificate can let your honored employee treat a group of friends; again creating that memory you are after.

2. Sports Events

• How much does it cost to buy four tickets to the local popular college football team? Or an NFL team? Throw in a parking pass to show you really care about the quality of the experience.
• When is NASCAR coming to your area?
• Basketball? Hockey? Baseball in the spring?
• Would your budget let you add a team jersey to the presentation of the tickets?
• Fishing or other sporting gear at a favorite shop around the corner?

3. Art Events

• The Internet makes it easy to know what bands are coming to town for upcoming concerts. Does the employee you want to reward enjoy rock and roll, jazz, or baroque quartets?
• Dance performances?
• Theater?
• Museums with special exhibits?

4. Shopping Events

• Is yours one of the many companies who put your logo on a vast variety of merchandise? While tempting since it would be so easy to give a credit at the company store, does that create a memory? Maybe yes, probably no, but think it through for yourself.
• Is there a popular nearby mall? Perhaps specialty shopping, such as the restaurant supply for the gourmet cook, the garden supply store for the weekend landscaper, or the arts & crafts store for the artist at heart. This shows you know the interests of the employee and want to support their passion they pursue outside of work.

5. Travel Events

• Perhaps when you read travel you start envisioning swaying palm trees and colorful beverages. That is wonderful, but if your budget is limited, perhaps that gift certificate for the nearby hotel chain that could spark a romantic weekend, or be really appreciated when family comes into town for the holidays; giving the in-laws their very own bedroom and bathroom down the street. If your organization is large enough, you might be able to negotiate a deal based upon the number you are purchasing.
• A day or a weekend at a spa with some relaxing treatments could be just what your hard working employee might enjoy. I know this one would work for me.

Hopefully your employee rewards ideas are now flowing as fast as you can write them down. To recap, a cash bonus, direct deposit incentive payment may be well-intended, but it probably will not buy you as much good will as you intended if it is a small percentage of gross pay. On the other hand, a gift card to an event that creates a positive memory is a great alternative. The more you put your personal preferences aside and instead research what your employees would appreciate, the more bang you get for your buck.


Beverly N. Dance, MBA, SPHR-CA, CCP, CEBS
Principal, Dance Associates
Human Resources Consulting

More from Compensation Today:

Do you have a topic you would like Compensation Today to cover? Write us at

More Resources from PayScale:

Beverly N. Dance
Read more from Beverly N.

Leave a Reply

1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
richard blank Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
richard blank
richard blank

Company employee telemarketing jobs and break room video games do have something in common. Gamification ideas for motivation will enhance performance, success, higher retention and employee satisfaction.

The outsourcing millennial generation work force that grew up playing video games on a home console did not have the same stimulation as the early retro gamers that had a pacman machine on every corner and local mall in the United States. CCC has brought back the 1980s free play arcade gaming at our call center.


Start the Transformation

We can help you bring modern compensation to life in your organization.