What You Need to Know about Employee Incentives and Rewards

What You Need to Know about Employee Incentives and Rewards

Here’s how you can create reward programs that encourage safety, resonate with your employees and create engagement and loyalty.

Employees have come to expect to be rewarded for a variety of professional achievements and practices, including safety.

Research from Blackhawk Network has shown that successfully executed employee reward programs deepen employee engagement and loyalty. It makes sense—people want to feel appreciated and valued. In addition to keeping your employees involved, rewarding them can also reduce expensive turnover, encourage them to work harder, and motivate them to take desired safety measures.

Case in Point

I have seen firsthand how the right incentives can make safety programs more effective and rewarding. Take for instance a company that I have worked with in the past, a highly-regarded specialty food distributor that employs hundreds of drivers. To improve driver safety, the company had instituted a safe driver program—but it wasn’t working. The incentive was an all-for-nothing annual cash bonus paid to participating drivers as part of their paycheck. Not very motivating. With little driver engagement, there was no impact on day-to-day driving performance or behavior.

The solution? Use technology and a better reward strategy to drive engagement. After partnering with the distributor, we helped create a program that increased engagement, decreased accidents and provided more meaningful incentives. The new program encourages and recognizes safe driving, accident-free driving and positive driving behaviors as they happen. Using the latest in safe driving technology, the program automatically marks completion of activities and records behaviors—both positive and negative.

To meet engagement goals, drivers are now rewarded on a points-based system, delivering nearly instantaneous rewards. These motivated drivers redeem points online and can choose from a wide variety of plastic and digital gift card options.

The outcome? Fewer accidents, happier drivers and 100 percent participation. Success of the new program was instant and is ongoing, achieving all engagement goals. The numbers speak for themselves: 85 percent of all drivers meet the safety requirements every month to receive their full reward, there has been a 13 percent decrease in accidents or incidents and unsafe driving behaviors decreased by 15 percent.

The Right Mix of Incentives

Here’s how you can create reward programs that encourage safety, resonate with your employees and create engagement and loyalty:

Offer the right rewards. Company t-shirts and tchotchkes are overrated. Employees want rewards they find meaningful, offer choice, and make them feel appreciated. But they also want the flexibility to select and enjoy rewards on their terms. There’s an option that satisfies all of those parameters. Research has found that employees overwhelmingly prefer gift cards as rewards—and that offering gift cards as rewards has a significant impact. In fact, 69 percent of employees surveyed report feeling valued when receiving a gift card from their employer. The research also found that gift cards feel like financial rewards to employees, make them feel like their company cares about them, motivate them to stay with their company and encourage them work harder. Plus, they’re easy to give and redeem. Why bother giving them another company keychain?

Provide contactless reward options. With mobile device and mobile wallet usage trending upward, it makes sense that digital, contactless rewards will resonate with mobile-minded audiences. Blackhawk Network research found 86 percent of surveyed consumers want the option to add rewards to a digital wallet. And this works to your benefit! Contactless rewards like eGifts can be delivered almost instantly. People appreciate the flexibility and rapid delivery of contactless rewards like eGifts because they can be used soon after they have been earned. As an added bonus, the cost of providing contactless rewards is typically lower than providing physical rewards that require printing, shipping, etc. Interest in digital incentives is particularly prevalent among younger generations, more digitally-minded Americans and those who work remotely. As younger Americans comprise a larger percentage of the U.S. workforce and as employees become more spread apart geographically, it will become increasingly vital to understand how to effectively motivate and satisfy these audiences.

Tailor rewards to different generations and lifestyles. Your employees are a diverse group. It’s unlikely that your digitally savvy Gen Z social media manager is going to want the same reward as a boomer accountant who doesn’t live on her smartphone (or maybe doesn’t even own a smartphone!). Knowing what motivates and resonates with different generations and lifestyle preferences helps maximize reward impact for each subgroup. Offering a mix of reward options is a sure-fire way to create meaningful engagements with everyone. For instance, don’t just offer gift card rewards that can only be redeemed with one brand or retailer. Research1 confirmed that 63 percent of employees want gift cards that feature their choice of brands. Some reward providers offer cards that can be redeemed at hundreds of brands—greatly increasing the odds that at least a few will be among your employees’ favorites. Try to also dole out rewards in different denominations and forms (e.g., physical and contactless) to provide even more choice your employees will appreciate.

Personalize rewards. If you earned a trophy, would it feel as special without your name on it? Blackhawk Network’s research1 found that fewer than one in five employee reward program managers take advantage of adding a thoughtful touch like including a recipient’s name on a gift card reward. And fewer than one quarter of reward program managers use personalization options like putting the company logo or recipient’s name on a plastic or contactless reward card. These are huge missed opportunities to reinforce a positive employee interaction with your brand—yet the technology is out there ready to be used. The right reward providers offer options for reward card givers to add their logo to the cards for brand recognition, include words of thanks to each individual and other opportunities to personalize the cards for unique user experiences. Small details like these can go a long way in singling out employees for their specific contributions and accomplishments—and won’t go unnoticed.

Deliver rewards quickly. “Out of sight, out of mind” is an accurate term for rewards that take forever to be delivered. Instead of saving rewards for a once-a-year company luncheon, try to offer more frequent rewards to immediately reinforce the behaviors that led to an award in the first place. Delivering rewards in a timely manner quickly recognizes employees for positive behaviors and makes the (more frequent) engagements more meaningful. You can keep the lines of communication open more easily by frequently reaching out to employees that are doing well—helping build loyalty every step of the way and keeping them engaged and productive.

Don’t forget holiday gifts and rewards. If your holiday shopping list looks anything like mine, you have a long, diverse group of people to buy for, and finding something that feels personal to everyone feels like searching for a needle in a haystack. Businesses aren’t exempt from this daunting task, and now’s the time to be looking ahead at what you’re going to give employees for holiday gifts and rewards. Giving people something they really want that stands out among the sea of fruit baskets, popcorn tins, and mundane swag is a tall order. Ordering one-size-fits all gifts won’t provide the personal touch that will help drive year-long loyalty and engagement, but taking the time to tailor gifts to every single person might feel like it could take the whole year to do it right. Once again, gift cards provide a solution to all of these challenges.

Engagement matters when it comes to the people who impact your company’s success. You want to foster happy, connected employee relationships because they can have a huge impact on your bottom line. The recipe for nurturing these relationships is simple; give well thought out gift card rewards that acknowledge their individuality and demonstrate your willingness to acknowledge their unique tastes and preferences. I appreciate when employer does this for me and I bet yours will, too.

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Product Showcase

  • Stay Cool and Comfortable With CarbonX

    Stay Cool and Comfortable With CarbonX

    Beat the heat with the CarbonX® Active™ Baselayer, an ideal solution for professionals who want to keep cool, safe, and comfortable when performing high-activity tasks in hot and potentially dangerous environments. The moisture-wicking 6.0 oz/yd2 Active fabric has a TPP rating of 10 cal/cm2, far surpassing the performance of competing FR garments of similar weight. 3

  • Bodytrak


    Bodytrak is a data-driven solution fueled by science that’s designed to keep employees safe. The smart safety solution continuously monitors an individual’s response to physiological stress to mitigate workplace risks and provides an alarm system for the user and supervisors to prevent incidents caused by heat stress, fatigue, noise exposure and more. Visit Bodytrak at ASSP SAFETY 2023, stand #609 for a live demo or contact us via bodytrak.co to see how we can help enhance the health and safety practices in your organization today. 3

  • AA


    A+A—The World’s No 1. Trade Fair with Congress for Safety, Security and Health at Work—is renowned for its wide range of products and international reach, reflecting the status of the industry with the latest technologies and trends. From October 24-27, 2023, A+A will showcase the entire range of products and services for personal and occupational safety at the fairground in Düsseldorf, Germany - from protective items for individual body parts to complex security systems, from occupational medical care to ergonomic workplace design. An international congress will complement the exhibits. 3