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.”

other articles in this section

Banff, Alberta

Incentive Travel Insights

Gifting Guidance

The Renaissance of Incentive Travel

Promotional products your attendees will love. Really.

Incentive Research in Action

History in the Making

Mindful Indulgences

Dynamic Duos

Status Report

Editor's Choice: 6 Springtime Gifts

Warm up to Winter Ski Incentives

Set to Impress

Expert Tips for Virtual Incentive Events

Party Pivots

Presents of Mind: The Art of Virtual Gifting

A Rewarding Experience

Noteworthy: Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, Bermuda

Cards vs. Cash

Good Times

Value Validation

Trip Trends

Sailing Away

The More, The Merrier

Holiday Angst

Making the Connection

Make an Impact

Mutual Appreciation

Healthy Options for Incentive Trips

A Rewarding Experience

Cruising the Rhone River

Celebrating Employee Milestones

How Do they Do It

Eyes on the Prize

Healthy employees = Healthy company

Measuring ROI

Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida

Good Sensations

How to Design an Effective Gift Card Incentive Program

Fogo Island Inn, Fogo Island, Newfoundland

The Case for including Spouses on Incentive Trips

Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya

On-site Gifting

Rim to River Hiking in the Grand Canyon

Sparkling Hill Resort, Vernon, BC

Creating incentive trips that appeal to everyone

The Brave New World of Gift Cards

Award Show Winners

Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina

Take me to the river

Click + Praise

The Science of Incentives

Incentive trips go family-style

Knock-their-socks-off gifts for hard-to-buy-for executives

Building a Better Program

Perfect Pampering

Indulge Me!

Customized Recognition Programs

Virtual gift cards, the new reality

Gift Cards that Give

Go with a Pro, in the Spa and on the Greens

Chartering private jets

Offsite Employee Engagement

Behaviour-based Recognition

Canadian tax implications for employee gifts

A Christmas Bonus with all the Fixin's!

Peer-to-peer recognition

Everyday Green Heroes

Recognizing Environmental Actions in the Workplace

Reward and Recognize Every Day!

New Year, New You!

Co-Branded Cards

Last-minute gifts and rewards

Double Pampering Hits the Spot!

Hidden Gems: Cobble Beach Resort


Free and Fab Employee Rewards

Incentive Programs Used by the Pros

Think Local for Corporate Gifts

21st Century Gift Cards

Time for an Incentive Travel Update

Reward Best-Practices for the Holiday Season

Small Product, Big Impact

Spa Rewards, Done Right

Staying Motivated

Gift Giving Guidelines

The Pros and Cons of Gift Cards

Eco-Friendly Corporate Gift Ideas

Green Guides

Travel Rewards Strategy

Speaker Gifts that Shine with Gratitude

Tax Treatment of Incentive Travel