Skip to content
employee recognition

Some Gifts Don’t Have Envelopes – Why Cash Bonuses Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

We all want motivated, loyal, and productive employees. We know it’s important to incentivize and empower them to go the extra mile, but do we really know what our employees want? Studies show, probably not. 

For decades, money has been the answer. Pay them more, give them cash, increase the bonus. But the truth is, those big bonuses don’t really motivate or encourage performance. Today’s workforce wants less stuff, not more. They are more interested in the intrinsic value and motivation rather than cash. To motivate employees today, you must provide something that money can’t buy – which is why experience gifts are king.

Why Cash Doesn’t Work

When an employee receives an incentive gift of cash, it’s not all that different from their regular paycheck. That lack of distinction between a reward their salary means they are less likely to remember it (or appreciate it). Additionally, cash bonuses are taxable, which means when you’re trying to reward your employees – you’re really giving them less. Third, employees don’t really want more money. They are looking for something more. 

The 2015 Participant Study conducted by the Incentive Research Foundation shows that, if given a choice, more employees would actually prefer a non-cash incentive award. This is especially true for women. A recent study of attendees at the Conference for Women found that nearly 80% of the respondents would rather have a job with meaning and success than receive a 20% pay increase.

So, if not money – what do employees care about? What is the currency? 

What To Do Instead: 

The answer is two-fold: something meaningful and something memorable. Chances are, one year after a big bonus – employees won’t even remember what they spent it on, and they’ll be expecting the next one. On the other hand, if you give your employees a tailored and life-changing experience gift, it is likely to stay with them for quite some time. They will talk about it for years and remember it fondly. These may be special events or experience gifts that employees can earn, or be given as a gift of recognition. 

employee appreciation

A Harvard University psychology professor conducted a survey of purchases made by individuals and whether or not buying something made them happier. Approximately 57 percent of respondents reported they were happier after making an experiential purchase, compared to only 34 percent of respondents after making a material purchase. This is especially true with Millennials (who are the majority of the workforce right now). When it comes to this group, a whomping 72 percent of them would rather pay for an experience than for material goods.

Not only do employees tend to value experience gifts over accumulating more stuff, but they’ll also relate the positive experience with YOU, the company, and their boss. Thus strengthening their bond and loyalty. 

Include Everyday Experiences 

employee appreciation home

When companies take the time to recognize and reward employees’ hard work, they are rewarded in turn with happier, more productive employees. However, employee recognition is no simple and straightforward task — especially when it comes to experiences. 

You can’t always just give someone a kayaking trip to Hawaii or tickets to Disneyland every time they do something good.  Sometimes, the best reward is taking care of everyday experiences. Employees are individuals with their own families, pets, children, and hobbies. Perhaps rewarding them with a dog grooming service in the office parking lot, free dry cleaning, a house cleaning service, or DoorDash after a long day at work is more effective than you may realize. 

What all employees want is an experience gift that is memorable, personal, and shareable. It doesn’t always have to be a huge, life-defining experience in an exotic location. It can also be helpful for the everyday stuff, and of course, a little personalization to different tastes and personalities goes a long way. 

Sure, the chance to go skydiving might be one employee’s thrill of a lifetime, but they also need to get the grocery shopping done and find time to get a haircut. Experience gifts can provide both.

Better for Them, Better for You:

Employees will value experiential gifts more than cash bonuses, but they are also more beneficial for the company. When employees are at work, they tend to talk. They share their experiences both good and bad. In the age of social media, employees are chattier than ever and if their boss gives them a skydiving voucher or sets up a car detail in the parking lot while they work, it’s likely to end up on Facebook or Instagram. This is good news for your company both internally and externally. 

employee recognition

Internally, other employees will see their colleagues having a great time and motivation can be contagious. Externally speaking, others will see how well you treat your employees and be motivated to land a job with you.

Best of all, experience gifts can be customized to suit your budget. Whether you’re running a global conglomerate or a brand-new startup, you can invest in some form of experiential reward to show your employees they are valued members of your team. Your investment will pay off HUGE in the long run in a hardworking, motivated, and dedicated team of talent.

Here’s a quick list of both large and small experience gifts to get you started (This can be customized to fit with whatever Beny offers): 

  • A paid trip to an exciting travel destination
  • A free oil change offered while they are at work. 
  • A six-course tasting menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant
  • Tickets to a local theme or amusement park 
  • A creative class such as acrylic painting or pottery
  • Meal delivery service at home
  • A relaxing spa experience for the employee and their spouse
  • Tickets to a concert or sporting event
  • Kitesurfing, kayaking, or skydiving

Employees will appreciate that you have taken the time to get to know them and have given them an experience gift they genuinely care about. When you give experience gifts right, employees will be motivated and work harder because they will know the payoff is worth it.


Latest Posts