A day to remember

Experience days can be used to reward staff by providing them with positive memories that also have the benefit of being associated with their employer, says Nicola Sullivan

Bungee jumping, skydiving, rally car racing and diving with sharks are just some of the more unusual ways employers can reward staff for their hard work. There are also a number of experiences that are suitable for more sedate members of the workforce. Afternoon tea, a cultural day out or even a trip to a luxury spa are just a few of the options available. And for staff that are keen to learn new things, there are masterclass cooking courses and flying lessons.

The theory is that whatever experience employees are treated to, they are bound to remember it, perhaps more than a cash bonus or retail vouchers that can easily be absorbed into household bills or grocery shopping.

Heather Rogers, head of corporate sales at Red Letter Days, explains: “The main argument around using experiences as an incentive [to say] thank you and reward [staff] is that they are verifiable. As cheesy as it sounds, for some employees [experiences] that they have only dreamed of doing, rather than receiving a gift that they might have already, really give them a memory and have that buzz factor.” Chris Smith, marketing director of Acorne, which owns Virgin Experience Days, adds: “Experiential lifestyle is a new trend that is coming in and people do want to do different things. They know they wouldn’t be able to afford a Ferrari but they wouldn’t mind driving one around a race track, or they may have always wanted to go in a [hot air] balloon.”

In order to maximise the potential of experience days to motivate and engage staff, employers must consider a number of different factors. Ensuring that they offer rewards that staff will value is essential. Employers can either tailor them to suit their workforce’s tastes and interests or offer a choice of experiences to staff who can then select the activity they would most like to participate in.

As well as identifying and budgeting for the most suitable types of experiences, employers must also decide how staff can qualify to receive the reward, as well as how they will present it to recipients. Experience days can be used as a reward if staff win titles such as employee of the month, or to thank an employee for long service. They are also particularly effective in sales environments where there is a high turnover of staff. For example, employees may be encouraged to stay with a company if they are awarded with a holiday in January, which does not take place until August.

However, Peter Clayton, director of corporate sales at Buy a Gift, believes this type of strategy is often unnecessary because the experiences themselves are often enough to retain staff. “When an employee thinks about the company they work for as a place where they get to go on fun and exciting experiences, and that’s their memory of the reward the company gives them for good performance, then they are not going to leave anyway. The way you think about your employer is related to how they reward you on top of your salary,” he explains.

Some experience providers offer a scheme, through which employees accumulate points with a cash value that they can then put towards an experience. Red Letter Days, for instance, enables employees to collect points, each worth £1, throughout the duration of a motivation scheme. “[A points-based scheme] is fantastic if you’re going to award little and often. It [can be] used for customer referrals, for example, if [staff] refer a new customer to the company, they can be awarded points, [on] training courses, [and] to better reward [staff] above and beyond the duty of their role. People can be awarded for behaviours [in both] individual and team work,” says Rogers.

Experience days can also be used as a form of team building or to motivate a team. As well as helping to strengthen staff relationships, they may help to improve each individual’s performance. For example, employers can present the reward on the condition that all team members hit their individual targets.

Once employers have identified which experiences will suit their workforce and how employees will earn them, they need to concentrate on focusing as much attention on the reward as possible. This can be achieved if the experience is presented by an employee’s manager. Alternatively, employers could hold an event at which staff can be presented with their reward in the presence of family or friends, suggests Rogers. Once the presentation has taken place it is worth asking for feedback from staff.

“To make the most of experiences, it is important to make a big deal over them. So when they are being presented [it] needs to be done by their manager. What you get with experiences is a massive buzz [from] people coming back from it the following day,” Clayton explains