IRF Landmark Study Uncovers and Debunks Myths Surrounding Employee Rewards

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New Research Finds Award Presentation, Professional Development and Work Locale Key Determinants in Effective Employee Motivation

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The study findings point to employee award programs that should be as heavily vested in the presentation and professional development as they are on the award itself.

The Incentive Research Foundation (the IRF), in partnership with the Incentive Marketing Association and Intellective Group, is pleased to announce its latest 2015 Landmark Study on participant award experience preferences. The result is the largest, most broad-based, theoretically grounded, statistically complex study on the total award experience performed to date.

Pulling from core motivational theory, the study defines the employee total award experience to include not only the specific physical reward itself, but also the person who recognizes the recipient, how the award is communicated, and what professional impact the award carries (for example, being allowed special networking, mentors or assignments). Using advanced marketing research techniques, the study uncovers and debunks a number of myths surrounding employee awards, showing how organizations should focus more on individual employee needs and not their generation as often posited.

The study uncovered the following four major findings:

The experience is much more than just the reward.

While the physical reward is still a big part of creating a motivational experience, the study found that on average between 40% and 50% of an employee’s preferred total award experience has nothing to do with the physical reward itself, but rather the award presentation and professional development.

Employee work environment has a larger impact than their generation.

The weight employees give to who presents the award, how it is communicated, and the professional development implications are generally the same regardless of a person’s income, role, gender and even generation. Contrary to popular belief, Millennials were no different than their non-Millennial cohorts in the weight they placed on these elements. The study did uncover, however, the large impact an employee’s work locale has on their motivational preferences; for example, factory and retail workers place a much larger emphasis on award presentation and professional development than the rest of the population.

People don’t automatically prefer cash awards.

While small awards do correlate to a high preference for cash on average, 65-85% of people would select a non-cash award if all other experiential elements were optimal.

Reward preferences are very unique.

Out of 452 respondents, 99% had a unique set of preferences – different from every other person in the study. This is a strong indicator that individuals are just as unique in their consumer shopping and lifestyle habits as in their preferences for reward and recognition.

“The study findings point to employee award programs that should be as heavily vested in the presentation and professional development as they are on the award itself,” says Melissa Van Dyke, the IRF president. She adds, “These programs should also be moderated for the employee’s work environment, and sensitive to an employee’s individual preferences.”

Given its rich database, the Incentive Marketing Association, Incentive Research Foundation and Intellective Group will continue to mine this study for additional insights into employee motivation.

The IRF and Incentive Marketing Association thank its 2015 Landmark Study sponsors, Canon, Hamilton Beach, Incentive Magazine, Rymax, Citizen Watch and Connexions Loyalty.

To read the study’s white paper, visit

About the IRF:
The Incentive Research Foundation ( funds and promotes research to advance the science and enhance the awareness and appropriate application of motivation and incentives in business and industry globally. The goal is to increase the understanding, effective use, and resultant benefits of incentives to businesses that currently use incentives and others interested in improved performance.

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Elizabeth Johnson
The Incentive Research Foundation
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