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Employee Incentive Programs: Benefits, Examples and Best Practices

27 min read

employee incentive benefits

In the rapidly evolving workplaces, businesses strive to maintain profitability and sustainability. Staying as a ‘Market Leader’ or maintaining a stable position is challenging.

When asked, “What is the way to attract and retain top talent in an organization?” The answer, at most times, is a competitive pay package. 

Is it true?

No, the modern workforce needs more than a competitive pay; they want a comprehensive compensation package that includes both monetary and non-monetary incentives.

Infact, 85% of workers showed increased productivity and work quality when the organizations introduced an incentive system.

What is an Employee Incentive Program?

An Incentive is a bullet, a key; and often a tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.”

Steve Lewitt

Organizations design an Employee Incentive Program (EIP) to encourage employees with monetary rewards or growth opportunities. This program offers benefits for both the organization and employees alike.

The primary goal of this program is to reward employees for their additional time and effort invested in a project or a task, and also their overall contribution to the organization. It also helps encourage employees to achieve organizational objectives, exhibit desirable behavior, and enhance their job performance.

Incentives vs Bonus

In theory, incentive and bonus serve a similar purpose – motivating and recognizing employees. However, they differ in terms of performance, frequency, and structure. While incentives are more flexible, bonuses, on the other hand, are more standardized.

Below, the key differences between the two terms are discussed in detail:

 Bonus vs Incentive

CriteriaIncentive Bonus
Definition A reward offered to motivate specific performance results or behavior of employees.A sum awarded to employees for achievement of pre-defined goals or a special recognition.
PurposeMotivate employees with a tangible reward.Recognize employees for achieving milestones or their exceptional performance.
Link to 


Tied with individual or team performance metrics, or goals.Linked to predefined targets, like sales quotas or company objectives.
FrequencyDepends on the structure of the incentive program.Given periodically, mostly annually, quarterly, or project-basis.
FormCan be monetary or non-monetary , like cash rewards, gift cards, or special privileges.Mostly cash rewards, but can also be travel vouchers or gifts.
PredictabilityMostly dynamic and tied to performance metrics.Predefined criteria and informed in advance.
CustomizationMore flexible as based on individual and team preferences.Standardized and based on organizational targets.
ExamplesSales commission, performance bonus, employee referral rewards.Annual performance bonus, project completion bonus, profit sharing bonus.

Types of Employee Incentive Programs

Employee Incentive Programs come in various sizes, kinds, and types. They are generally classified based on their purpose and are customized by organizations to serve their specific needs. 

They can be broadly classified under three heads: Monetary Incentives, Non-monetary Incentives, and Performance-based Incentives.

A. Monetary Incentives:

  • Salary Increase: Increasing employees’ base salary based on their individual, team, or overall performance.
  • Bonuses: Performance bonuses that are usually tied to a specific goal. For example, sign-in and referral bonuses.
  • Commission: Sales commission based on the sales targets and quotas.
  • Profit-Sharing: Distribution of a company’s total profit among employees.
  • Stock Options: Employees are offered an opportunity to purchase the company’s shares at a lower and predefined price.
  • Recognition Rewards: Cash rewards given to employees for their outstanding performance or contributions.

B. Non-Monetary Incentives:

  • Employee Recognition: Employees receive public recognition for their hard work and efforts, like ‘Employee of the Month/Quarter/Year’.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: It includes remote work options and flexible work hours to help employees balance their personal and professional commitments.
  • Professional Development: It includes programs to improve employees’ overall skills, competencies, and knowledge. For instance, Training programs, Educational opportunities, Mentorship programs etc.
  • Wellness Programs: Organizations invest in their employees’ mental and physical well-being with these programs. For instance, Gym membership, Health checkups, Wellness challenges, etc.
  • Workplace Perks: Employees are offered various incentives to create a positive and stress-free work environment. For instance, Casual dress days, Parking privileges, Office amenities etc.

C. Performance-Based Incentives:

  • Sales Performance Incentives: They are special incentive plans designed for the sales department. Includes incentives like Sales contests to identify the top performers, Commission based on sales targets, etc.
  • Individual Performance Awards: Recognizing and rewarding personal accomplishments of employees.
  • Team-Based Incentives: Bonuses or rewards for achieving team goals.
  • Goal-Based Incentives: Employees receive this bonus for achieving specific and measurable goals.
  • Innovation Incentives: Employees who contribute to developing innovative solutions to problems are rewarded with this.
  • Productivity Incentives: Incentives for the employees that enhance a team or department’s overall productivity or efficiency.

Importance of Employee Incentive Program

44% increase in employees’ overall productivity is witnessed in organizations that implemented some form of incentive program.

Do you still doubt why your organization should roll out an incentive program?

Here are the primary benefits an employee incentive program brings to an organization:

1. Employee Motivation and Engagement

Incentive programs help in boosting morale of employees by appreciating their hard work. There is a surge in job satisfaction as employees’ efforts are acknowledged and duly rewarded. All this leads to a positive work environment and a culture of collaboration and commitment.

2. Enhanced Productivity

These programs help align the employee’s individual goals with the organizational goals, offering a sense of purpose and direction. Employees also invest additional efforts and time as they are motivated by incentives, increasing overall productivity.

3. Improved Employee Retention

When employees are recognized, they remain loyal to the organization. This leads to a decrease in employee turnover as they are more satisfied and engaged.

employee benefits program

4. Alignment with Organizational Goals

Employees gain a better perspective of the organizational priorities and goals when a proper incentive program is in place. These programs also help align the employee’s efforts towards achieving strategic targets. 

5. Competitive Advantage in Recruitment

Organizations can often easily attract the top talent in the market with their incentive programs. It also helps promote a positive employer brand of the organization in the market.

Examples of Employee Incentives Program

In the post-pandemic era, employee incentives are the defined distinction between companies. Studies have proven a direct correlation between increase in productivity and a positive work culture with company wide incentive programs. 

69% of employees placed reward and recognition as the primary objective to shift to a different organization or continue working in their previous firms.

But what does the modern workforce truly need?

Below is a list of 6 examples of Employee Incentives for the future workforce:

1. Rewards and Recognition

Companies that regularly acknowledge their employees witnessed a spike in their employee engagement scores, along with a better customer satisfaction. This is just a tiny change that companies have seen, as many also reported a strong culture among teams. These rewards can not only be monetary, but non monetary too like public praises, celebrating milestones, etc, and many more.

2. Employee Referral Bonus

Employee Referral programs are the easiest way to attract candidates with a similar purpose and mindset. It’s also essential to make this program efficient with timely payments. Make these programs more dynamic by offering non-financial benefits and increasing their associated quotas.

3. Wellness Initiatives

Investing in employees’ physical and mental well-being results in a productive and stable workforce. It’s not always about luxurious options like gym memberships but simple programs like ‘an in-house therapist’, monthly yoga programs, healthy lunch days, etc. If you still doubt the impact, 87% of employees prefer wellness incentives over other incentives.

modern workforce incentive programs

4. Defined Career Paths

Employees who feel bored in their routine work seek employment elsewhere, and training your existing workforce costs way less than hiring a new one. Employees wish to associate with a company that offers them career progression in the long run than the ones with a hefty paycheck and limited growth opportunities. Managers can also invest in reskilling the employees, succession planning, internally hiring for the top roles, etc.  A survey reveals Organizations that spent more than $5,000 per year on developing sales managers witnessed an increase in their business revenue than others. 

5. Office Amenities

Workspaces that offer employees the opportunity to move around are rated at a higher level than a cooped-up office space. A Harvard Business Review survey places sunlight as one of the most essential workplace requirements. It also helps employees in focussing their attention towards the most important details in their routine work.

6. Food, Gift Cards and Travel Vouchers

48% of employees prefer tasty and healthy snacks in their office as an important factor, 71% employees wish to possess redeemable gift coupons for their efforts, and offering travel-related benefits has shown a rise in employee productivity by 18% in a few nations worldwide. These three can be considered as the most effective incentive programs that are less costly and affordable.

Thus there are various types of employee incentives. All of these are linked by one common thread – motivate employees by recognizing their hard work. 31% of employees prefer to stay at an organization where they can visualize their impact in everyday work. So, it’s high time for organizations to invest in it.

How to Start an Employee Incentive Program?

Well, most of you probably know the importance of an efficient incentive program for your organization. 

But, if you struggle to find the right approach to frame one, here is a step-by-step guide on designing an employee incentives program:

1. Define Objectives Clearly

Articulate the goals and objectives associated with the incentive program. It may be related to boosting sales, engaging employees, enhancing productivity and teamwork, and having a well-defined purpose from the start helps guide the program in the right direction.

2. Gather Employee Insights

Conduct surveys and circulate feedback forms to gather your workforce insights. This helps prioritize the incentives type based on their preferences and motivating factors and tailor it to their specific requirements.

3. Determine the Budget and Resources

Ensure the established budget and resources align with the overall objectives and administrative expenses. It also ensures the program’s reliability and sustainability in the long run.

4. Choose the Right Mix 

Choose a mix of monetary and non-monetary incentives like bonuses, gift cards, or other perks. Making the options more diverse to accommodate the preferences of all the employees.

5. Align Incentives with Key Performance Metrics

Make the incentives more well-defined and purpose-driven by linking them to a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reliable, and Timely) objective. It also helps in measuring the true impact of the individual or team efforts with ease.

6. Design a Simple and Transparent Program

Ensure that the program is simple and transparent for all the employees. It helps them understand how it works, how they earn incentives, and the type they receive for their efforts. Transparency and fairness in the system build trust and encourage the participation of all employees.

7. Create a Communication Plan

Communicate the entire program’s objectives, benefits, and details across all shareholders. Use official communication channels like company mail, meetings, and social banners or posters.

8. Launch the Program

Host a public event to officially launch the program company-wide. This helps build excitement among the employees and a platform to share the intricate details of the program with all, along with emphasizing on the benefits it offers to both the employees and the organization.

9. Monitor, Evaluate, and Adjust

Implement a constant mechanism to monitor, evaluate and make necessary adjustments in the system. Collect periodic feedback from the employees on the efficiency of the system to constantly evolve the system.

Pro Tip: The Employee Incentive Program should be dynamic in nature. So, constantly assess its impact and make adjustments. The program should be designed in a way to celebrate the success of your workforce, and not merely a reward institution, hold regular ceremonies to celebrate the wins of your employees publicly.

Thus, designing and implementing a program requires the HR’s constant proactiveness and the active participation of both the employees and top management.

Best Practices for Employee Incentive Programs

80% of business leaders believe that employee incentive programs will be a decisive factor in the future of work.

Show me the incentive, and I will show you the outcome.”

– Charles Munger

Now, to make an incentive program that understands the modern workforce needs and assists organizations in attracting the top talent, here are five key practices to incorporate:

  • Make Non-Financial Rewards a Part

Financial rewards are one of the biggest motivators in the lives of an employee. But in the post-pandemic era, it’s way more than money that an employee seeks to achieve, they want a balance in their everyday lives, a fair work culture, and wellness initiatives. So, organizations must balance an incentive program’s financial and non-financial components to win a competitive edge.    

Few Examples:

  1. Social Recognition from peers and managers.
  2. Tangible recognition like certificates.
  3. End-of-the Week One-on-One.
  4. Office Parties once a Quarter.
  • Invest More in Team-based Incentives

While individual incentives motivate employees to focus more on desirable results,team incentives are often more beneficial. Rewarding a team for their productivity or desirable traits promotes it across the entire organization. Team Incentive Programs also promote camaraderie, teamwork, and mutual understanding among the employees, leading to a happier and more positive workplace culture.

  • Emphasize on the Total Well-Being of Employees

Employee well-being is a holistic concept that covers employees’ mental, physical, psychological,social, and financial wealth. Incorporating daily wellness initiatives in employee’s lives makes them more productive and loyal to an organization. The best way to implement this is to align health initiatives with a financial reward or a business perk. For instance, employees who attend health camps or sessions of mental health can be given an additional bonus, which motivates other employees to join them.

Few reasons to reward employees:

  1. Volunteering at an animal shelter
  2. Donating to a social cause.
  3. Attending medical camps.
  4. Occasional therapy sessions with a counselor.
  5. Regular at Yoga camps or Gyms.
  • Make the System Timely

Rewarding the employees immediately after their achievement is essential. Delaying your actions makes employees less enthusiastic to invest the same amount of time and effort the next time. Examples of immediate rewards are gift cards, short trips, occasional leaves and remote work options. It’s also essential for companies to mix both short-term and long-term incentives to make the employees more satisfied. 

  • Personalize the System

Constantly tailor the system to individual employee needs. Surveys and feedback forms can be used to understand employees’ personal references and intrinsic motivators. Using this information, organizations can customize the incentive programs to suit the needs of a group of employees. Technology like predictive models and recommending engines will be the future revolution in employee incentive programs.

incentive program practices

Thus, these practices help HR leaders and Business Leaders refine their strategies to improve employee incentive programs and future-proof for the modern workforce.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Running an Incentive Program

Are you an HR leader keen on implementing a new employee incentive program? 

Well, be careful of the common mistakes that could derail your entire program if not handled with care.

Here are the six most common mistakes to avoid when running an employee incentive program in your organization:

1. Lack of Clear Objectives

Organizations sometimes implement an incentive program but lack the vision and direction to drive it, resulting in unclear results. 

For example, XYZ company launched an incentive program without clearly stating its purpose to boost sales, enhance productivity, or enhance customer satisfaction.

How to Avoid: Clearly define the objectives for the incentive program, like boosting sales, improving teamwork etc., beforehand.

2. Inequitable Distribution

Employee incentive programs are often partial to a few employees, resulting in discontentment and biases in employees’ minds. 

For example, ABS Corp. established a system where the metrics set rewarded only one particular department consistently, while other department’s efforts went unnoticed. This eventually threatened the long-term sustainability of the organization.

How to Avoid: Ensure a fair and transparent system that rewards every department and employee’s efforts and hard work equally.

3. Neglecting Non-Monetary Incentives

The framers of the policy often overlook the significance of non-monetary incentives by making financial rewards the sole focus and purpose. This attitude hampers the long-term sustainability of the program. 

For example, CXY firm implemented a system that rewarded employees with only bonuses and did nothing to improve their overall skills, competencies and knowledge, due to which their workforce didn’t show any progression in the changing times.

How to Avoid: Design incentive programs with a balanced mix of both financial and non-financial incentives.

4. Ignoring Feedback

Gathering employee feedback during every process of the employee incentive program right from designing to implementation is crucial. Failing to comply with this step leads to unrealistic assumptions and limited employee participation. 

For example, XYZ Ltd. implemented an incentive program to boost sales. Still, the metrics they set to determine the incentives were difficult to understand, leading to dissatisfaction among the sales employees.

How to Avoid: Regularly gather employee feedback through surveys and anonymous forms to assess the impact and identify the shortcomings, then accommodate the employee suggestions, if feasible.

5. Complexity and Confusion

Creating a system that’s too complicated and difficult for the employees at all levels to understand. This leads to unclear communication and unrealistic assumptions of the employees, often rendering the entire program ineffective.

For example, ABS firm implemented a new employee incentive program with a technically complicated system and complex calculations. The lower-level employees needed help understanding and using the system, leading to increased attrition.

How to Avoid: It’s advisable to keep the entire program simple, so every employee in the organization understands the rules and regulations associated with the system.

Thus, addressing these common concerns helps organizations design and implement a comprehensive and efficient employee incentive program that aligns with the overall objectives of the employees, is fair and transparent, and positively impacts both the organization and the employees.

Wrapping it Up

Thus, the employee incentive program helps organizations prepare their forces to tackle the various challenges. It also creates an environment of positive growth and team spirit. 

But how do you understand the employees and implement a system?

Well, the easy answer – Keka, a leading HRMS solution provider that deals with an HR’s manual woes so HR leaders can focus on designing a perfect program for their employees.

With features like pulse surveys and PMS, HRs can gather employee feedback instantly, compile reports and gain a comprehensive insight into the impact of their incentive program.

So, to always stay ahead of the competition, design a dynamic employee incentive program and book your Keka demo to see how it simplifies your life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What is an employee incentive program?

An employee incentive program can be defined as a structured initiative designed by employers to recognize and appreciate the employee’s hard work and efforts through monetary or non-monetary incentives.

Q2. Why are employee incentive programs important?

Employee incentive programs play an important role in boosting morale, aligning organizational and individual objectives, and providing a competitive edge to firms in recruiting top talent.

Q3. What are some common types of employee incentives?

Few of the most common types of employee incentives are financial rewards like bonus, stock options and non-financial options like professional developmental opportunities, recognition programs etc.

Q4. How to design an effective employee incentive program?

To design an effective employee incentive program: frame clear objectives, consider employee preferences, align incentives with SMART goals, establish budget, communicate, gather feedback, and continuously assess and adjust the system.

Q5. What are the benefits of performance-based incentives?

Performance-based incentives help in enhancing productivity, job satisfaction, and driving individual and team success.

Q6. How to measure the success of an employee incentive program?

Track key performance metrics, gather employee feedback, and assess the overall impact of the program to measure the success of the employee incentive program.

Q7. What are the best practices for avoiding negative consequences in incentive programs?

To overcome any challenges or negative consequences in the program, emphasis on fairness, clearly communicate, take diversity in consideration, and constantly evolve and adapt the program.

Q8. Can small businesses implement employee incentive programs?

Yes, small businesses can implement employee incentive programs. They can do so by tailoring it to their needs and budget, and it helps in improving employee productivity and overall business profitability.

Q9. Are there legal considerations when implementing employee incentive programs?

Yes, there are many legal considerations when implementing an employee incentive program. Few of them are strict adherence to employment laws, non-discriminatory laws, and ethical standards.

Table of Contents

    Meet the author

    Anwesha Panja

    Content Writer

    Anwesha Panja is a Content Writer at Keka Technologies. She has a passion for crafting captivating pieces around the latest HR trends. With a love for mysterious and spine-tingling things, she spends her free time exploring haunted locations. She is also a bookworm and an avid Sherlock fan.


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