Stats, Facts & Research

Cash Isn’t King: The Best Employee Motivation May Surprise You

iStock_000027761821SmallAsk anyone if they’re motivated to work for a cash reward, and you’ll probably hear a resounding “Yes!” But that’s hypothetical. Turns out, that when you take the hypothetical cash off the table and offer a specific non-cash reward instead, employees work harder for that reward, according to a study by psychology professors Victoria Shaffer and Hal Arkes as reported in Inc. magazine.

In the article “Cash Or Cruises? The Best Motivation For Employees Isn’t What You Think,” a number of studies were cited that show just how powerful tangible rewards are over cash incentives. One such report is Human Performance, where professors Scott Jeffrey and Gordon Adomdza write that “people think more frequently about noncash tangible incentives (merchandise and travel).”

And guess what: The more these employees think about the tangible incentives, the more their performance increases. “This leads to a larger performance boost for tangible incentives compared to a cash incentive of equal purchasing power,” they say.

And companies both large and small are taking notice. In the report “Incenting Success: Best-In-Class Sales Management” conducted by the Aberdeen Group and distributed by the Incentive Research Foundation, researchers found that:

  • Best-in-class firms are far less likely today to focus solely on financial incentives than just one year ago
  • Top performers are 31% more likely to consider non-cash incentives as a sales performance management “must-have”
  • Public recognition is used to motivate sales performance by best-in-class firms 29% more often than other firms

Get all the details in this Incentive magazine article.

But don’t think that offering meaningful, tangible incentives is something only Fortune 1000 companies with big budgets can afford. There is merchandise for all company sizes and price points. The key to success is finding items than speak to your unique audience—their desires and aspirations.

For those who travel often for business or for pleasure, luggage may be a great option. On the other hand, for those who enjoy cooking or entertaining at home, look for a beautiful serving piece…one that can be tastefully branded.

Also look for something that can be used or worn everyday. Watches can often be a status symbol, making them an oft sought after gift.

Packaging plays an important role, too. For wine lovers, perhaps you set up a wine-of-the-month delivery and give the first bottle in a cherry wood keepsake gift box.

What each of these ideas have in common is that they are highly desirable. But they’re also something many employees won’t purchase for themselves, but they’ll work hard to get them as an incentive.

And these are just a few ideas of the possibilities. You can offer a single incentive or create a tiered program with complementary items given as various levels are achieved.


However you want to structure an employee incentive program to reward exceptional achievement, we’re here to help. Book an appointment by clicking here or call us at 248-538-4700 to find out about all the available options. Mention the blog, and we’ll send you some SMART Swag to get the conversation started!