Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive & Recognition at Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services UK, talks about the changing nature of experiential rewards.
As experiential rewards become more popular, how has this benefit changed?
Traditionally, they have been a luxurious, long-haul, five-day trip for top performers. Today, they have become more tactical – as a way of rewarding individual or groups of employees for demonstrating certain behaviors or achieving certain targets. So, the experiences are typically provided at a lower cost, for a shorter duration and to a broader range of people. Sodexo research showed that 17% of employees would like to share experiences with their team, and 25% say they would like to share rewards with family or friends.
What makes experientials so special, compared to other types of rewards?
Cash incentives tend to be spent on day-to-day expenses, such as a utilities bill or shopping – and the reward is soon forgotten. With experientials, you can create something that money can’t buy, something far more special, relevant and long-lasting. Another key difference is having the build-up, the event itself and then all the bragging rights that follow. For example, when Harry Potter World opened, we hosted the very first dinner in the Great Hall for a client – which created excitement before and afterwards.
So, preparation is a key part of the process?
Yes, it’s important to package the event effectively. So, the communications start when people know they are going, either with teasers or items such as personalized luggage tags or toiletries, which could also be client-branded, so people are reminded why they have received them. Afterwards, a gift in the form of photos is always popular, either as prints in a hard-back album or an electronic version.
What are the pitfalls for companies to avoid?
They can sometimes get fixated on a destination, even when it doesn’t really match the employee profiles. Dubai is wonderful to visit, but if you are rewarding younger men who want to party, they would probably prefer somewhere like Ibiza. Age differences are important. Typically, the older generation is more well-travelled, so a more luxurious, long-haul has more appeal. For Millennials, concerts tickets, back-stage passes and invitations to the opening of the latest nightclub are more popular.
What are the most memorable experientials you have arranged?
We linked a 5-star safari holiday to South Africa with Corporate Social Responsibility. As part of the trip, we took the group to an orphanage which the client supported as part of its CSR commitment – providing books, pens, reading materials and donations for school uniforms. For the group, it was the best part of the trip, as it brought home both CSR and the difference between safari luxury and the lives of many people in South Africa.
Fabulous for employees, but what about employers?
Any reward has to demonstrate a return on the investment, so the starting point is to define what success looks like. Is it increasing engagement, driving sales or a better understanding of the company’s brand? There are ways to measure these indicators, both during and after the trip – through feedback, financial uplift or the sharing among employees. It’s worth noting that 63% of higher performing organizations show a clear preference for non-cash and experiential rewards.
How can Sodexo give companies practical help in deploying experiential rewards?
Sodexo BRS has a wealth of experience in this area, along with an in-depth knowledge of the different employee profiles – and what appeals to each one. For example, Sodexo research in 2016 among 600 employees identified the relative appeal of 16 different types of benefits and rewards across five different countries and three different age groups, including Baby Boomers. Having such detailed analysis of employee needs gives Sodexo insight needed to offer tailored company schemes. In some cases, a reward can be less targeted and more inclusive: Separate research by Sodexo found the third most popular reward among SME leaders to be an experiential one – a company party, typically at Christmas.
For more tailored experiential rewards, our teams have expertise in terms of destination selection, and delivery in terms of logistics and contacts with hotels and venues. Where we are different from other providers is that we provide an end-to-end service, which includes devising the reward recognition campaign so that the client’s core message comes across; communications during the build-up; the travel details and post-event activities to maximize the return.