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How to Use Non-Cash Rewards to Motivate Employees

Mar 27, 2019
8 min read
Non-cash rewards can work as powerful motivators for sales organizations to drive employee engagement beyond the traditional sales compensation plan.

It's no surprise that rewards—especially those with a dollar sign attached—motivate employees. In sales, the foundation of employee motivation lies in your sales commission structures. However, when designed well, not all incentives have to be monetary. In fact, non-cash rewards can be just as effective as financial rewards when it comes to motivating employees.

Cash Vs. Non-Cash Rewards

Regardless of the reward, the goal is to make it enticing enough to motivate employee behavior. The same principle applies to sales compensation plans. Sales incentives must be motivating enough to encourage sales reps to act. However, the most effective incentives motivate specific behaviors that will help companies achieve their goals. Therefore, rewards—cash or non-cash—must be aligned with company goals.

So what types of incentives motivate best? Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all solution for the best incentive. True to belief, cash is always a strong incentive, but as strong sales leaders know, getting to know your sales reps can provide additional unique incentive options. First, let's break down the baseline of cash vs. non-cash rewards.

Cash Rewards

Cash rewards are exactly what their name says—money. This can be in the form of a check or gift card, ultimately the reward comes with a dollar sign. Cash rewards are great for the foundation of your sales compensation plan, but in other instances they don't always motivate as well as sales leaders might like.

One reason a cash reward might fail to stimulate increased performance is that it is the default incentive employees have been chasing for the entirety of their work lives. That doesn’t make cash a bad motivator by any means, but it just might not inspire the change in behavior or drum up the excitement you anticipated.

When introduced to potential rewards, workers find it motivating to envision themselves obtaining said perks; for example, seeing themselves relaxing on a Hawaiian beach, or cheering their heads off in the middle of the action at a high-profile sporting event. With cash, it’s hard to dream up such enjoyment, leaving many to just think about using extra funds to pay off a credit card bill or pad their savings.

Non-Cash Rewards

Non-cash rewards again, are exactly what their name says—non-monetary. While the reward may have financial value, it's not paid out in a check or gift card. Non-cash rewards introduce something unique, and oftentimes represent a tangible prize that employees might not have otherwise desired had it not been for such compensation (but it’s still something they’d love to obtain).

Additionally, non-cash incentives can also result in the building of tradition, while building a dynamic company culture. If that non-cash prize becomes something like an annual ski trip that everyone looks forward to, you now have a non-cash reward that has become a focal point for the organization’s employees to rally around.

Lastly, another benefit of non-cash rewards is the fact that they must be consumed, often in some form of a memorable experience. Thus, employees earn their reward, experience it, and then return to work refreshed and rejuvenated to tackle the next challenge.

Non-Cash Rewards Examples

A study by WorldatWork determined that 88% of organizations have a rewards and/or recognition program in place, with rewards named as a key factor in the recruitment of top talent and employee retention. Thus, incentive compensation programs are an integral part of many companies’ cultures and sales commission strategies, and aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Considering the popularity of perks, remaining current and creative with clever returns can be a struggle. With our finger on the pulse of the sales compensation industry, we’ve heard of many non-cash incentive examples, and would love to share a few of our favorites. Here are 10 examples you can try out with your team.

1. A Fine Dining Experience

A reservation at the nicest restaurant in town is sure to please most people. To ensure maximum buy-in, don’t limit the restaurant options to a select few, and let the winner take their whole family out rather than restricting it to two people.

Go the extra mile: Once the winner has decided on a place to dine, make sure to call the restaurant and put your credit card down to pay the tab ahead of time. This way the recipient is set to enjoy the evening stress-free.

2. Wine Club Membership

Have a wine lover on your team? Surprise them with a rare vintage or a limited edition bottle of their favorite varietal. Or better yet, sign them up for monthly wine club as the gift that keeps on giving. Look here for the best wine clubs to suit your needs.

Go the extra mile: Opt for the yearlong subscription if you can. When given only 3 months or 6 months, employees might feel they’ve simply won a free trial for their hard work. In addition, you can even pair the wine club membership with a wine tasting outing for added benefit.

3. Travel Vouchers for a Weekend Getaway

It doesn’t get much better than traveling to a new destination. Well, that is unless you’re traveling on the company’s dime! Treat your all-stars to a weekend trip or even splurge on a weeklong cruise.

Go the extra mile: Take care of all of the trip’s expenses. If an employee earns a vacation, but has to foot the bill for airfare, baggage, or some other aspect, it quickly diminishes the value of the hard work that led up to the victory.

4. Tickets to a Sporting Event or Concert

Recognize a job well done with tickets to a local (or maybe not so local) sporting event. This family-friendly reward is a good one for sports fans and employees with families alike!

Go the extra mile: Try and provide an experience that your employee might not have had before, whether that means opting for courtside seats, playoff tickets, or on-field access.

5. Tech Gadgets

Getting your hands on the latest high-tech gadget can require long lines and even longer wait times. Waitlist a few new gadgets ahead of their releases to reward your top performers. This is a good one because almost everyone wants the latest and greatest, but has a hard-time justifying spending hundreds of dollars to keep their technology current.

Go the extra mile: Maybe save this one for times when there is in fact a coveted tech gadget soon to be on the market. It gives the reward that much more appeal when it’s for something scarce.

6. Learning Opportunities

Most companies provide opportunities for employees to learn more about their craft through classes, seminars, etc. But, providing the chance for your people to travel across country for a larger high-profile conference could be appealing, and not something the organization would have otherwise considered.

Go the extra mile: While it won’t always work out, if you can pair this reward with one of the others mentioned already, you could be on to something. Meaning, maybe it’s a trip to the Bay Area for CompCloud 2017, but also comes with complimentary dinner at a nice restaurant and tickets to a San Francisco Giants game.

7. Lunch with Executives

When it comes to rewards, some people just want to be recognized publicly, or by others in the organization. So, maybe you provide a reward in the form of lunch with the CEO, allowing the winner to both be recognized by everyone in the company, while also getting face-time and the opportunity to pick the brain of your company’s leader.

Go the extra mile: Try and keep it to a one-on-one experience if possible, with one winner rather than a group of winners. Such outings can be easily dominated by one personality over another, leaving some to feel slighted when all is said and done.

8. Spa Day, Round of Golf, or Other Activity

Really, any out-of-office activity could make for a good non-cash incentive, and what you offer depends on the makeup of your organization. Some might enjoy a day at the spa, while others would rather be out on the links.

Go the extra mile: Do your homework in finding a common interest amongst your people, and tailor your rewards in that direction. It’s easy to settle on an activity because most people will enjoy it, but what about the few who won’t? So, take extra care when implementing.

9. Preferred Parking

If your company has preferred parking, and especially if that parking saves time for an employee making their way into the office because of added convenience, this might be a great non-cash reward.

Go the extra mile: Maybe all employees don’t drive to work, so do your due diligence in researching how to better the commute for those coming into the office by train, bike, etc.

10. Employee’s Choice

If you like any number of the above suggestions, you can also present a few different non-cash reward options and let the employee choose which one they’d prefer. Having your team striving for one common reward definitely has value, but providing options offers flexibility.

Go the extra mile: A fun, twist on this one is to engage in a bit of sales gamification, letting employees accumulate points for their achievements, price out their rewards, and then having them exchange points for perks!

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Offering Non-Cash Rewards

When it comes to implementing non-cash rewards, there are a few things to be aware of.

Consider Sales Rep Tenure

If you have a group made up of entry-level employees, they will probably respond to cash much more than they would any of the non-cash options presented above. If you just aren’t sure what your people want, ask via a survey or other means.

Align With Company Goals

Regardless of whether you’re using cash or non-cash rewards, be sure that the action you’re encouraging is one connected to greater organizational goals. Oftentimes, companies find themselves tweaking the behavior to fit the reward, where they should instead start with the behavior and ensure it remains focused and unchanged.

Understand the Challenges of Non-Cash Rewards

Also know that non-cash perks are more difficult to administer, track, and fulfill, necessitating more time and planning. Plus, for increased buy-in, you always need to be reinventing. As mentioned above, part of the appeal of non-cash rewards is that they are different, but if you find yourself rolling out the same rewards year after year, that allure can easily be lost.

By building flexibility into your rewards and recognition program you can personalize the incentive for the recipient. Such personalization goes a very long way in letting your employees know that you’re aware of their individual contributions, and that you’re interested in not only keeping them performing at high levels, but that they’re happy and fulfilled as well.

  • Incentive Compensation
  • Sales Coaching and Motivation
Kelly Arellano, Senior Content Marketing Manager at Xactly
Xactly News Team

Led by Editor-In-Chief, Kelly Arellano, The Xactly News Team reports on the latest products, events, and market trends taking place within Xactly and throughout the revenue intelligence industry.