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October 2015

New IMA Study Examines Award Preferences, Dispels Myths

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Companies looking to reward and motivate their employees with incentive awards need to focus on the total reward experience, and it frequently doesn't include cash, according to a new study commissioned by the Incentive Marketing Association.

"The Participant Study," which was conducted by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) through Intellective Group for IMA, is the largest, most statistically complex study of participant award preferences done by an outside entity for the incentive industry to date. More than 450 individuals were queried in depth on more than 80 non-cash award types to determine their preferred kinds of travel, merchandise, gift card incentives and perks. The data collected produced each participant's most and least desired total reward experience.

Some of the major findings in the study's first installment include:

  • The research offers some of the best proof yet of the motivational importance of non-cash awards as part of the total award experience, and dispels the myth that if you give participants a choice, they will always choose cash.
  • It's the total reward experience that carries more positive impact than the reward itself. The study found that between 40 percent and 70 percent of a participant's preferred award experience was determined by non-award presentation factors such as who gives the award, how it's communicated and what professional impact it carries.
  • Out of 452 study participants, 448—nearly all of them—each had unique award profiles in terms of preferred award, presentation/ceremonial aspects, potential for professional development and advancement, among many other preferences. In all, the study participants personally valued and weighed more than 110 different aspects of the total award experience. This presents a challenge for businesses to work harder than ever to personalize incentive programs, as there is no "one size fits all" approach.
  • For large rewards, such as annual sales program recognition, the study found that when participants were rewarded by the right level of management, with the right communication and professional development, 80 percent would prefer incentive travel and experiences in that award scenario, not cash.
  • For smaller awards, such as short-term and spot recognition programs, the study found that when participants were rewarded by the right level of management and with the right communication and professional development potential, about 66 percent of participants preferred a personally meaningful non-cash reward instead of cash.

"A key lesson for businesses from this study is that every type of reward—merchandise, gift cards and travel—all outperform cash, and that assuring a positive and personal total reward experience has a major impact on participant motivation and behavior, which ultimately affects employee performance and talent retention," said IMA Executive Director Donna Chrobak. She noted that further findings from The Participant Study are being compiled, and will appear in future reports.

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