Should You Reward Employees with Memory-Making Experiences?


At the HR Exchange Network’s Employee Engagement and Experience event, Blueboard Co-founder and CEO Taylor Smith asked the question, “Is it our role as people leaders in our companies to help our people find fulfillment?” The answer, he adds, is a resounding, “Yes!” 

During the session, “The Experience Effect: Why Future-Thinking Employers Are Helping Their People Find Fulfillment,” Smith shared personal stories that demonstrated how to improve employee engagement and why employers must help people find better balance.

WATCH: The Experience Effect: Why Future-Thinking Employers Are Helping Their People Fin Fulfillment

Smith told the story of how he had to miss out on a family trip to Italy when he was working for an employer. Also, Smith explained that he had spent three months away from home and working day and night on a project that was interesting but reaped little reward for him. He spoke of the “work-life conundrum” and how most people feel like they are swimming upstream. 

“People tend to pour their lives into their work,” he said. 

The Reward of Experiences

During a time when employees have leverage and the Great Resignation has people quitting in historic numbers, HR leaders have no choice but to help people manage their schedules and find a deeper purpose. These are essential to improving retention and creating a happier, sustainable workplace.  

Smith argues that businesses should reward employees with experiences that enrich their lives. He showed an image of a person, dressed in a tux, jumping out of an airplane as part of Blueboard’s James Bond experience, which also has participants traveling in an Aston Martin and learning how to make the perfect martini. 

Not everyone will choose or even appreciate such an experience. In fact, younger generations tend to go for those Insta-worthy events and happenings, whereas older ones choose experiences that bring them closer to family and friends like a museum membership or a MICHELIN dinner, says Smith. 

Why Experiences Are Among the Best Bonuses

In his presentation, Smith cited Cornell University Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich, who researched what people would write about in their autobiographies. His findings support the idea that experiences are more meaningful rewards than material items. 

“People choose to write about their experiences. You’re probably not dedicating chapters to some nice shoes you bought or even a major investment like a car,” says Smith. “A funny side note is you’re probably not writing about work as well, despite the fact that we’ll spend over 11,000 days of our lives at work.” 

Creating memories, according to Smith’s presentation, can help employees

  • Build a stronger sense of self – The experience becomes part of the person, and it stays with them.  
  • Facilitate deeper relationships – By sharing experiences, people forge deeper bonds and gain a sense of community. 
  • Work towards fulfillment – Anticipation, the experience itself, and the afterglow all provide contentment and help people recognize their passions. 

One of the strongest arguments in favor of experiences is the comparison of value with material items like a car, which diminishes in value as soon as buyers drive it off the lot. 

“Experiences tend to get more valuable over time as they turn to rosy memories,” says Smith. 

What HR Leaders Should Do

Well-intentioned U.S. employers spend a whopping $60 billion on “stuff” to reward employees. Now is the time to reconsider how they’re spending it, says Smith. The first step is to evaluate employee experience through the lens of rewards that are given: 

  • Onboarding gifts
  • Anniversary awards
  • Spot rewards
  • Annual performance awards
  • Sales incentives

“People will never talk about a cash bonus because it’s awkwards and taboo,” says Smith. “But they’ll talk about what they did on their weekend.” 

However, Smith recognized that sometimes cash is a welcome bonus, and it can be especially beneficial to low-wage workers. Employers should consider the needs of their teams and the circumstances of their lives before determining best rewards. 

For higher-wage workers, experience rewards are an innovative way to help people create memories, make connections with others, and get to know themselves on a deeper level. The talk about these experiences among colleagues can also help forge bonds. 

“By sharing what they do outside of work,” says Smith, “people reveal other parts of themselves.” 

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