It’s safe to say that business owners and their employees learned many hard lessons during the pandemic, and they are still learning. But arguably one of the most valuable, universal lessons the pandemic reinforced is the need for and the importance of human connection in all its forms. In the business world, this translates to the innerworkings of companies’ various departments, teams, workers, committees and leadership staff, who are constantly gathering and relaying information about the needs of partners, clients, consumers, related industries and the business itself to continue fulfilling customers’ wants and problem-solve throughout.
However, this is only a glimpse into the efforts that went on behind the scenes to sustain the U.S. workforce over the past year. Many of the nation’s 127.16 million full-time workers and 25.13 million-part-time workers, according to data reported in June by Statista, underwent the transition from in-office to remote work or a hybrid, and millions are likely still navigating the shift. A force of professionals actively contributing to keeping the U.S. economy afloat, they deserve to be recognized by their employers for a job well done, and that’s where incentives come into play. The incentives marketplace is a $90 billion-dollar industry that 84 percent of businesses invest in, according to the Incentive Marketing Association.
“Incentive programs are specifically designed to motivate best practices, re-direct habits and acknowledge results. In a post-pandemic environment, the above three points are virtually a punch-list of the challenges facing an HR manager,” says Sean Roark, CPIM, principal and co-owner of Spring, Texas, distributor PromoPros/IncentPros, which specializes in employee incentive programs. “One simplified description of engagement is that it encourages an employee to view their company’s success as their own. Incentive programs designed to celebrate the company’s good fortune by making a big deal about the value contributed by individuals and teams within the company, have a great return on investment.”
Employee incentives are a win-win on both sides, but require action from recipients. For employers, incentive programs are designed to reward workers for meeting certain benchmarks or exhibiting select behaviors, such as achieving membership or sales goals, or following new safety standards. Incentive programs arm employers with motivators to encourage workers to reach these goals, and help businesses to keep employees satisfied, improve retention and encourage recipients to keep up the good work, and bolster feelings of positivity about the company; all factors that collectively save on costs. Roark says that incentives also help with strengthening the relationship between employer and employee. He explains, “An incentive humanizes the corporate relationship by extending a gift similar to what someone might receive for a birthday, holiday or other personal event.”
Companies can and do save hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in operational costs by using employee programs, so much so that it is often seen as an additional stream of “revenue.” One area where costs can be notably reduced as a result of a successful, targeted employee incentive program, is turnover and subsequent recruiting, onboarding and training. According to a 2019 article by Gallup, the cost of replacing a single employee can range from one-half to two times that employee’s annual salary. For an employee who earns $51,168 per year—the national salary average as of fourth-quarter last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—it’ll cost a business from $25,584 to $100,336 to replace the employee. Multiplied across a typical workforce, that’s a hefty cost to bear.
Establishing an employee incentive program is one thing, but choosing an appropriate gift is another. For employers, gift cards are a rather seamless choice, and although well-received, they don’t have the same staying power as a tangible gift. Roark explains that when an employee receives a gift card, they’re more likely to use it toward paying for everyday costs, such as a child’s medication at the pharmacy or a needed grocery item. If the gift card is generic and doesn’t feature the company’s branding, and/or doesn’t require the recipient to go to a company-hosted website to redeem it, they’re more likely to associate their gift with CVS, Walmart or wherever they redeem it, rather than with their employer.
“Incentives are a non-economic impact, in that the emphasis is on the pleasure of receiving the gift rather than the monetization that always happens with a cash gift, where the recipient converts the value to compensation: $100 equates to five hours’ pay,” he says. “That personal connection possible [with tangible rewards] is the golden prize that can come to your client. It converts adversarial employees into allies, improves the workplace and creates the outcome of remarkable possibilities.”
Non-cash rewards, which are a $77 billion-dollar industry, according to research from the Incentive Research Foundation, are known to have greater staying power. Gifting a luxury watch, a high-end tech backpack or a designer jacket to a standout employee for superior performance, not only provides them with a luxury item, but it also creates a positive association in their mind between that item and their experience of receiving that item, with their employer; something that’s likely to be recalled every time the employee goes to wear or use that item. “Consider how the promotional product is not what you are selling your client, rather, it is whatever positive emotions recipients feel about the promotional item, being transferred to the message or corporate brand of your client,” Roark says. “Whether it’s name-brand merchandise, travel or a logoed gift card, what you are actually providing your client is the personal connection to the recipient that makes them happy that they work for, buy from and/or deal with your client’s company.”
If the gift is experiential, such as concert tickets, spa trips or incentive travel, companies can include a high-end product, branded or not, to complement the experience as well. Examples include a pair of high-end earbuds to listen to their favorite tunes well after the concert ends, or a luxury towel and beach bag to bring on their seaside getaway. Also, the impact of an incentive gift is elevated when the product is personalized, reports the IRF. So, when gifting a high-end robe to an employee who earned a spa trip, opt to have that employee’s name embroidered on the robe for added meaning, effect and recall.
In a post-pandemic world, merchandise as an employee incentive gift is expected to increase 24 percent this year, according to 2021 IRF Trends Report. Most businesses are spending an average of $160 on incentive merchandise for individual employees, IRF reports, with 32 percent spending $200 or more per employee. IRF also reports that, during the pandemic, even lower-priced merchandise worked well to keep workers engaged throughout, so consider strategically gifting smaller incentive items throughout the year to keep motivation high.
Allowing employees to choose from a selection of products from an online company store can provide reward recipients with a sense of ownership and control over the reward they’ve earned. Employee stores are one of the most popular online store types created by Dallas, Texas, business services company and ecommerce platform OrderMyGear (OMG), and provide employees with curated, customized experiences that are tailor-made for them.
“Employees pick out exactly what they want, creating a high-end retail experience they are accustomed to,” says Mitch Hammer, OMG’s vice president of marketing. “It’s a reward experience that is most similar to how they shop now and feels like they are getting to pick their incentive versus everyone receiving the same gift, which feels less special. Plus, online incentive stores relieve the burden from the HR or marketing leader from picking out a single gift that pleases everyone, or dealing with guessing sizes on apparel.”
Some of the features distributors prefer most about OMG’s employee stores, Hammer says, are the options to offer gift cards that are redeemable in the store; setting up a P.O. store, so employees can’t see the price of the item they’ve selected and can check-out without a payment; and using email authentication, allowing distributors and decision-makers to control access to the store by validating an employee’s email address against a pre-approved list. Custom options available also allow distributors to offer their clients personalized gifts, such as AirPods with initials added on the case, and the ability for clients to share information about specific services, such as virtual yoga, cooking, Pilates or bartending classes.
Inspired by vintage field and military-style watches, the SRPG39 by Seiko is a gift that’s sleek and ageless. Part of Seiko’s 5 Sports Collection, it features automatic movement with manual winding, a display showing the month and day, a stainless steel case that measures 39.4 millimeters in width, Lumibrite on the hands and indexes, curved hardlex crystal and a calfskin band. This 75-gram watch is also considered a diver’s watch, with water-resistance up to 100 meters.
Seiko Watch of America / PPAI 596169, S3 / seikousa.com/pages/corporate-gifts
A gift with potential to become a family heirloom, extending the positive message behind it for generations to come, is the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date. Measuring 40 millimeters in diameter, the stainless steel, automatic, aviation-style watch features pointer-calendar movement and a leather strap. For durability, it’s made with sapphire glass for extreme scratch- and shock-resistance, and it’s water-resistant up to 50 meters.
Tourneau, Inc. / PPAI 185492, S2 / www.tourneau.com
Looking to express a wholehearted thank-you message? Say it with diamonds. This Diamond Dream necklace is a classic—and the stuff dreams are made of. Set in a 14-karat white gold prong setting, it features an exquisite, single .30-karat diamond, which is hand-cut to perfection in Antwerp, Belgium, known as the Diamond Capital of the World. The pendant, which weighs one-third of carat, is set on a 16-inch white gold chain.
Antwerp Diamonds Incentives / PPAI 270274, S1 / www.antwerpdiamondsincentives.com
The Anvil Beaded Bracelet is delicate and timeless, but also wearable enough for every day. The 7.5-inch triple-strand, beaded bracelet is made with rhodium and gold, and features two-tone accents and closes with a horseshoe clasp. It also comes with a lifetime guarantee.
John Medeiros Jewelry / PPAI 752042, S1 / www.johnmedeiros.com
An option to suit all employees, the Unisex Patrol Anorak is a casual, everyday jacket that’s both wind- and water-resistant. Featuring the Spyder® logo placed strategically throughout, it’s made from a blend of 89-percent polyester and 11-percent elastane. Details include an adjustable hood with front and back drawcords, a zippered drop-in pouch pocket and zippered hand pockets, and cuffs tabs adjustable with a hem cinch cord. Available in sizes XS-3XL in carbon, polar and black (shown).
J. America / PPAI 351699, S1 / www.jamericablanks.com
Offer employees a “warm” reminder of the company they work for, whether they’re lounging at home or beachside. Handcrafted in Turkey, the Umbria Throw is made from 100-percent Turkish cotton and measures 55-by-75-inches, with a fringe finish on all four sides. Its lightweight feel is made using a four-layered looming technique, and it’s free of any synthetic materials. Available in beige, navy, dusty rose, dark grey and turquoise (shown).
Riviera Towel Company / PPAI 725658, S1 / www.rivieratowel.com
Whether at the spa or at home, this soft and cozy Jersey Bathrobe is casual enough to throw over sweats and a tee while lounging at home. Midweight with a classic style, this fine cotton jersey bathrobe is made from a blend of 60-percent polyester, 37-percent cotton and three-percent spandex, with the option to add-on a shawl collar or substitute a kimono style. It also has generously-sized pockets and a hanger loop for easy storing. Available in one-size-fits-all in white or ecru (shown), with the option to add custom embroidery.
Boca Terry / PPAI 254386 , S3 / www.bocaterry.com
Anyone could make do with a rain poncho, but what about a high-quality, premium one that can be reused, again and again? The Men’s Ultralight Rain Pack is packable and ultra-lightweight, with internal webbed-nylon shoulder straps that allow wearers to slip their arms out of the sleeves and carry the coat on their back, leaving hands free; otherwise, the jacket can be packed into its own back vertical-zip pocket for easy storage. Machine-washable, it hits below the knee for full rain protection and is made from water-repellent nylon. Additional details include a zip pocket and two open pockets in the interior, front zip pockets, an elastic drawstring at the waist and hem, and a drawstring hood. Available in men’s sizes S-2XL in black and pine (shown).
Tumi Outerwear / PPAI 645193, S1 / www.tumi.com
A wintry options for employees who live and work in cold-weather conditions, the Women’s Luxe Down Parka is sure to make their lives easier, or at least more comfortable. The lightweight coat made from a polyester-nylon blend, features a water-repellent shell and insulated lining. For added style, the hood features a removable faux fur trim, and for convenience, internal shoulder straps allow the wearer to slip their arms out of the sleeves, and carry the coat on their back, hands-free. Machine-washable, remove faux fur before washing. Available in women’s S-XL in ivory, midnight blue and dark olive (shown).
Tumi Outerwear / PPAI 645193, S1 / www.tumi.com
These Polarized Aviator Sunglasses by FAIR WINDS are a stylish add-in for an employee-rewarded incentive trip, or simply for everyday use. Made with MauiBrilliant, the most advanced lens material offered by Maui Jim featuring optics that are nearly as clear as glass, with one-third of the weight. It has a gold frame with a matte black insert and a neutral grey lens, which offers the highest available light reduction, yielding rich colors with sharp contrast.
Maui Jim / PPAI 232755, S6 / www.mauijim.com
Described by the supplier as the “perfect gift for anyone with pants,” the Premium Gift Box – 40mm Combo offers a set of three high-quality leather belts that recipients can wear every day for years to come. Three styles are included: a bronze style, with a bronze buckle on dark brown leather; a steel style, with a steel buckle on black leather; and a tactical style, with a gunmetal buckle on a black nylon strap. Best of all, the belts and buckles can all be interchanged. The gift is pristinely presented in a matte black gift box with a magnetic closure and premium foil embossing. Available in small, medium, large and custom sizes.
Mission Belt / PPAI 771009, S2 / www.missionbelt.com
Used with permission from PPAI Media