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GiftCard Partners Blog

The Science of Non-Cash Rewards

Posted, by Rachel Merkin on 12/21/2017

Cash is the simplest way to reward someone. It’s universal, everyone needs it so you know when you provide it, it will carry meaning to the recipient. However, if you dig into the science of cash versus non-cash rewards you might see the employee rewards landscape differently.

 In a recent study by the Incentive Research Foundation the following data about non-cash incentives and their impact were discovered. 

What people consciously think they want, isn’t what they subconsciously want.

According to the IRF survey, what people said they preferred for a reward, isn’t what their subconscious actions suggest they actually want. Their verbal answers said cash, but a number of biometric data points suggested the subjects of the study, who are representatives of the average American employee, actually preferred the non-cash option for a reward or incentive.

Why the discrepancy? According to the Psychology of Preference, an established theory of behavioral science, people often verbally choose options that require the least amount of thought, rather than what they might actually enjoy the most, simple because it’s the easiest choice to make.

Cash fits that bill, we know we can use it, while non-cash rewards take a bit more thought in how we apply them to our daily lives. However, the non-cash rewards do have a longer lasting trophy value than cash.  

Cash isn’t the most motivating reward.

Even though a lot of employees, when presented with both cash and non-cash options will choose cash. However, if you look at the biometric data associated with the decision making you’ll see that the choice to take a cash reward or incentive represents the longest time-to-choice.

This means that there is a hesitation or a reluctance to accept cash versus the non-cash options. This likely has to do with the fact that cash is universal, you can use if for whatever you need it for. However, non-cash rewards represent a treat. Employees get to treat themselves or their families to a special meal or experience with a non-cash reward. So as an employee, do you take the universal reward, which may go toward something as mundane as your electric bill, or do you take a non-cash reward that can provide you something you wouldn’t normally get to experience? This dichotomy further supports the “Psychology of Preference” described above.

Even with an emphasis on cash, non-cash rewards reign.

In employee reward programming, most companies offer employees a choice in prize. Not all employees want the same thing, even when one option is cold hard cash, the universal gift. Based on the IRF study, biometrics prove that cash is not king.

According to the study, when cash is offered among non-cash options 62 percent of survey participants chose a non-cash option, even when cash is emphasized. This further supports the theory that non-cash incentives, while statistically the most chosen, are not the most desired or fulfilling reward for employees.

As any employer, the investment in employee rewards is risky. The easiest way to guarantee a return is to provide rewards that are meaningful. Cash may be easiest reward to choose, but the science behind employee incentives reveals non-cash rewards drive employee motivation, productivity and loyalty to your company.


Topics: non cash rewards, Employee Incentives & Rewards

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