Surprisingly, cash does not make a good incentive award.


With the varying demographics and widely divergent backgrounds that exist in today’s workforce, it is virtually impossible to pick safety awards or group of awards that will appeal to all your employees. And if the awards you choose do not appeal to the vast majority, your program will have a greatly reduced chance of success. The good news is that with a little research, you can determine the types of awards that will work best for your company, thereby maximizing your chances of success.

Do cash awards work?

Cash sounds appealing to everyone - it’s the reason we go to work, it’s how we support our families and pay our bills. But surprisingly, cash does not make a good incentive award. The White House Conference on Productivity determined that it takes at least three dollars in cash to produce the same results as one dollar in other non-cash awards. With limited safety award budgets, this alone is a significant reason not to use cash.

Another problem is that cash safety awards can become embedded in your overall compensation plan and therefore, very difficult to remove at a later date. Many companies that have implemented cash programs in the past have stated that what was originally an award ultimately became an entitlement.

Get employees involved

Frankly, there is no perfect award system, but in order to know what would work best for your organization, you should consider spending some time canvassing your employees and discussing various types of award options. Research conducted within the incentive industry has shown that the most powerful awards you can use in an incentive program are the ones employees have chosen for themselves! Employee involvement in determining what awards will motivate them means that they will more effectively translate your objectives into their own personal goals. This is a major step forward in realizing your program objectives.

The award industry

For years the most widely used awards in the incentive industry were single items of merchandise, small groups of merchandise or selections from catalogs containing hundreds of merchandise items. These merchandise groupings are most often found in years of service programs. Twenty or thirty years ago there were virtually no other options to these types of merchandise awards for safety programs, and they are still relied on by some people today. Whether they are the best awards to use depends on their effectiveness with your employees.

Other award types often used for safety efforts have included such things as caps, coffee cups, tee shirts, pocket knives etc., imprinted with the company logo or program theme. Since safety efforts are all about communication, in our opinion, these logo type items are tremendous ways to keep the communications of your program alive and refreshing. When every one of your employees is wearing the safety “theme” related tee shirt, or cap, it can be a powerful way to increase awareness of your safety efforts.

Many programs today still contain company logo items. While these types of items are instrumental in communicating your effort, you need to be certain that they actually motivate your employees to change their behavior and perform in a safe manner.

Recognizing results and changing behavior

When designing your safety award system it is also important to determine if you simply want to recognize results, change behavior, or both. Different award types can be used, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

Year-end or periodic recognition of individual or team performance can be done using trophy type items or a specific award that everyone can receive. If you are trying to change behavior of the individual, you might want to consider smaller and more incremental awards issued on a consistent and continuous basis. Behavioral research has shown that small, positive and immediate awards will have more impact on behavior than large, future and uncertain ones.

A family- and budget-friendly solution

Since family support for your safety program encourages safety awareness on and off the job, your safety awards should parallel the wishes and desires of the family. For the last several years the number one awards in the incentive industry, as measured annually by Incentive Magazine, are gift cards. They are number one for the simple reason that they provide far more choice, flexibility, and value than any other award. And they provide tremendous family appeal.

In our experience, safety award budgets per person are typically a very small fraction of the employee’s annual income. Most programs we see are in the $20 to $30 per month range. While budgets can be found at $50 to $200 per month, these are usually reserved for companies whose incidents of injury or accident result in significant cost to the corporation. For this reason gift cards have become the ideal award for safety programs because with these typically low per-person budgets, you can guarantee that the majority of your program budget gets into the hands of your employees.

Traditional merchandise programs can be effective, but the cost of merchandise when compared to retail will mean less value for your employees. The need for the universal appeal of cash, which can be misperceived as an entitlement, can be avoided with gift cards that offer the dollar value of the card being used for real pricing of an award that is personally meaningful to the employee. For this reason gift cards will appeal to the wide demographics and diversity that exist in your organization.

You can make your selection from the many incentive companies that provide gift cards, or you can purchase them yourself. However, when selecting this type of award, consider using a company that offers the widest selection of cards from which your employees can choose.

Remember, when they can get the award they want, your employees will work harder to earn it and you will have a better chance of changing behavior and