This blog is to discuss gift vouchers for employees. We aren’t going to talk about how it’s an alternative to taxable income — that’s between you and your tax accountant (and this writer believes we should pay taxes where we live.) What we’re going to talk about is how to make gift vouchers work for employee recognition and, in general, how to do a bonus and acknowledgement system in the right way that actually increases employee engagement.
We are going to cover the most common ways gift vouchers are used for employee recognition and offer our recommendations for the most effective use of them. This article is built around one axiom: Salary should always be expected and delivered on time. Perks are best offered as a surprise — if they become expected, they become a demotivator when not delivered again.
And we aren’t going to talk a lot about what kind of gift vouchers you should be giving to your employees. You know your own budget and you should know what would best motivate your employees. Aren’t sure? Well, ask them already!
Now onto the best and worst ideas for applying gift vouchers to employee recognition.
Employee Gift Vouchers as Reward for Goals Met
Let’s bring the worst to first. This is when you set a goal — usually top-down management style, rarely consulting the employee who is to meet it — and then if they meet a said goal, they receive a gift voucher. Maybe, if they meet different levels of said goal, they get different levels of prizes. It’s all about celebrating outcomes, not the behaviours that supported them.
If you are going to employ this method, the most important thing is to make it transparent. Any type of bonus system becomes an immediate failure and demotivator if it comes with secrecy. If you are going to enact an old-school, traditional bonus program like this, then you better roll it out openly across your company and you better be willing to explain why.
Just remember, as soon as you’ve rewarded someone for a specific outcome, the next time they have that outcome, they will expect it again or else be demotivated when they don’t get it. And then you’ll need to come up with another shiny thing to excite them next time.
The biggest risk of this method is that it tends to highlight your goal-oriented rockstars who are often short-lived at your company, while it fails to acknowledge the administrative backbone that went into that success. Celebrating team success is almost always better than constantly highlighting individual success.
Employee Gift Vouchers as Random Team Fun
Happiness at work is one of the biggest employee motivators. A lot of your employees — though not everyone — is motivated by relatedness and feeling a part of a team. Why not use gift vouchers as a way to promote that team bond and build a bit of fun and comradery? This can be a successful ingredient in an overall employee recognition program and can usually be applied in conjunction with any other bonus system.
Collective team wins can and should be celebrated. Gift vouchers are a solid way to acknowledge a job well done, so long as you leave it open to what you are celebrating. I’m not a huge fan of just throwing a party to celebrate the times you meet your team goals, but celebrating the end of a time period is absolutely fine. And don’t just celebrate your big wins. Acknowledge and celebrate lessons learned and even celebrate smaller personal milestones.
Again, if you give a voucher for one person’s birthday — or better yet work anniversary — you now have to do it for everyone. What about adding a raffle of gift vouchers as a small incentive for something nobody wants to do, like Spring desk cleanout or completing a new privacy and data restrictions training? The raffle aspect cuts your investment down, while it also limits the expectedness for the future.
Unexpected prizes are often the most successful. As soon as you deliver these gift vouchers at a regular cadence for specific behaviour, again, it becomes something expected and demotivates when it doesn’t happen next time. Celebrate your wins as often as you want, but maybe only give out vouchers as a nice surprise sometimes. Other times just have cake!
Gift vouchers are a great way to spark a bit of friendly competition. For the drone-based tech company Altitude Angel, security is essential. Every few weeks, the developers form two teams — one tries to hack into the code, while the other team tries to protect it. The winning team gets bragging rights and some gift vouchers. This is a brilliant and easy way to gamify the sometimes arduous task of securing your assets.
You can also just use gift vouchers as a random giveaway, like a prize draw during your bi-weekly retrospective or perhaps during a team-bonding activity. A pub quiz is one of my favourite team-building exercises, where the winning team, of course, gets a prize, but the whole evening is filled with laughter and connecting with something other than work.
Employee Gift Vouchers as Part of Peer-to-Peer Recognition
So many companies practice top-down employee recognition that isn’t fair and is proven not to motivate. If relatedness is a huge employee motivator, why not leverage it to create a peer-to-peer recognition system, where anyone can acknowledge anyone else publicly within the company? Then, that recognition can be converted into some sort of physical reward like gift vouchers. This sort of program is often called Merit Money.
Typeform — the startup that’s making forms (yes, yawn, forms) more interesting — is growing rapidly with the staff having doubled last year and the year before. It’s hard to maintain a company culture at that speed. Typeform practices Merit Money by using a tool called Bonusly that organizes the whole system in a transparent way. Each employee gets 100 TypeCoins a month to give away (or not) to other employees across the company. Each gift must be given with public recognition and explanation and be related to a hashtagged company value. Over time, this money accumulates and the recipients can cash it in when they want for gift vouchers, to donate to their favourite charity, or to even turn it into more TypeCoins to give away if they are feeling extra generous that month.
Project management software Redbooth wanted to have flat employee recognition too but wanted to keep it small. Each month, colleagues are nominated for Redbooth on Fire — a much cooler employee of the month. A different winner arises each month, winning a highly coveted hoodie and $100 in gift vouchers. They use their own tool for nominating and the one with the most points rises to the top — so far (probably because they keep in mind past winners) there hasn’t been a repeat, as everyone is excited to recognize someone new’s accomplishments.
The most important thing is to do this transparently — as soon as any form of bonus system or recognition becomes secretive, it becomes an employee demotivator. By keeping it peer-to-peer, everyone gets an equal shot at being acknowledged and acknowledging. This becomes the driver of the employee recognition program, while the gift vouchers are just a fun way to celebrate. But they are actually really important too. As Bonusly has found, if there’s no carrot behind the program, it dies out fast. Adding gift vouchers isn’t just a way to sweeten the deal, it’s a way to make sure that recognition is early and often.