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Companies of all sizes have long used incentive and recognition programs to reward and motivate employees and customers – often using traditional awards such as gift certificates, pre-paid credit cards, merchandise or travel. Today, innovative companies are eschewing these impersonal gift programs and instead offering employees memorable experience rewards – such as hang gliding, a class with a master chef or racing a NASCAR to show appreciation and celebrate success in a whole new way.
Experts have long studied the specific elements behind successful rewards programs and have reached the same conclusion: programs must contain an element of surprise and trigger the pleasure sensors in the brain. Imagine the rush of anticipation as you kick off a sales contest with a weekend in a Ferrari as the prize, or the facial expression when you hand a valued client a "thank you" which sits them right in the penalty box for a VIP experience at an NHL hockey game. With experiential awards the buzz of excitement lasts well beyond the award presentation, carrying over through their experience and the memories it creates.
Companies are just beginning to reap the benefits of using experience gifts to reward employees and customers. One Washington, DC-area company turning to experience gifts is GTSI, an enterprise services and solutions provider. Bridgette Atkinson, Senior VP of Human Resources, began using experiences last year for GTSI's quarterly "Unsung Heroes" awards. Atkinson reports, "We've found that awarding experiences has had a much greater impact than the pre-paid credit card that we previously used. With essentially the same budget, we're giving our deserving employees something that is cutting edge, distinctive and memorable. It has been an outstanding success. " For this rewards program, GTSI used experience gift packages which offered the recipients a choice: a countryside tour in a vintage biplane, herding longhorn cattle at a nearby dude ranch, indulging in a luxurious day at the spa or a private behind the scenes tour of the National Aquarium in Baltimore. By taking the extra step of creating personal gifts tailored to the interests of each employee or customer, companies like GTSI successfully demonstrate a genuine appreciation for each person's individuality.
Another DC-area company that has directly witnessed the advantages of such personalized rewards is the environmental engineering firm, Kynoch Environmental Management, Inc. "I was looking for a new and exciting way to inspire and reward our team. Experiences offered the perfect solution – for both a memorable reward and choices that worked for my budget. Everyone was thrilled with the unexpected gift and we are still hearing the buzz as people choose and go on their experiences, "said J. Brent Kynoch, President. The rewards are so popular with Kynoch's employees that he has given them two years in a row.
Rewards of experience can also supplement existing travel reward programs. Many companies give top sales people expensive travel rewards, while other employees get less impressive awards or nothing at all. Experience awards can be used to 'reward the middle' by acknowledging the unique yet vital contributions of the support team and all the people who have contributed to the success of a company top performers.
While the idea of experience-as-reward or gifts has resonated for some time in Europe, it is a relatively new – yet rapidly expanding – concept in the United States. Organizations spend $ 15 billion annually on incentive, gifts and promotional products, and many are increasingly turning to innovative gift options from companies such as Excitations and others in the experiential gift category. With so much invested in rewarding valued employees and customers, it makes sense to maximize their benefit by giving something that, unlike a cash award, creates enduring memories for the employee base. Also, with the growing interest in eco-friendly consumerism, most experience gifts are also the perfect choice for environmentally conscious employers, employees and customers. A guided mountain bike tour, a glider experience, survival training or whitewater rafting delivers all of the thrill while at the same time respecting the environment.
Cash awards are certainly convenient options for employers because they require the least amount of energy and preparation. Unfortunately, that fact is not lost on employees. Studies show that cash awards are remembered for the shortest amount of time, which means that in a way, employers often feel compelled to increase the frequency of cash awards to maintain employee satisfaction. On the other hand, the memories created when an employee learns to dive with the sharks or create glass art with a master glass blower will outlast an engraved plaque or generic gift certificate. Let employees and customers experience the thrill of these unique gifts, and experience the benefits of a satisfied workforce and customer base.