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To offer effective rewards, companies must understand workers

Doing "market research" on employees and offering solid, tangible rewards is a good idea for business leaders.

When designing business strategies, going in with excellent research and a solid plan is almost always better than taking stabs in the dark. This definitely applies to leaders attempting to keep employee engagement high through reward and recognition programs. Just like sales and marketing strategies, these processes have a target audience and should be calibrated to fit what those individuals want and value.

"Just as tone-deaf or misplaced marketing can waste dollars and draw a muted response, a poorly designed incentive scheme is unlikely to have any of the positive effects leaders envision."

Just as tone-deaf or misplaced marketing can waste dollars and draw a muted response, a poorly designed incentive scheme is unlikely to have any of the positive effects leaders envision. It's simply a matter of learning who will be benefiting from the rewards on offer.

The employee as customer
Creating an employee incentive strategy is a form of marketing, albeit with a clientele limited to the organization's workers. This means putting together a great mix of products that fit existing needs and sales pitches that correctly represent how problems are solved.

Forbes contributor Natalie Burg, of health care firm Castlight, recently created an intriguing illustration of the positive effects knowing the employee can have in terms of reward uptake. She gave the example of a company that tried to get the workforce engaged with a health program as observed by Castlight's Scott Matthews. The incentive was $100 placed into a health reimbursement account, and it was getting very little response. A much better reaction came when that prize was swapped out for a good lunch cooler.

The lesson in the case of the cooler against the $100 is that knowing the workforce is better than pouring more money onto the problem. Burg specified that the coolers were far cheaper for the firm and got a better response. The reward with practical applications in the outdoors got the attention of the employees, who were in a rugged occupation and likely saw very clear advantages to owning it. Gaining deep insight into the makeup of the workforce and individuals' interests can save a firm money and increase response to incentives, all at once.

This is the concept behind great marketing campaigns and it rings true in the employee incentive field. To get individuals to try something new, whether that is signing up for a health and wellness program or hitting their sales targets for the month, it's a good idea to link the benefit with their existing values and ideas. Learning the language of the exact demographic in each department and then speaking it is likely more effective than launching a top-down or overly general program and hoping people will come around. Relevance is a valuable commodity.

Tangible rewards tend to be more memorable than cash.

Tangible rewards for tough times
One way to squeeze maximum appeal out of employee rewards is for decision-makers to opt for solid items over the promise of cash, according to Business Review Europe contributor Rebecca Calladine. This follows from the cooler example given by Burg. Calladine explained that well-chosen rewards and incentives are important during times such as the end of each year, when it logically seems that employees may be lacking motivation or considering leaving their current employers. She indicated that a practical gift is better in this role than cash, as money is often spent doing day-to-day things and thus doesn't stick in the memory.

To learn more facts about employee rewards, take a look at our white paper.

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