by Alex Palmer | December 21, 2018
Effective incentive programs use proven data to inform their design and execution. To help incentive planners access and understand this data, including the latest findings on non-cash rewards and recognition, the Incentive Research Foundation has released the latest issue of its IRF Quarterly Academic Review. The journal spotlights recent and relevant studies from peer-reviewed journals, distilling their findings in ways that incentive planners can incorporate into their programs.

"For many workers, it has become the soft rewards of work: culture relationships, trust, and purpose that matter most," writes Allan Schweyer, chief academic advisor for IRF and the journal's editor. "The good news for employers is that these rewards most align to employees' intrinsic motivation, and intrinsic motivation (i.e., engagement) is a far better motivator in terms of organizational success, than is the pursuit of money, power or even prestige."

The research in the journal backs up these assertions. For example, a 2018 article published in the Compensation & Benefits Review surveyed workers about their perceptions of various types of rewards. The findings supported the notion that reward that are perceived as supportive, or what the researchers call "informational," rather than coercive or "controlling" are more effective at meeting employees' psychological needs.

Another study, from researchers Jongwoon Choi and Adam Presslee, studied how subjects performed on a series of computer-based task when different types of rewards were offered. It found that the greater sense an employee has that a reward they receive is separate from their salary or wages, the greater improvement they showed in their performance. The researchers found that workers classify non-cash, tangible rewards as distinct from monetary compensation, suggesting that delivering non-cash rewards is more likely than cash to result in improved performance.

Each article spotlight includes bullet-pointed takeaways as well as a Q&A with a researcher involved in the findings, doing a deeper dive into the research and helping to connect the findings directly to the incentive industry. It also includes contact information for the researchers, should a planner seek to better understand the findings or how to apply it to their program.

"In today's economy and workforce, non-cash rewards are vital, but often work more effectively by making a supporting contribution to engagement and performance," Schweyer writes in his editor's note. "By using them indirectly, in the background, you'll more likely build social relationships, and, as the research summarized attests, you'll help create the conditions -- the culture -- in which employees will internalize extrinsic rewards, thereby boosting their intrinsic motivation to perform the work."

The Winter 2018 issue of The IRF Quarterly Academic Review is available here.