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The Changing Face of Employee Motivation and the Role of Incentive Travel

Mar 30, 2021 | Incentive Travel, Incentives & Recognition

Even before COVID-19, we expected a lot from our employees. We asked them to give their time and energy throughout the workday (and beyond!) to ensure business success. We encouraged them to engage in high-performing teams, and we rewarded them when they delivered massive results. The pandemic turned everything on its head and forced both employees and their business leaders to reevaluate budgets, re-examine workplaces, and re-prioritize just about everything related to work and home. In the blink of an eye, the known drivers of motivation, like incentive travel programs and celebratory events, disappeared. As a result, our company culture was in danger of disappearing, too.

Desire to connect

As a society, we enjoy interaction. Some of us might not have realized just how much we thrived on human interaction until it was quickly ripped away due to the pandemic. We longed for those experiences in our work and personal life that we used to dread, like unending discussions with colleagues in the breakroom or time-consuming trips to the grocery store.

This social isolation has affected us in a very psychological way. Employees are reevaluating every element of their careers to re-prioritize their families and create more work/life harmony. Companies are working hard not just to engage their high performers but to keep their teams in place altogether.

In a recent Incentive Research Foundation report, “Event Alternatives and their Impact on Culture,” interviewees state this desire for connectedness makes the return of in-person events more critical than ever. Finally breaking out of our state of isolation with a new sense of optimism will fuel the demand for enhanced rewards and recognition programs and the return of incentive travel. Is your company ready for this pent-up demand?

Enhancing company culture

Even before the pandemic, the need for a strong company culture was imperative. Employees thrived in environments where they felt supported and appreciated by their leadership. This was exacerbated as employers and their employees navigated the COVID-19 crisis together. Therefore, companies that didn’t have a strong culture to begin with may have fallen farther behind as the pandemic waged on and their employees felt disengaged.

We understand just how important it is to recognize employees. In our 2019 survey, we asked 3,000 U.S. employees across a variety of industries what made their relationship between colleagues, their managers, and their company stronger. Their answer? Recognition. Recognition is so powerful that 74% of respondents said they were more likely to remain employees of that company if they felt they were properly recognized.

We often reserve recognizing employees until a service anniversary or annual celebration. But, employees desire more. They want to be recognized more often, and they want it to be authentic. Recognition doesn’t just have to come from the top. Our survey respondents stated they appreciated recognition from their colleagues, too.

Incentives work

Our behavior changes when we know we’ll receive a reward for a job well done. This is a common and consistent behavior, and it presents a wonderful way for companies to motivate their employees and create high-performing teams. According to our survey results, only 35% of respondents were eligible to receive an incentive in their job, most likely because they were employed in a sales role. But what about the remaining 65% of employees who equally want to be rewarded for their increased efforts?

When appropriately designed, incentive programs can motivate everyone on your team, not just those in a sales function. In reality, everyone who can influence your business objectives should also be part of your incentive and recognition program. This means you can expand the scope of your incentive and recognition program and consider additional employees and roles that support your overall business goals, including sales support teams, service teams, channel partners, and non-sales roles.

Keeping your employees engaged with the right type of reward is also essential. But, what rewards make the most sense? Well, it depends. Just as your workforce is different, so are their individual motivations. That’s why creating an incentive and recognition program with a mix of rewards options is imperative.

Cash doesn’t work

Everyone loves cash, right? Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re motivated by it. Remember, your incentive and recognition program is intended to inspire, motivate and drive change. Cash simply doesn’t do this, and there are multiple studies to prove this. Research dating back to the 1970s highlights that travel and other non-cash rewards offer greater benefits and ROI than cash rewards. Though there’s immediate excitement in receiving a large sum of cash, the excitement dwindles quickly because we use cash for everyday transactions. We pay our mortgage or make a payment on our car, and these are transactions that are mundane and forgettable. Plus, the only way your company will be able to top cash is by offering more cash. Not the best strategy if you are looking to impact long-term engagement.

Instead, your employees place a higher value on non-cash rewards, such as merchandise, pre-paid cards, or even charitable contributions. Having the ability to choose from various options is key to motivating and inspiring your diverse group of employees.

Incentive travel will be back

Before the pandemic, incentive travel programs were a prevalent option. Though this activity took quite a pause during COVID-19, incentive travel will be back as a viable option for rewarding your high performers. Why? Because incentive travel programs work.

These experiential gifts are different, and they have an enormous impact on our psyche. For example, effective incentive travel is built around a luxurious experience that your employees couldn’t otherwise create on their own. This usually means over-the-top destinations, exclusive accommodations, and experiences that immerse your employees into the country’s culture. Ultimately, incentive travel programs are designed around once-in-a-lifetime moments that create memories that will last a lifetime. Cash rewards simply can’t do this.

As the industry and the world regroup from COVID-19, incentive travel will be back, and it will be better than ever. It might look a little different, from secluded destinations to socially distanced fun, but there’s no denying that travel is a universal motivator. This, paired with our desire to reconnect in-person and extreme interest in finally dusting off our passports and traveling to new destinations, makes us excited for what’s to come.

So, what are you waiting for? Now’s the time to start planning your incentive and recognition program. Designing and executing a successful program takes time, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Contact us today to learn how our experts can help you craft the perfect incentive and recognition program to cultivate exceptional teams.

Richelle Taylor

Richelle Taylor

Richelle Taylor is a leader in performance improvement and marketing services in North America. Richelle oversees One10’s go-to-market strategy and its Incentives & Recognition business segment which includes global rewards as well as technology development for One10’s propriety performance improvement platform, PerformX. Taylor brings a seasoned background to One10, having held leadership positions in marketing, sales and product management for enterprise recognition and incentive technology solutions. She is an active member of the Cincinnati chapter of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and a member of Women in Business Networking (WIBN), in which she was named Top 25 Women to Watch in 2013. Over the last 20 years, Taylor has published articles and spoken on incentive and recognition best practices.
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