Surprise, surprise! Unexpected rewards deliver surprisingly positive results

surprised employeeHave you ever had a surprise reward? It’s a great feeling! Getting bumped up to first class free of charge or that money off voucher with your weekly shop, it leaves you with a positive warm glow for the rest of the day.

Surprise rewards, also known as surprise and delight tactics, make our experience feel more positive, and as a result they foster a deeper level of engagement. Organisations also find that customers talk more about their positive experience, which benefits the brand.


Why? Well here’s the science bit…

According to a 2001 study by Emory University and the Baylor College of Medicine the brain’s pleasure centres react more strongly to unexpected pleasure substances versus expected ones. In other words, we enjoy an experience more if we didn’t know about it beforehand.

It also helps overcome issues where people start expecting rewards and as a result the reward programme backfires. For example, Psychologists Mark R. Lepper and David Greene from Stanford and the University of Michigan wanted to see what effect rewards would have on pre-school children who were already fond of drawing. They discovered that children who expected a reward for drawing actually reduced the amount of spontaneous drawing they did by half. In addition, judges rated the pictures drawn by the children expecting a reward as less aesthetically pleasing. Children who got a surprise reward spent slightly more time drawing.


Not just for customers

Customers are highly responsive to surprise and delight rewards. In fact, 67% of those surveyed said surprise gifts are very important for loyalty programmes according to a 2013 study by digital agency Citrus and marketing company Directivity.

happy staffThis doesn’t just apply to customer reward programmes. The same can and should be applied to employee reward programmes. Why not give your staff a gift card or voucher every once in a while with no pre-set plan or schedule? As other companies have discovered it has a positive result on motivation, morale, behaviour and employee loyalty. Surprise and delight tactics can engage a workforce, inspire business growth, increase employee creativity and innovation, and help put customers at the forefront of business decisions.


Tips for using surprise and delight tactics

If you want to surprise and delight your employees then here are some tips:

  • Know what you are trying to achieve and why, as with any reward scheme know your objective and then use surprise rewards to reinforce the desired behaviours.
  • Take account of other rewards that may be on offer to your employees.
  • Whilst it’s mostly the surprise that will make the reward memorable, put some thought into the actual reward.
  • Base your programme on interaction not transaction, get to know your employees so you can give them rewards that are relevant, unexpected and delightful.
  • One of the most memorable things you can do – instead of rewarding your employee directly – do something for their children, partner or even their pet. These rewards are remembered and appreciated much longer.


Ideas for surprise rewards

The possibilities are endless:

  • Make a colleagues wish come true.
  • Enjoy a free stay in the company villa.
  • Upgrade an employee on a long work train journey – provide the space and quiet to work, with complimentary food, to make the day that bit easier!
  • Give them tickets to an event they really want to attend, whether it’s a trip to the theatre, music concert, or exhibitions.
  • Give employees vouchers for a meal out with their partner at a nice restaurant.
  • Reward them with a home design consultancy if they have just moved house.
  • Give them paid time off to visit family that live far away, for example a child at university or a parent who lives in a different part of the country.
  • Make a donation on their behalf to a charity or community group they support.
  • Give them the chance to meet someone they admire.


And finally…

Remember that large or small, pricey or inexpensive, it’s always the thought that counts.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
Connect with John on  | Twitter


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