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Keeping staff motivated through incentives

Keeping staff motivated through incentivesKeeping staff motivated and inspired is often a challenging task for employers. It is no longer just about getting a cash bonus, but recognition for a job well done. Employees are after incentive programs and rewards beyond just the traditional company picnics. The incentive travel industry is booming and clients who offer travel incentives to their employees are finding that they are thriving in the current downturn.  Keep your staff inspired and join the incentive revolution sweeping the nation.

“Staff motivation and inspiration are the new boardroom BBQ stoppers.  It comes down to companies that pay lip service and those that have a plan – a lot of companies just talk about it because they don’t know what to do,” says Mercedes Trautwein, Account Director for EVT, the company that’s been at the forefront of incentive marketing since 1985.

Before this, staff motivation or engagement schemes revolved around the company dinner or annual picnic – sometimes a company t-shirt or cap. Little progress from Dickensian times, and the industrial revolution when workers were considered lucky to receive a bowl of gruel and a cup of milky tea.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Today’s employee demands: work-life balance; job satisfaction; an environmentally friendly workplace; opportunity for promotion, staff recreation and canteen to accommodate dietary and religious predilections; maternity / paternity leave; a crèche; recognition; rewards; ergonomic, designer workspaces with a view and a trip to Jamaica.

But more and more Australian companies are realising that staff are not motivated by money.  The Mercer Australian Benefits Review found 55 percent of Australian companies used non-monetary rewards as incentives in 2001 increasing to 76 percent in 2004.

Today the Australian incentive industry is estimated to be worth $5 billion* and growing.  With the average incentive program budget at a quarter of a million dollars, companies can’t afford not to take a strategic approach, demanding measurements, matrixes and guaranteed outcomes.

This takes finely honed marketing skills and EVT focuses on research and planning, analysing and assessing the right reward for an organisation and the individual.  Mercedes’ introduction to the incentive world was as the candy-girl, throwing tubs of ice-cream to participants at an indoor circus in her teens. She has since worked her way through the travel and events, operations, marketing and reward, buying and sales departments.

“I went on my first corporate incentive trip with my mother, Virginia, who is at the forefront of the incentive industry,” Mercedes says. Virginia set the benchmark developing programs as unique as the companies for which they are designed. While a beatboxing performer in the offices of Vodafone wouldn’t seem out of place, the staff at an investment house may be less inclined to embrace a reward scheme announced in such an unconventional fashion.

“Today’s employee expects travel as part of a reward and EVT is an accredited travel agency organising anything from a fully hosted all expenses trip to Europe to designer frocks, even a sports car,” adds EVT’s Mercedes.

So far this year, EVT incentive programmes have visited Prague, Dubrovnik, Japan and the next stop is Chile.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported a seven percent rise in the number of Australians travelling abroad in the 12 months to June, 2008 and while holiday travel is declining, incentive travel is increasingly contributing to this figure.

“Just as incentives motivate – poorly thought out and executed programs will have the reverse effect,” confirms Mercedes.  “It is easy to annoy or patronise staff if they feel like they are being given a carrot and a stick and told to giddyup.

“We carefully consider the lifestyle and drivers of each employee and have a series of analytics to back these up.  A two week tour around The Hermitage is bliss for some.  Equally an exhausted frequent flying executive will be happiest with poolside family time that doesn’t involve an airport.

“The secret is to make an emotional impact. There’s no course or university degree that teaches you this; it’s a skill that is developed by understanding how to push the right buttons for the right people.”  Mercedes says, “It’s staging adventures that people will remember for years to come.

Mercedes and her team devise and participate in these adventures.  “Like all travel, there is the unexpected and how you handle that, determines the difference between success and disaster.  Not long ago there was a plane delay which was beyond anyone’s control – but the game of cricket in the airport departure lounge, with hastily bought, but fabulous, duty free shop prizes, is still talked about today.  It was quick simple and fun – most of all, distracting.

“On another trip in Dubrovnik we pretended the bus had broken down and clients were provided with bicycles to ride into the entrance of Nelahozeves Castle making it a memorable journey.  Only trouble was, on the way home the bus really did break down – and we didn’t have any bicycles secreted around the corner that time.  The participants thought it was another stunt and it will be a long time before we live that one down.”

If it sounds like a dream job, it is. Although there is no time off.  “Even in Noumea on my day off clients joined me in a hip hop class, and while I might be lying beside the Adriatic Sea you can be sure I am working through the checklist for the next event.”

“We’re in the throes of the incentive revolution and companies that don’t plan to promote incentives and motivate staff will fade into history.”

If you’re going to be part of the incentive revolution do it right.

  • Don’t try to organise travel if you haven’t done it before. Hire a professional.
  • A big incentive trip isn’t for everyone. Be careful the reward isn’t a burden.
  • Incentives have to be achievable. Push your people to increase their output by 10 percent more than they already are – not 100 percent.

* Australian Incentive Show, 2008

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