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4 Ways Employee Incentives Can Drive Engagement and Retention A good incentives program rewards and recognizes employees from across different departments and levels of responsibility for achieving a variety of work-related goals.

By Jason Mauser

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


No matter the industry or the size of a business, happy and engaged employees are a huge asset. But, according to a 2016 Gallup study only 34 percent of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs -- and that's the highest level of engagement measured since Gallup started tracking U.S. workplace engagement in January 2011. Making sure your full-time, part-time and even contract employees are happy and engaged can be tricky, and the repercussions for attrition can be dismal. Losing a good employee can cost your company money, require months or longer to rehire and retrain a replacement (assuming you can find someone qualified), affect the company culture and morale, decrease productivity, lessen the quality of customer service and impact client relationships.

For true engagement, employees need to have an understanding of where the company is headed and how their roles fit within that outlook. They need to feel that they're part of the corporate culture, their contributions matter, they're being well-compensated for their efforts and they're part of what makes your company great. At the root of it, many employees just want to feel appreciated and recognized for their hard work. And if they don't feel like you're giving them the attention and kudos they deserve, they may go to your competitors for that validation or disengage from your company and their responsibilities.

Related: Here's the Secret to Improving Employee Engagement That Any Company Can Afford

An important piece of the engagement puzzle is incentives. Modern generations have been incented since day one. Think about it: When you were younger, did your parents reward you for earning As in school? And if your grade began to straddle the line between an A and a B, did the thought of the reward motivate you to push a little harder and perform better? As you've grown into an adult, odds are you continue to expect incentives for accomplishments, but now the onus of bestowing those rewards has shifted from your parents to your employer.

Incentives matter -- and a good incentives program doesn't just provide traditional bonuses or commission-based rewards for sales teams that meet their quota. Instead, it should reward and recognize employees from across different departments and levels of responsibility for achieving a variety of work-related goals. You can help avoid the pitfalls of employee turnover by driving retention using an incentives as part of your employee engagement efforts. Here's how:

1. Provide convenient access to incentives.

Connect with your employees where and when they want. This means offering several different delivery and redemption avenues for their rewards to suit their varying lifestyles and preferences -- including online, over the phone or even via a mobile device like a smartphone. You can drive engagement by providing them with a user-friendly process so they can easily access and redeem their rewards without feeling stressed or overwhelmed. For example, if your company uses a points-based incentive program, don't make it hard for employees to check on the number of points they've accrued or to redeem their points. If the process is too difficult, they're likely to become frustrated and the reward will no longer be as meaningful. Make sure your employees can receive and redeem their rewards on their own terms.

Related: How Google Uses Analytics to Create a Great Workplace

2. Make program participation easy.

You don't want your employees to feel like participating in your incentive program is more trouble than it's worth. Instead, you want to make the program memorable for the right reasons and provide them with an intuitive experience that makes it easy for them to participate. Why not make the process of earning rewards fun? For instance, create a competition to motivate your sales team to earn rewards and change up the competition every sales period to keep it fresh. Each participant would know ahead of time which behaviors, achievements and measurable accomplishments would earn rewards -- and the prospect of future rewards could give participants extra oomph to reach their goals. This example could apply across other divisions of your company too: HR, accounting, marketing, etc. It's a lot easier to participate in a fun, interactive program that creates team unity as opposed to one that is monotonous, confusing or uninspiring.

3. Give employees multiple reward options.

One size doesn't fit all, especially when you're trying to motivate and show appreciation toward your employees. It's important to offer a variety of reward choices like gift cards, egifts, travel, merchandise and more to satisfy a diverse group of recipients. One of the most popular choices I'd recommend offering is gift cards. Research from the Retail Gift Card Association found more than 60 percent of those surveyed have received a gift card as a reward or incentive, and of those respondents a full 91 percent said they liked receiving it. Gift cards are clearly in demand and can provide employees with high levels of satisfaction since recipients can buy what they want. Some may choose to use the card on household essentials to help their budget while others may choose to spoil themselves at the spa. No matter what they select, they'll appreciate the ability to make their own decision -- making the reward more impactful and increasing the likelihood they will work toward earning more.

Related: Think Perks Are an Incentive? Your Team Doesn't.

4. Enable speedy incentive delivery.

Today's society is increasingly fast-paced, and devices like smartphones have helped create a constant craving for instant gratification. Americans no longer wait until the nightly news airs; instead they go to social media to find out what's going on in the world. Incentives delivery is no different. When you offer employees an incentive for achieving a goal or going above and beyond, you have to deliver the reward in a timely manner or you'll lose the opportunity to quickly engage them and make the reward as meaningful as you can. Incentives that are delivered quickly and regularly also help provide reminders of the behavior(s) that led to the reward in the first place and keep communication channels open. Whether you're handing someone a physical gift card on the spot or immediately delivering an egift to his phone, use timely rewards to quickly reinforce accomplishments and show your employees their contributions are appreciated.

According to Gallup's research, employees who are more engaged with your business can directly impact your company's productivity, profitability and customer engagement -- they can also drive innovation, growth and revenue. The impact of losing good employees can be significant, but there are a variety of different ways you can keep them satisfied at work. Consider using incentives as one way to keep your employees happy and engaged with your company.

Jason Mauser

VP of Sales at Hawk Incentives, a Blackhawk Network Business

Jason Mauser is a sales executive with 18 years of experience selling prepaid incentive products. At Hawk Incentives, he delivers easy-to-implement reward platforms and a wide selection of brandable, compelling rewards that help HR managers and employers create better employee incentive experiences.

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