By John Sylvester, executive director at employee motivation specialists P&MM:

Whether it’s the chance to run out at Wembley Stadium, a cooking lesson with a celebrity chef, winning a walk-on part in a Hollywood blockbuster, a trip to the moon or even the chance to surf naked past Bondi beach, there is no limit to the remarkable experiences that staff dream of winning.

These types of ‘chance-in-a-lifetime’ prizes certainly help to grab attention and generate interest but, when it comes down to it, as part of employee incentive schemes, is it all too much sizzle and not enough sausage?

I’m often asked what type of prizes work best in employee incentive schemes. Equally so, we receive regular requests that are almost as far out as some of the ideas I mentioned. There is a common belief that in order to make an incentive scheme as high impact as possible, there must be headline-grabbing prizes on offer. The problem arises, however, when you examine the employee profile across a workforce and realise just how few people would actually relish the opportunity for some naked surfing, or even a day at a spa, should they meet their goals and qualify for a reward. Selecting prizes such as this may work against the objectives of an incentive scheme by alienating a majority of employees, causing more of a ‘naked wipe-out’ than helping the organisation to ‘catch a wave’.

While it is important to get staff on board (and I don’t mean the surfboard) by making incentive schemes exciting and interesting, the key objective must be to provide suitable incentives for the target audience. For this you need to know your people and give them as wide a choice as possible.

At P&MM we find that there will always be room for a few slightly more extravagant rewards that can aid in marketing a scheme. We receive requests for prizes in this category such as all-expenses paid holidays or an evening at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The vast majority, however, are after the less exciting and more useful benefits such as money-off and special discounts for their grocery or high street shopping.

Traditionally this has meant offering a voucher solution that can encapsulate all different tastes and requirements of a workforce and allow the recipient to choose exactly how to spend their reward. The more modern equivalent is to offer a prepaid card, such as the Spree Card, which can be loaded with funds and will facilitate reward-savings for the employee, while the employer benefits from easy administration and branding opportunities.

So when deciding on which rewards will work best for your workforce, you must either match the reward to an individual perfectly or allow them to do it themselves. You can create headline prizes to generate interest and to drive exciting, engaging communications but attempting to second-guess your workforce's choice will run the risk of getting it wrong; and there's no point offering haute cuisine to someone who is happier with sausage and mash!

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