Cards vs. Cash

By Astrid Van Den Broek

Is cash really king? While that’s long been the thinking, research from Brigham Young University shows that gift cards may better motivate a workforce. The study followed one workplace’s six-week wellness challenge and found that while 60 per cent of the participants chose fi nancial rewards, those who selected gift card prizes were 25 per cent more likely to complete their challenge. The reason? Gift cards let employees “treat” themselves and yet offered fl exibility on how to do it. “And most organizations don’t want to give cash because there are challenges around that. So gift cards are one of the most cash-like reward mechanisms,” says Chris Jones, vice-president, digital strategies and services Canada, with Toronto-based Blackhawk Network Canada.

What Type of Card?

There are two options: “‘Open-loop’, or a Visa/ Mastercard product, can be used anywhere and is most like cash,” says Jones. “‘Closedloop cards’ are retail-specifi c and tier-one brands like an HBC, Indigo, etc. work best.”

Plastic versus digital cards is another debate. “We’re seeing a shift from plastic to virtual products. From an organizational perspective, there’s a liability if you’re housing those physical cards on site. This could be $10,000 worth of cards locked away in a desk somewhere,” says Jones. There can also be delays in getting physical cards out to employees (say, if you have offi ces across the country), while virtual cards offer immediacy. “However, product depth for virtual cards should be considered—not all of the retailers are there yet with them,” he adds.

Talk it Up

Education around gift-card incentive programs is critical. “The most effective programs are clearly communicated to employees and have easily understood objectives,” says Aaron Carr, founder of Montreal-based Qarrot. “Also, you may want to articulate the rationale behind your goals. Such as: we want to offer an incentive to make X number of calls because we want the company to grow more quickly.”

It also helps to make rewarding the cards a public display. “This brings the program to life,” says Carr. “It helps people engage with it because they see it working.”

What’s New

While gift cards are traditionally linked to incentives such as sales performance, they are now expanding beyond those areas of focus in the workplace to other areas of importance, such as health and safety goals or wellness initiatives. And employers are coming up with newer ways to track reward programs that ensure visibility for employees—be it an intranet, an app or a social media feed.

Good Experience

Finally, when gifting the cards, be explicit about the details to redeem the card to ensure a positive experience. “Include: where and how can it be redeemed,” says Jones. “When users understand the details, you don’t create a bad scenario with your reward program.”

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