6 Reasons To Gift Your Team Experiences, Not Swag

Sometimes it's better not to put a hard dollar value on your employee's worth—and a memorable experience might also have better mileage.
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As more and more people, especially Millennials and Gen Z, say they value experiences over big-ticket purchases, the trend has inevitably found its way into the workplace—rewards equal motivation and productivity. A Gallup study found that 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work, costing the global economy $7 trillion in lost productivity. Meanwhile, unemployment rates continue to drop, with employers looking for new, more innovative ways to retain workers. The post-pandemic shift toward remote work may have you wondering how you can keep your people engaged and motivated to perform, even if you don’t see them every day.

This is where experiences come in. Instead of another engraved plaque or branded swag, how about a trip to go horseback riding and river rafting in Yellowstone National Park? Instead of coffee and doughnuts in the break room, how about an Italian cooking class?

The good news is that technology is making it easier for you to make this happen. There are now entire companies, like Blueboard and GoDream, that are centered on offering employers the chance to reward their employees with experiences exclusively. There is also research that points to experiential awards as an effective way to motivate your team members.

Blueboard surveyed thousands of employees gifted this way, and 96 percent said they felt “motivated to perform on a higher level,” and 98 percent felt “genuinely appreciated for a job well done.”

For leaders used to giving gifts, it can be hard to know where to start or whether experiences will delight and motivate your employees better than a traditional gift. If you’re on the fence, consider the following.

1. Experiences are fair.

It’s easy to put a cash value on what your employees mean to your organization. But when an employee works 80 hours a week for two weeks straight, a $200 gift card doesn’t feel like enough. When employees feel undervalued, it leads to disengagement and low morale. Experiences, on the other hand, create memories and positive associations among your entire team.

2. Experiences are special.

Cash rewards are blended with pay and used for mundane, everyday purposes, like gas, utilities and groceries. These aren’t memorable or emotional and, therefore, won’t engender positive feelings toward you as an employer. Non-cash rewards, on the other hand, linger in the memory much longer. According to Professor Khim Kelly, the tangible non-cash reward “… is not economically more valuable but the value comes from it being more meaningful; they remember it a lot more and so they enjoy it a lot more. Fun, enjoyable experiences stimulate a part of the brain that cash doesn’t.”

3. Experiences are shared.

As a leader, you know that you’re probably quick to recognize your top-performing employees. However, the reward half is usually kept quiet, both by you and your team. Bragging about a big cash bonus seems inappropriate and rude. On the other hand, it’s natural to want to show off everything your hard work has earned. An experience like a river rafting trip or a spa day can be shared among the entire team in a way that a gift card can’t, allowing for more camaraderie and strengthened work relationships.

4. Experiences are motivating.

During the pandemic, keeping employees motivated while working remotely was difficult. Motivation levels can be equally volatile now that some teams are back in the office. Some people would surely rather be working from home, but gifting an experience like a kayaking trip or guitar lessons build motivation for what lies ahead, sparking higher performance.

5. Experiences boost retention.

Your top talent is more important than ever in this economy. What better way to ensure loyalty from your top performers than with experiential rewards that they will remember forever? Lack of recognition can affect morale and lead to high turnover. But top-performing employees who feel seen and valued are less likely to jump ship for another organization.

6. Experiences boost company culture.

As an organization, your company culture is everything. It can determine whether your top candidate accepts your offer or chooses your competitor. Retention rates, employee morale and your bottom line depend on it. So why not use a once-in-a-lifetime experience, whether a hike through the Grand Canyon or a VIP concert experience, to ensure everyone’s family and friends know your company culture is second to none?

By gifting employees exciting moments they can celebrate and share with one another, you are not only caring for your employees, but you are contributing to the overall productivity and retention rates of your company.

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