How to Improve Workplace Culture with Incentives

by | Jan 3, 2020 | Blog

It’s almost that time of year again. No, not the holidays. Well, there’s that too. But I’m talking about when the Incentive Research Foundation releases their annual trends report!

As we await the 2024 report, we thought it might be a good idea to review what the IRF had to say back at the beginning of 2023. In that report, they talked about how workplace culture is key, and discussed what effect incentives can have on culture and motivation.


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The idea that incentives can have an effect on company culture is relatively new, at least in practice. We’ve talked about this powerful effect in some recent content pieces. The concept stems, of course, through motivation and behavior modification. How do we not only motivate people to do the things we want them to do, but also to see us the way we want to be seen?

Let’s take a look at the IRF’s report for some answers on how to improve workplace culture with incentives.

how to improve workplace culture

The Good Old Cash vs. Non-Cash Debate


When it comes to recognizing our employees and salespeople—particularly during inflationary times—is financial compensation more effective than tangible rewards? We’ve talked about this in the context of the last year, and while HMI is a firm believer in non-cash rewards and their benefits, it can often depend on who your audience is.

With that said, this particular report found that 50% of North American respondents believe that inflation makes non-cash rewards more valuable. And while it might true that inflation has declined from its recent highs, a recent CBS poll found that the topic is still top-of-mind for many.

A lot of research before initiating an incentive program is vital for understanding what will work best for improving your workplace culture for your target audience. Clearly, non-cash incentives can play a big role in that.


Incentives and Knowledge Sharing


Imparting knowledge onto new employees and salespeople is a vital part of onboarding. However, it might also be true that passing along knowledge to others can be perceived as potentially detrimental. That’s because when we pass off knowledge to others, we then devalue ourselves as assets to the company and our positions.

How do we reconcile these two differences? Well, this is a perfect opportunity for an incentive program.

Previous IRF research has suggested that people are significantly more likely to help spread knowledge and ideas when incentives are involved. Unsurprisingly, this can improve company culture in the process.

More recently, IRF research into A.I. and machine learning management tools has also pointed to these tools as yet another way to move the knowledge-sharing process forward.

While these are still clearly in the early stages, they could lead to a more targeted, individualized approach to incentivizing improvement in company culture.


Overcoming The Hurdles of Remote Work


Finally, the report links to previous research done by the IRF into the links between remote work and company culture. Ever since the shift to a more remote—or now hybrid—work model, managers have expressed concern about the effects this could have on their business’ culture. 

As a result, these managers have started to view incentive rewards differently. They are becoming more than just sales tools.

More and more they are seen as a retention strategy. Managers see them as a way to help reduce the loneliness and disconnect associated with remote work.




Recognition is a tricky thing. People are different, and everyone is motivated or made comfortable in their working environment with different things. That’s why it’s imperative to either do research or survey your target audience. Find out what they like and make sure they get a healthy serving of it.

There’s always a beam to balance on, though. You wouldn’t want to give cash to one person and a “good job” to another for the same work. That would be disastrous. Instead, come up with a structured plan that offers both for different situations and personalize your rewards as much as you can.

Anyway, there are a few other interesting findings from the IRF’s report that we didn’t cover. If you want to know more about how incentives can improve your workplace culture read more here or contact us!

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