Motivation schemes can build long-term engagement

Every reward manager has their own take on what helps to motivate staff. Get it right and reward may help to boost the organisation’s productivity and improve employee engagement.


  • Motivation schemes can boost productivity and employee engagement.
  • Non-monetary schemes are better at promoting sustainable long-term motivation among employees.
  • Monetary schemes still have a place in motivation, but their scope is limited.
  • Employers can take advantage of social media to create engagement and motivate their employees.
  • Employees that are motivated will have pride in their organisation.

Traditional reward schemes tackle the issue by offering monetary rewards. Such systems are simple to understand for employers and employees. Achieve a goal, say a weekly sales target, and an employee will get extra money. But the consensus in the reward industry has shifted away from cash-for-motivation in favour of long-term engagement strategies. Tracy Aslam, head of sales at New Look Business Solutions, says: “At stage one of the motivation process, we would look at setting tasks based on employees’ strengths, which will give them confidence.”

Aslam says this first step establishes a sense of achievement and belonging in employees, creating a base their employer can build on. “It is important that employees have pride in the organisation, that they know their role in the business and have room to grow,” she says. “[Employers] also need to make sure rewards are relevant to the employee demographic; they can’t take a blanket approach.”

Rewarded financially

John Edmonds, director of strategy and marketing at Pearce Mayfield, believes there is still room for a traditional motivation strategy, in which an employee is rewarded financially, but staff that use a lot of cognitive and creative thinking are not necessarily motivated by money as much as other employee groups. “A behavioural approach is only for the short term,” he says. “If [employers] reward their staff financially, it will only last for a short period.”

Gift cards used as a motivation tool can create longer-term engagement because there is a double element of reward: when staff receive their voucher and when they go out and spend it. “[With a voucher], employees generally remember what they have spent it on,” says Aslam. “But if [the money] has disappeared into their monthly salary, it could get swallowed up in mundane bills.”

Edmonds tries to encourage the idea of meaningful work, which goes well beyond financial rewards. Such strategies help staff realise their role within an organisation and how they can affect its future.

“This is why thousands of people do charity work,” he says. “They are not getting any money for it, but they feel gratified by helping out and making a difference. For example, we worked with a water supply organisation that teamed up with the charity Water Aid to volunteer throughout the year. The scheme was oversubscribed, and it helped the employer boost staff motivation without giving a monetary incentive.”

Short-term strategies

But Duncan Brown, principal, reward and engagement at Aon Hewitt, believes short-term motivation strategies work best. “Non-financial recognition works in a short-term capacity and the closer it can be given to an event or behaviour, the better.”

Brown says HR professionals are currently too focused on short-term cost-cutting and not enough on long-term employee development. “They have become very focused on a relatively small elite of talent, whereas the organisations we admire have broad-based career development programmes in place. Share plans, if they are well communicated and broadly based, are successful. More successful organisations are likely to have them.”

Meanwhile, Danny Clenaghan, managing director at Argos for Business, says employers should tailor their motivation strategies around personal landmarks, such as birthdays and holidays. “The important thing is to tap into what employees are interested in,” he says. “For instance, their hobbies, their desires, their interests or whether it’s their family and friends they are looking to help. We try to get employees to customise schemes and help us make our approach as targeted as possible.”

For example, the motivation factor could be that an employee is looking to get a certain aspirational product, such as a tablet or e-reader. “We are focusing on the family side at the moment, particularly, at certain times of the year, like Christmas,” he says. “If employees know that by Christmas time they could have one or two presents for their family, that’s quite a good long-term motivator.”

Utilise social media

Employers can also utilise social media to engage and motivate staff long-term. Colin Hodgson, sales director at Edenred, says: “Organisations are taking advantage of social media to engage with their employees and offer them structure. It’s about maintaining and localising their motivation strategy.”

One option is to use non-monetary recognition via technologies such as thank-you e-cards, says Hodgson. “It’s great to have the ability as an employer to log into a database to find your employees’ details and send a personal message of thanks. The message can be posted to an online billboard, where fellow employees can add their own commentary.”

Hodgson believes such non-monetary reward triggers an enthusiastic response from employees because it recognises their achievements in a personal way.

As the reward industry moves away from cash-for-achievement strategies, social media and the internet offer employers versatile tools to use to motivate staff. But a key factor for a successful strategy is ensuring employees understand their role in their organisation.

Case study: Asda employees cash in on good customer service


Asda runs an employee recognition scheme that rewards staff for great customer service and when the organisation’s goals have been met.

The scheme, Asda Stars, operates in 660 locations and is available to 177,000 employees.

So far, 68,856 employees have received awards, with 41,828 recognised as ‘unique’ employees for making exceptional efforts.

An employee builds up Star points by meeting particular goals, and can then redeem them on a variety of rewards.

Jane Earnshaw, head of reward and recognition at Asda, says: “We are trying to reward people and recognise people who uphold the organisation’s core beliefs. The most popular reward is the Asda gift card, which makes the recognition personal.”

Each store, distribution centre and head office also nominate a ‘colleague of the month’, who is awarded Star points.

“A thank-you should have some kudos behind it,” says Earnshaw. “Rather than adding an extra £10 to someone’s pay, with no event or communication and no real meaning as to why or how they got that, we think it is important to create an event out of thanking our employees.

“There is no silver bullet to long-term motivation; it is a combination of pay, work environment, learning and development opportunities and many other factors.”

Viewpoint: Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School

Gary Cooper - Professor of organisational psychology and health, lancaster university Management school

We have heard so much from senior bankers that bonuses are an essential part of their remuneration package, but does it really motivate them or is it merely an expected aspect of their job description?

I have real doubts that sustainable motivation comes from a bonus culture. As we have seen in the banking industry, it had the unintended consequence of encouraging risk-taking behaviour that ultimately created the financial crisis.

For me, sustainable motivation comes from some sense of ownership of success. This can come in the form of an enterprise management information (EMI) or share ownership scheme, or from sharing profits at the end of the year, but for all employees, not just senior executives.

The most important element of sustainable motivation among a workforce is that they perceive that the success of the business is their success, but how this is translated into employee benefits may differ greatly, given the sector or culture of the particular business.

Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.”

The government is currently consulting on the idea of giving employees share ownership in their businesses if they give up certain employment rights, which is missing the point. We know from various success stories and management research that when employees have share ownership, they will deliver to the bottom line, and it will be sustainable, so there is no need to tie it to giving up any rights.

Short of share ownership, it is also about asking staff what the organisation can do that would enhance their loyalty, and what benefits would be motivating for them.

Senior management in many businesses just do not engage with their employees from shop floor or even to top floor about these issues. If they did, we might find an answer to sustainable motivation from within the organisation.