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In an era where smart businesses retain key talent and foster engagement through recognition, experiences as rewards are among the many options available to worthy employees. While gifts, vouchers and other material goods work fine when workers have a substantial variety to choose from, experiences offer a whole new level of reward.

The interesting thing about experiences as rewards is their unique effect, both as a motivator and a tool for engagement.
Even if a large-scale rewards and recognition platform is not in the budget, offering experiences is arguably one of the greatest prizes employees could want.

What are Experiences?

Put simply, experience is not how we normally picture a prize or reward. Discounts and items have a certain degree of physical permanency. Employees apply coupon vouchers to purchases that ultimately become their property, as is the case with tangible products like electronics, for instance.

Experiences are fleeting. They are active for a short period of time; however, despite the actual activity having a fixed lifespan, the effects of experiences as rewards last much longer.

The Impact of Experiences

We all know that handing an employee a cash bonus is the least likely motivator. Giving them a choice between several different prizes is better; but how do experiences serve as motivators?

On the surface, these things seem just as fleeting as a bonus. After all, they do not last more than a week or two, depending on the experience. Some may only be designed for a few hours – such as lessons or tours.

But what experiences lack in longevity, they make up for in one key area – memories. Even the most robust items break down or become obsolete, only to be replaced and forgotten; however, a two-week cruise or day trip is something that the recipient will likely remember forever. More importantly, he or she will associate those memories with the organization that helped create them.

Experiences and Retention

Employers can find clever ways to keep their staff by using experiences as rewards. For instance, imagine an employee earns a paid vacation in six months. This builds anticipation that promotes loyalty.

In the words of Glen Tullman from Forbes:

The anticipation extends the impact of the bonus—what are the chances an employee will leave for another job in the winter if you’re paying for her family vacation in the spring?

Rewarding employees with something to do outside of work, even if it is just for a single day, will allow them to share that experience with those closest to them. Consequently, the reward does not just benefit the worker, but everyone around them as well.

If a staff member’s family views his or her employer in a favorable light, this greatly increases the chances of the employee sharing that sentiment.

Are Experiences as Rewards the Best Option?

Providing an experience is clearly effective, but where does it stand among other potential choices? Ultimately, the value is entirely dependent on the individual. If they prefer a vacation over an iPad, for instance, then obviously experience trump prizes.

But whether they know it or not, employees who choose an experience will benefit the most, as will the company who offers these rewards.

Popularity Among Young Workers

Experiences as rewards are particularly popular with millennials. According to a study by Harris Group, 78% of young employees would rather spend money on experiences over other material goods. This is monumental, to say the least.

Things like concerts, parties and festivals are just a few experiences that – according to Harris Group – 82% of millennials attended in 2013.

This is hardly surprising. It is common knowledge that millennials value flexibility over security. They are more likely to gravitate to a job that offers more free time to spend with friends an family, even if the pay is not as high as a more secure position.

Experiences and Team-Building

While experiences as rewards help improve engagement, employers can amplify this effect by adding a team element.

Harris Group reveals that 69% of millennials feel shared experiences help them feel more connected to the community and people around them. Allowing employees to attend these leisure activities together will inevitably improve their sense of teamwork – a key aspect of engagement.

The Role of Social Media

Aside from being more popular among millennials, experiences are also more impactful when shared via social media. Since younger generations are more technologically adept than their forefathers, it is no surprise that 60% of millennials share their experiences online. In fact, the influence of social media on experiences extends further, as evidenced by the fact that 90% of Instagram users follow a business account.
Publicly sharing their experiences also taps into a unique concern among millennials. Known as “fear of missing out” – or “FOMO” for short – it is this desire for inclusion that both drives the experience-based economy and encourages workers to choose such rewards.
Overall, experiences as rewards act as a motivator due to general preference and a fear of being excluded. Appealing to these sentiments turns these rewards into powerful engagement tools.

There are a lot of potential experiences to choose from, so it is impossible to cover every base; however, there are some popular ones that are guaranteed to appeal to some employees. Keeping a few of these available will increase the appeal of experiences as rewards.


Festivals are great because they can cover a broad range of interests. From music to food and everything in between, it is highly likely that an event will pique employees’ interests. Keep an

Sporting Events

Virtually everyone loves sports, even if they are not die-hard fans. The status of simply being at a major league hockey or baseball game will undoubtedly garner the attention of workers and their peers.


Cruises are highly sought-after, both for their monetary and personal value. Visiting multiple locations on a single trip means a plethora of lasting memories that will create a favorable impression for the company among employees.

Although a large short-term investment, the boost in productivity and loyalty will pay for itself in spades.


Adventures like rock-climbing, kayaking or white water rafting are an exciting way to encourage exercise. Physical fitness is extremely important for maintaining a healthy workforce; however, a simple gym membership or a few appointments with a trainer are unlikely to generate excitement.

Adding a little adventure to physical activity helps make it unique while allowing people to expand their horizons and build lasting memories.

Spa Days

Not every experience has to be action-packed or filled with activity. The relaxation offered by spas provides a great way for employees to relieve stress. In turn, they will return to work feeling rejuvenated. Add that to the inevitable improvement in morale and it is quite clear how something so simple can have such a profound impact on the worker and his or her employer.

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Guest Contributor

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