Making for a great experience

Spa visits and sports games can go a long way in employee recognition
By Christopher Vyse
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/25/2018

In our consumer-driven society, a growing number of medium- and higher income recipients literally “have everything.” This is where experiential awards can play a big role.

To address these “wants,” travel and other experiential awards are becoming extremely popular award choices. For a football fanatic, it could be an all-inclusive trip to the Super Bowl or the World Cup — depending on her brand of football. It could be a trip to Disney World for an entire family or a day to relax at the spa.

The memories created by these experiences reinforce employees’ great work and go a long way towards thanking their families for the time and sacrifice that drove their success.

Why are experiential awards growing in popularity?

• Award value — almost exclusively, experiential recognition awards are perceived as high value.

• Wants versus needs — experiential awards address wants.

• Sharing — spouses and family members can share in the great work celebration.

• Lasting memories — photos and videos create lasting memories, extending the duration of the award experience.

The average cost per employee for experiential awards can vary from $150 for a hotel stay to $5,000 for a recreational trip.

And the variety of experiential awards is virtually limitless:

• sporting events — regional and global

• travel, hotel and vacation stays

• spa and health-related stays for physical and mental well-being

• lifestyle and hobby experiences such as fishing, golfing, driving sports cars

• team-building events — to recognize and support work teams

• mentoring — giving successful, high-potential employees time with senior executives and forging mentoring relationships

• volunteering — supported with paid time off.

Experiential awards work best for above-and-beyond performance recognition because they typically do not qualify for favourable tax treatment in a long-service recognition program. But cost savings may be achievable using experiential awards. 

For example, giving an employee time off to volunteer or the opportunity to be mentored by a senior executive can result in reduced direct costs to a company.  

Case study

A high-tech company moved to experiential awards and away from cash awards. It found non-cash awards triggered deeper positive emotional responses — employees focused on their experience and memories instead of the dollar value.

To further prove its case, the company tested experiential awards versus monetary rewards. One employee participant group received cash awards while a second group received experiential awards. The results: The experimental group was much happier — 28 per cent happier — and they stayed with their employer longer than their colleagues who received just money. 

Creating a strategy

Exceptional cash and stock awards are still an important part of an incentive compensation and recognition award mix, but how awards are perceived by recipients is just as important as their dollar value.

Employees value choice when it comes to awards. For maximum impact, an awards strategy should embrace an “and” strategy and incorporate brand-name merchandise, gift cards, electronic gift cards, country-specific vouchers, travel and entertainment, experiential awards, symbolic awards and even charitable donations. 

Each award type serves different purposes in building a meaningful recognition strategy and, in turn, ensuring employees feel truly appreciated.

While employees value choice, the awards they select aren’t necessarily ones they would buy for themselves — essentially, they desire an award catalogue that conveys a feeling of pampering, indulgence and luxury. 

 And when it comes to recognition, employees care about three things: a thank-you, an award experience and a personalized presentation.

A thank-you makes employees feel appreciated. Combining a thank-you with an award experience makes an employee feel even more appreciated. 

And adding a personalized experience for a combination of all three has the biggest impact. 

To ensure recipients receive a thank-you with a personalized presentation, it’s about investing in leadership development training for supervisors and managers to:

•ensure meaningful, purposeful presentations.

•retain top talent

•deliver on the promise of recognition 

•build team connections.

Finally, don’t forget to communicate. Publicize a recognition program’s launch and provide periodic updates. 

It is critical that managers and staff understand why the organization is recognizing, which means providing a high-level business case, talking about what behaviours are being recognized and explaining what tools and help are available.

A robust recognition strategy that achieves significant business impact includes experiential awards as a component of the overall award approach. But don’t forget to say thank-you and make the effort to do a personalized recognition presentation.

Christopher Vyse is vice-president of recognition and strategy at O.C. Tanner in Burlington, Ont. For more information, visit

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