A healthy incentive

Whether purchasing or receiving gifts for special occasions or as corporate gifts, a high street promotion or customer incentive scheme, most people in the UK will have encountered gift cards and vouchers in one form or another over the last year. And this is steadily on the rise.
The number of applications suitable for prepaid products within the public sector is probably greater than you think. Vouchers and gift cards provide an effective vehicle for a number of fund distribution processes including employee rewards, expenses management, benefit payments, government aid programmes and incentives in public service initiatives, such as encouraging more people to recycle or quit smoking, for example.
In line with the increasing number of public sector organisations adopting voucher and gift card programmes, there are already numerous solutions available to the health sector. Many of these solutions have been created and implemented by members of The UKGCVA, the trade association representing this expansive industry.

Employee motivation

Employee motivation strategy has long been an important aspect in commercial business as companies seek to get the very best out of their staff, by incentivising them to make the business more profitable. While this is most immediately associated with achieving sales targets, employee motivation strategy has developed to now encompass a much wider spectrum of employee disciplines and behaviours. This has broadly come to be known as ‘employee engagement’ strategy.
John Sylvester, an expert in employee motivation and executive director at P&MM, explains: “Employee engagement is all about employees believing in the organisation, its future and their future within it. This means encouraging them to proactively drive it forward, generate success and then feel personally rewarded by doing so and benefiting from the opportunities that are created by their efforts. Employers must learn how to create and market an added value employment proposition to their employees and prospective employees that motivates at a greater level than just financial benefits.”
Therefore, employee engagement strategy must include initiatives beyond sales incentives that are designed to reward and recognise the full spectrum of employee behaviour. Things such as attendance records, general appearance, attitude and behaviour, loyalty to the organisation, going above and beyond the call of duty and recognition of accomplishments.
A key to achieving these goals lies in offering appealing incentive rewards, of which vouchers and gift cards are a popular solution. The B2B voucher and gift card market, largely incorporating employee incentive rewards, represents around 40 per cent of the UK’s total market and is valued at around £1.3 billion. The UKGCVA represents all of the key players in this market.

Reward and recognition
So why gift vouchers? Jock Jordan, group sales director at The Gift Voucher Shop, comments: “When asked, most employees will say that cash is the best motivator for them. However, research and experience clearly indicates that non-cash incentives, such as nationwide multi-store gift cards offering the recipient endless choice, are far more successful than cash as an incentive reward. The ‘trophy value’ that a non-cash reward offers also reinforces the gift as a symbol of achievement and encourages other employees.”
Kuljit Kaur, head of business development at The Voucher Shop, adds: “Several NHS Trusts are using voucher cheques for reward and recognition programmes as they are highly versatile, simple to use and have a low entry cost. In addition, NHS Trusts can come together as a collective to buy bulk vouchers at a ‘group’ discount, which is proving to be highly popular.
“The blank voucher cheques can be printed with the Trust’s name or logo and then personalised to individuals for any amount. The recipient then simply chooses the vouchers they want from a selection listed on the reverse and sends the order back to us for fulfilment. The service saves the Trust time and money, as well as providing a wide range of reward options guaranteed to appeal to every employee from the cleaning team and receptionists to doctors and nurses.”
Long service awards are one type of reward that is particularly prevalent in the health sector, recognising members of staff that have demonstrated loyalty and commitment by sticking with the same organisation over an extended period. In association with UKGCVA member Leisure Vouchers, Bradford & Airedale Teaching Primary Care Trust (Tpct) launched a long service awards programme for its staff offering vouchers as rewards. Those notching up 40 years service received gift vouchers worth £150 while colleagues rewarded for 25 years service were presented with £100 vouchers. “This was a great morale boost for employees who felt valued by the Trust and appreciated the recognition for their commitment, dedication and performance”, said Helen Whitaker, workforce development adviser at Bradford & Airedale Tpct.
David Carr, director of Card Services at White Eagle (Europe) Plc, notes how gift cards can be particularly useful when working with non-permanent members of staff, as can often be the case at healthcare organisations: “At White Eagle we have developed a number of non-cash incentive programmes that are being utilised by organisations to incentivise and motivate staff, the need for which is becoming as common within the public sector as it has been in the private sector for many years. The White Eagle MasterCard Gift Card can be used as an instant motivational tool by loading reward funds onto it and then issuing them to members of staff who can spend it wherever the MasterCard symbol appears. Some of my clients are keen to use this product for non-permanent staff in particular, as these employees may not be included in longer-term incentive schemes. As a large proportion of workers in the health sector are contract or part time workers, this type of reward provides an ideal solution.”

Combat absenteeism
In the health sector, as in any business, staff absenteeism can be a very costly problem. Vouchers can be used as incentives to combat this, as Martin Cooper, sales and marketing manager for Love2reward explains: “Whilst Trusts have conventionally used gift vouchers to reward long service, I feel there is scope for more strategic schemes that address issues such as absenteeism.”
The ExtraCare Charitable Trust, which operates 29 supported housing schemes and retirement villages throughout the greater Midlands area and the North, implemented an incentive scheme from Love2reward that succeeded in cutting absenteeism by half.
“In 1997 our staff absenteeism rates were typically running at about 11 per cent,” comments Kathy James, HR administrator at ExtraCare. “This could ultimately impact upon our ability to deliver the continuity of care that is so important to us. Therefore we took positive steps to address the situation and introduced a scheme to reward exemplary attendance and staff loyalty.
“Some 1,300 staff are now eligible for the reward which takes the form of a six monthly reward of £50 worth of Love2shop high street gift vouchers. All staff with no absences in the preceding six-month period qualify for the award.
“In addition, we run a monthly attendance lottery, whereby all staff with no absence in the qualifying month will be put into a draw and five people are selected out of the lottery – each receives £100 worth of Love2shop vouchers. The scheme has proved itself extremely effective, with absenteeism levels now reduced to 4 per cent.”
The range of voucher and gift cards available means that employee rewards and incentives can be chosen to cater for a vast array of different tastes. UKGCVA members offer products including multi-store vouchers and cards that can be redeemed on anything from groceries to fashion, many high street favourites, supermarkets and department stores as well as companies offering days out and once in a lifetime experiences as well as specialist interest vouchers.
Theatre Tokens, for example, offers tickets to see plays and musicals at venues around the country as part of employee reward programmes. Its work with the health sector includes being part of NHS discounts, a national voluntary employee benefits scheme for NHS employees covering the whole of the UK, which has 719,000 active members currently. Theatre Tokens has been a member of the NHS discount scheme for almost two years.  
Helen Jones, marketing manager for Theatre Tokens at the Society of London Theatre, said: “We have seen a significant increase in the number of companies using our theatre vouchers as an incentive tool. We’ve had more enquiries this year from the public sector who seem to be placing a value on offering rewards and incentives that are more personal, enjoyable and a bit of a treat during this recession.”
Spa-days are another popular choice and one that has already been chosen by healthcare organisations. Cassandra Cavanah, executive director at SpaFinder Europe, Middle East and Africa, says: “SpaFinder already successfully provides its spa vouchers to the health industry, including the NHS, Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Nurses. In these cases, it is the nurses, doctors, midwives and medical support staff themselves that purchase the vouchers as an employee benefit. The uptake with this audience is very impressive compared to other industries – and proves that those in the health industry are very aware of the benefits spa-going can deliver.”

Public incentives
In addition to employee benefits programmes, Arun Glendinning, business services manager for the B&Q Gift Card, notes the wider potential of vouchers and gift cards in the health sector, reaching out to the general public: “Whilst vouchers and gift cards have traditionally been used in staff motivation, they are increasingly being used to reward customers of the health service.  Some forward thinking NHS Trusts are offering them as part of a bigger push to encourage people to stop smoking for example. Although early days, the general response to this initiative has been extremely positive and uptake has been extremely good.”
Wayne Harrington, product manager – rewards and loyalty, Capital Incentives & Motivation, expands on this idea: “NHS trusts are looking at new ways to alter certain behaviours to help improve the health of the nation using incentive rewards. For example, encouraging weight loss or anti-smoking campaigns. We worked on one programme that was designed to encourage pregnant mothers to quit smoking. The ladies in question had to undergo a test six weeks after quitting to prove that they had stopped and all those that were successful were then rewarded with Capital Bonds. These vouchers can be spent in a network of over 140 retail partners, including suitable specialist shops such as Mothercare. Bonds can offer a better solution than cash as they have a greater trophy value and the reward will not simply disappear into the weekly shop but can be spent on something significant. The popularity of such schemes means that we should expect to see similar initiatives in the future.”

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