Engaging employees with experiences

Enlightened companies know the importance of rewarding their good performers. An employee who feels appreciated and whose hard work is recognised is far more likely to be loyal and continue to be a valuable member of the organisation.

So rewarding — and hence motivating — staff by giving corporate gifts or premiums has become relatively standard practice globally. But what form those premiums take is changing. While a neatly wrapped trinket might be appreciated by some, getting the right item can be fraught with difficulties.

Uninspiring gifts that are not cherished and quickly forgotten fail to deliver the desired impact. Instead, they can end up being counter-productive. Balancing the desires of male and female staff, finding something suitably premium on a budget and avoiding the clichés of unwanted paperweights are all pitfalls of corporate gifts.

So, it isn’t surprising that offering experiences instead of physical gifts is a growing trend in corporate premiums. In Europe and the US, it’s long been standard practice to offer experiences and it is starting to gain ground in Asia-Pacific.

Storing memories
Red Balloon is Australia’s leading experiences company and is part of the Global Experience Alliance, which consists of experience providers across the world. The corporate experiences market is more mature in Australia, and Red Balloon’s publicist Philippa Lowe (who is now working with another organisation) says memories are often more treasured than physical items.

“When we reflect on our lives, experiences form the bulk of what we remember. People are hoarding so much ‘stuff’. But if we think about it, we can’t take it with us. It’s the memories, the stories and our shared moments that we hold close.” says Lowe. 

“So for corporate gifts, acknowledging your team with an experience that they will then talk about round the water cooler has great advantages. Other team members hear about it and want to experience something similar, which is great for teambuilding. The team member feels rewarded and recognised in an appropriate, meaningful way. It means more, knowing that your employer has taken the time to discover you’ve always wanted to swim with whale sharks rather than give you a branded cap, umbrella or bottle of wine.”

In Hong Kong, one of the operators that has found a niche in this market is Spoilt, which was set up in February 2010. The comlany’s managing director, Michelle Lam, points to how experiences are being used for top-performing employees and the most loyal clients. “Particularly for very high-end gift recipients, giving experiences leaves a greater impression than physical gifts because they are such a new concept. They can have a much more personal touch and you are giving someone a great day out which will leave a great memory.”

Choosing the experience
Care is needed when selecting experiences. Cultural and religious sensibilities need to be taken into consideration. So if companies are tempted by the idea of offering experiences, how do they go about choosing the right one? Experiences typically range from those geared toward adrenaline junkies like motor-racing, parachuting and flying lessons to those who prefer to be pampered and spoilt with the likes of spa days, treatments and exotic dinners. But wine tasting, cookery lessons and horse riding also offer the recipient a learning experience.

Factors that influence the choice of experience include budget, gender, seniority and the corporate message. If selecting a specific gift is problematic, then instead of a gift certificate for a particular experience you can always opt for vouchers so the recipient can exchange them for the experience of their choice.

Red Balloon recommends getting each employee to create a “wish list” of the experiences they like. “Then, it becomes easier to pick a meaningful gift,” said Lowe. It too offers vouchers but also runs a more sophisticated reward and recognition programme where reward points can be accrued and then redeemed against Red Balloon experiences. For example, a manager could have a bank of points which he can use to reward their team for great work where, for instance, AUS$1 equals one point.

Lam of Spoilt Hong Kong adds: “It does depend how well the gift-giver knows the recipient. Employee incentive gifts are often prizes given out at company events or for winners in performance-based competitions, so the intended recipient is not clear. Then companies often use gift cards that can be redeemed against a number of different experiences. For client gifts, companies often want to develop a good relationship with a specific client and they like to choose gifts that appeal directly to the interests and hobbies of the recipient. For example, if your client has a young family, you might choose something the whole family can enjoy.”

The standout achieved by offering experiences, often once-in-a-lifetime events that will stay with the person forever, is unique. But as many companies have to watch their budgets some may worry that experiences will be too costly. Yet with such a variety of options now available, there should be an experience for every budget. More importantly, the wow factor that comes with an experience will go a long way to building longstanding and loyal relationships, and the benefits of this can be difficult to quantify.

There is a certain luxury feeling about experiences. Physical gifts are generally seen as common while gift experiences are seen as something new and fresh — and therefore more valuable.

Experiences with prestigious brands can also help motiovate when guests enter the likes of Intercontinental, Grand Hyatt, Peninsula, Conrad, Shangri-La or Langham to enjoy high-end service.

Intercontinental Hotel Group knows that without the efforts of its 330,000 employees, customers would not keep returning to fill the guestrooms or restaurants day after day, year in and year out. So, to show appreciation for the long hours and steadfast commitment rendered by hotel-based staff and corporate executives, the company conducts a global initiative dubbed “Celebrate Service Week”.

At IHG’s Singapore headquarters, lines between top and lower management blurred as bosses served lunch – actually preparing local delights such as kueh pati, rojak, mee siam and chendol for dessert – for their junior colleagues. That was not the end of the pampering. In the days that followed, the staff enjoyed a series of breakfast choices (again served by their managers who pushed the trolley around the office), massage therapies and manicures, high tea, karaoke sessions – all capped off with a “movie night”, which they attended with their family members.

In Shanghai, the Greater China management team invited some 100 Service Stars from various properties around the city for an “awards lunch”. The honoured frontliners received a specially designed crystal trophy, while 15 of them were singled out as “outstanding employees” and received a VIP package to attend the 2012 London Olympics with accommodation at the Holiday Inn.

Do’s & Don’ts

  • Ensure that your experience gift strikes the right note with the intended recipient.
  • Take the time to consider the right gift.
  • Spend a little time personalising your gift choice, whether it’s a personalised message or a themed experience.
  • When it is hard to choose which experience to pick for a recipient, choose a “gift voucher”.
  • Take care with the experiences: some may only be suitable for certain individuals so avoid insulting anyone (for example, an alcohol-related experience would be inappropriate for some religions).
  • Make sure there is flexibility in exchanging the experience, just in case.
  • Pay attention to the packaging: the experience starts from the moment it is opened.
  • Remember you can make special requests such as corporate branded packaging or special delivery arrangements.
  • Ensure there is a sufficient period of validity (up to 12 months), so there is flexibility in when the experience can be taken.

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