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The Employee Engagement Enigma

How to motivate workers in a world where money means less than virtual badges in gamified sales contests

Fay Beauchine has seen the concept of employee engagement and workplace motivation evolve. In tackling the duties of various executive positions at Minnesota-based Carlson Companies and before that Northwest Airlines, she has been on the front lines of improving employee performance.

She is currently the president of the Business Loyalty Division of Aimia a worldwide purveyor or loyalty management programs.

SMM:Incentive programs have existed almost as long as sales itself. What questions do you get these days from clients running incentive programs?
BEAUCHINE: Whether this is an effective business tool and can we prove return on investment. During the AIG effect and during the recession, travel incentives and business incentives as a tool came into question. More companies are measuring the impact of their programs now. We’re starting to measure the impact on participants and not just the sales increase. How is it changing the relationship strength of the employee or the channel partner toward the brand?

SMM: Are companies still spooked about spending money on rewards?
BEAUCHINE: No, they have gotten over it, but they have refined their budgets quite a bit. They are not as flashy as they once used to be. Signage is removed when they are on programs. Whereas the brand used to be present all of the time, it’s much more subtle. But they’re back. Their employees are asking for them.

SMM: What is your message about the effectiveness of non-cash incentives when sales environments are so focused on focused on cash?
BEAUCHINE: There is new research by Kathleen Vohs out of the University of Minnesota that shows that money can actually be a demotivator to teamwork. People primed with money feel more self-sufficient. As soon as money awards are instituted into situations that involve teamwork, the teamwork starts to break down. That fits right into our wheelhouse, because over 70 years we have been in the rewards and recognition business and we knew that there are two forms of motivators: one is your paycheck and the second are the more intrinsic rewards that are all about feeling a sense of pride.

SMM: What are your thoughts on the popularity of group travel versus individual incentive travel?
BEAUCHINE: We didn’t see group travel drop, but we saw shift of the Millenials. Many of them want to be more independent. Not all of them and not all companies will go that route because they value the peer-to-peer recognition and the chance for executives to meet with the employees on the road. Some companies are adding a second tier back in. If there are a lot of Millenials on a program they are asking to add a free day to the program where they can follow their wanderlust.

SMM: Some things haven’t changed regarding what motivates people, but certainly there are new trends. What are you seeing that’s new?
BEAUCHINE: The big one is gamification, and the simple reason is that game mechanics are so ageless. There are a hundred million people playing Angry Birds from ages 85 to 3. When we see a company having trouble getting a behavior change and it has run out of ideas, they can make it fun for the behavior change to happen by giving digital badges and golden eggs and golden pineapples. It gets people excited.

SMM: So why spend money on rewards when people get so excited about golden pineapples? Is gamification making the accomplishment itself its own reward?
BEAUCHINE: No. There is never one solution for a whole mass of employees. Gaming isn’t going to satisfy the top 5 percent of the sales force.

SMM: You have been doing this a long time. Is the aphorism “the more things change, the more they stay the same” applicable to motivation in the workplace?
BEAUCHINE: What has stayed the same is that people are motivated by recognition from the people they work with plus a sense of achievement – that they will be allowed to master their trade. What’s different is instead of mass approaches, the advancements in technology make it entirely possible to understand how a person wants to be motivated.