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The power of staff incentives

Gifts. Praise. Gym memberships. Here are some creative ways to foster happier, more productive workplaces using employee incentives.

By Shell on May 17, 2022

Staff incentives are an invaluable tool to attract talent, retain staff, and boost employee engagement and productivity. These incentives don’t always need to take the form of cash, although remuneration is always a top concern among employees. Here are some creative ways to foster happier, more productive workplaces using employee incentives – other than cash.

A gift to show appreciation

While popular, a cash bonus is more likely to be deposited into savings or used to pay off debt or buy essentials than spent on an indulgence like a well-deserved holiday or a dinner at a fine-dining restaurant. Incentives in the form of gifts, however, can reward people with experiences and items that are normally out of their reach.

Gifts also have a positive impact on morale. “People feel awkward talking about money, so they won’t talk about the $2,000 bonus they received. But if you reward someone with a nice dinner or trip, they will talk about it with their co-workers, and that can motivate everyone,” says Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans. “Plus, that trip or dinner is more memorable and emotionally satisfying to them than just receiving cash, so it can act as a stronger motivator.”

Give praise where praise is due

Incentives don’t have to benefit the recipient financially to be effective. In fact, awards that are symbolic can reduce the likelihood of creating resentment within teams or having the unintended effect of demotivating staff.

Employee rewards and recognition are an effective way to motivate staff and boost morale. “Rewards that signal to employees that they did a good job and that their manager cares about them will encourage employees to want to work even harder,” writes Dina Gerdeman for Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. “Companies with strong recognition programs enjoy increased productivity, lower job turnover, and greater returns on investment than other companies in the same industries.”

In fact, one study found that symbolic awards that acknowledge employees’ outstanding effort resulted in a 12 per cent boost to performance. And recognition doesn’t have to be over-the-top to hit the mark. A personalised letter of appreciation signed by the direct manager or a shout-out at an all-hands meeting can make an employee feel valued. Make the praise specific, paying attention to the employee’s particular achievements and strengths.

Sharing the love

Incentives can also take the form of prosocial bonuses, or those that help others.

In one experiment carried out at NAB, awarding staff prosocial bonuses – a $100 voucher to be given to a charity of their choice – resulted in increased happiness at work and job satisfaction.

The same researchers gave staff at two other workplaces money with the instruction to spend it on each other. The subsequent purchases included chocolates, wine and even a piñata. “Prosocial bonuses appeared to change the way team members thought of their interactions with one another, resulting in gifts that increased shared experiences,” writes Lalin Anik and Jordi Quoidback for Harvard Business Review.

“Most importantly, we found that teams that received prosocial bonuses performed better after receiving the bonuses than teams that received money to spend on themselves.”

The lesson? Cash isn’t always king when it comes to motivating staff and driving performance.

Helping employees stay healthy

The past two years has taken a dramatic toll on our well-being. According to BeyondBlue, 85 per cent of workers reported that their well-being declined throughout the various lockdowns we’ve endured since 2020.

As a result, well-being has emerged as a priority in the workplace, coming in at number two in PwC Australia’s report ‘What Workers Want’, which focuses on what employees value most from an employer.

Well-being-related incentives for staff can include corporate gym memberships, on-site yoga classes, subscriptions to meditation apps and policies such as introducing core hours which allow employees to start late or leave early to fit in leisure and exercise around work.

Investment in employee well-being yields benefits for employers too. Research by Gartner shows that in organisations that offer a comprehensive well-being program, discretionary effort among workers increased by 21 per cent.

Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd (“Viva Energy”) has compiled the above article for your general information and to use as a general reference. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken by Viva Energy in compiling this article, Viva Energy does not warrant or represent that the information in the article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use.