Employee incentive programs grow in popularity

Follow the carrot

Whether it’s a kayaking trip or the chance to be a soldier for a day, employee incentive programs are growing in popularity in a competitive marketplace

I recently met up with an employee of an advertising firm for lunch. She was distracted, all a-flutter about a workplace competition. Staff were embroiled in an intense Wii Fit sports challenge, with various awards up for grabs. The top prize? A day off. She was desperate to win it, having already used up her vacation for the year and craving a break.

It got me thinking, extra vacation time is a pretty good motivator. That might get me to push harder through the work day. It would certainly work for the employee above. Others may be drawn by other benefits, such as a trip, concert tickets, or a gift certificate for a nice restaurant. This is the world of employee incentives (an industry in itself) and it makes sense that these programs would be absolutely key to keeping staff productive, happy (and in their jobs) in a competitive and mobile marketplace.

The Stats

Mercer, a consulting firm specializing in human resources, recently completed a survey on workplace policies and practices in Canada. The 2010 data shows 37 per cent of respondent companies reported holding sales contests, up to four a year. The most popular prizes? Trips and paid vacations. Gift cards, merchandise, plaques and trophies were also high on the list. Trophies?

“It’s true, I’d rather a trip than have my name on a plaque,” laughs Marie-Christine Piron, a principal from the company’s Montreal office. “But those internal rewards and recognition programs do help motivate employees.” Piron says almost every company she’s dealt with across the country has been talking about “increasing non-cash rewards to increase employee retention and engagement.

Piron says today’s creative incentive plans focus on anything from the ever-popular flex time to hiring a housekeeper for a day. The real challenge, she says, is developing a program that’s going to meet the needs of all employees.

The Rewards

Most of the major arenas and stadiums in Atlantic Canada have corporate boxes; tickets are often awarded to employees. Golf packages and fishing getaways are always popular high-end rewards. A hotel in Nova Scotia awards employees points for certain achievements (e.g. a positive comment, increasing business) and those points can be redeemed for product or lifestyle awards.

Travel companies like Vision The Atlantic Co., based in Pasadena, NL, offer expert help in planning travel incentive packages on the east coast, whether their clients are looking for adventure or luxury. Destination Halifax offers to “motivate, energize and inspire” with valley wine tours, sea-kayaking adventures, or the chance to be a chef or soldier (seriously, you’d get to wear a kilt and fall into drill a la 1870).

Angela Collins of Harbour Grace, NL, sells Arbonne, a Swedish-made line of nutrition and beauty products. She’s increased her sales to the point where she was awarded a Mercedes-Benz for her efforts. She’s also got a complimentary cruise coming up this fall with her husband, and has already been on an all-expenses paid trip to Arizona this year. “For sure!” she answers when asked if the material incentives are motivation. “If you don’t have a goal, you don’t have a plan … they’re great to keep you pushing yourself a little bit harder.”

Her thoughts on running an effective incentive program are two-fold: first, you have to find something your people want (in her case, Tiffany jewellery and luxe trips fit the bill); and the goals required to receive those rewards have to be challenging – but attainable.

Joel Ives of PEI’s Century 21 Colonial Realty says training and personal development opportunities are huge motivators. There is also a focus on hosting charitable events, which “gives agents a sense of pride in what they are doing and makes them feel good about being part of the business.”

That’s important but let’s be honest, it’s not going to be enough for everyone. “Sales is sales,” a local rep for a national pharmaceutical company tells me (he can’t divulge specific benefits thanks to a confidentiality agreement, though he admits the incentives are “substantial”). “What motivates people or sales people? All I can say is, money.”

Stephanie Porter
About Stephanie Porter

Stephanie Porter is a freelance writer and editor living in St. John’s. In 2003, she helped launch The Independent, a spirited weekly newspaper distributed across Newfoundland and Labrador, known for its investigative news and features. Stephanie was managing editor of the paper until its untimely demise in 2008. She has also worked as a reporter and writer for Downhome magazine, the Express (also now defunct), The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, picking up Atlantic Journalism Awards for her feature and news writing. Stephanie is delighted to be a regular contributor to Atlantic Business Magazine. Photo Credit: Paul Daly.

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