Guest Post by Scott Huntington

Much has been said on the pros and cons of workplace incentives. Does an incentive program actually create productive behavior, or is it just a short-term solution to meeting the quota?

With the right approach, an incentive program may be just what your company needs to achieve its objectives. Take the following four methods into consideration when developing a reward-based system.

workplace incentives1 – Help workers see the big picture

When workers see the potential for a bonus check or larger commission rate, it can be like looking at a hundred yard sprint. All that matters during the race is the reward at the finish line, making workers forget company values and possibly obtain those benefits by unethical means.

Stress not how specific behavior reaps good benefits but how this behavior affects the overall mission and goals your company strives for. That should be the true achievement of a major sale or client acquisition, while the bonus checks are just extra.

2 – Develop teamwork incentives

Offering incentives to the best team is a great way to teach valuable lessons on collaboration and sharing responsibility, and workers often brainstorm innovative ideas when they can bounce opinions off each other.

Research also shows that team incentives can increase productivity as much as 44%. Other than the obvious fact that more people working together gets the job done faster, teamwork keeps each member more focused on their tasks. They may overlook the reward in light of creating a successful, driven environment and excellent work.

However, beware aware of issues that these incentives may create, such as unhealthy competition between teams and lack of work among some team members. To prevent these problems, pin competitions against rival companies or ask the teams to beat their own personal goal.

3 – Instill meaning in the work

Of course, all these plans aren’t going to work if employees just think you’re throwing out incentives to get them to produce better content. You have to instill a sense of meaning in the job they’re doing; otherwise you’ll only see their best work when they’re chasing after the best benefits.

Explain why each individual brings a unique vision to the table and how he/she can receive personal, intrinsic benefits which are more valuable than money-oriented ones. Workers should understand that they each hold an important place in the company and have a purpose worth their effort and time.

Giving them a little freedom in how they perform, provided they produce quality work, is a good way to instill that sense of purpose and individual value. You could even make an incentive program out of it by asking workers to develop new methods of performing tasks that are different than the current system. This makes workers feel significant because their personal ideas are considered, and it creates potential for your company to perform better with an improved system.

4 – Make the incentives worth working for

I’ll give you a tale of two companies I worked for. The first tried a very complicated incentive plan. The company wanted to profits to reach 20% growth from the previous year. They said if that happened, they’d take anything over 20%, take 20% of that, and divide that up between employees biased on the percentage of their payroll. Confused? We were. Then we realized that 1. Even getting to 20% growth was a near impossible goal, and 2. Even if we achieved our goal, most employees would only get around $20. That didn’t motivate anyone, and we missed the goal by a mile.

The other company had a very simple and clear incentive program for doing reading and training outside of work to help us grow our knowledge. Read a certain number of books, pick a reward. I recently completed my 50th book and enjoyed a trip to Ocean City, NJ for free, which as you can see was a fantastic perk. I wouldn’t have read 50 books for $20. Those books has helped me progress and move forward in the company, too.

A Final Word of Advice

If you choose to offer incentives, take great consideration into feedback from employees. Ask them what they like or don’t like about the programs and what incentives would motivate them to achieve more. Plan carefully and focus on how workers should feel when they reach their goal.

Guest Author

Scott HuntingtonScott Huntington is a career expert who studies employee productivity and creative workplaces. Read more at or follow him @SMHuntington.