Choosing the right incentives for your employees

by Cat Preston

Building a culture of Reward and Recognition within your organisation can have a positive impact on your company performance, employee motivation, and your recruitment and retention rates (as we’ve previously written about).  

While it’s a great start (and generally good practice) to praise your employees for good work, successfully embedding the programme into your culture requires careful consideration. 

To ensure your programmes give more motivational impact, consider the participant performance demographic and what drives them. Different groups have different motivators, and we can generally categorise participants into one of two groups when designing incentive programmes.

Top Performers

As the name implies, this team consistently delivers outstanding results. Public recognition and the desire to be seen as part of the elite are typically their key motivators. Cash incentives rarely drive their discretionary effort since they expect commission or bonus structures to boost their income.

For Top Performers, respect and admiration are what they crave. An exclusive event that acknowledges their hard work is a great fit. The fear of missing out (FOMO) also drives them to surpass their targets. 

A travel incentive can be just the answer to inspire Top Performers. Employees perceive it as a high-value, exclusive reward (employers, take note!). Interestingly, cash rewards may not motivate them, but the thought of the organisation spending significant sums on them does bring them pleasure. Group travel incentives create the impression of indulgent expense, though in reality, they often cost less than participants assume. We’ve had winners enquire about trip costs, which we NEVER reveal, and their estimates are ALWAYS higher than the actual amount!

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Middle Performers

This group is more complex, ranging from individuals on the cusp of elite performance to those requiring some more direct management. Economically, the middle-performing categories are often less financially secure than Top Performers and would benefit from “pay-out” awards in the form of vouchers for indulgent experiences or store vouchers. 

The Middle Performer section can be further divided into three segments: Upper, Middle, and Lower. Each segment requires an incentive tailored to their motivators.

This group shares a similar motivator with Top Performers, as public recognition remains a key driver, complemented by tangible monetary benefits. A competition structure to drive performance works well for this segment. An excellent example is a league table displaying winners and promoting a known luxury or monetary reward.

This group acknowledges that they are not in the high-value qualifying zone. However, their behaviour can still be influenced by designing an award scheme focused on incremental gain. This approach, known as a Threshold Structure, rewards meeting a specific threshold with a designated prize. For example, it could involve rewarding performance improvements in targeted products. “You sold 8 of Product X last month—sell 10 this month and win ‘Y’.” Alternatively, a bundled sales structure can be implemented, where a bonus is granted for a bundle of sales, such as receiving £5 for 3 sales instead of the usual £1 per sale.


Individuals within the Lower segment share motivators similar to those in the Middle segment. However, we must be cautious about creating structures that provide incremental rewards for work that should already be accomplished. This is especially important when reward mechanisms are closely tied to cash, such as vouchers. If not configured properly, participants may view these awards as part of their regular remuneration, making it challenging to end the incentive without impacting base performance.

Understanding what motivates your people and enticing employees to channel their energy into their work and to go the extra mile can truly be the gift that keeps on giving long after each Reward & Recognition programme has concluded. Remember, a well-designed programme tailored to specific groups can spark their drive and bring out the best in your workforce.

Ready to explore how a Reward & Recognition programme can get your staff to bring their A-game every day?

Reach out on or call 01452 733 300 to speak to the team today.

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