Research: Today’s Top Employee Reward Preferences

Study commissioned by global payments provider Blackhawk Network finds prepaid rewards are most preferred by post-COVID employees

PLEASANTON, Calif. - June 29, 2021 - In the wake of radical changes to workplace structure and employee relations in the last year, new research1 was released today examining employees’ current preferences for workplace rewards. Respondents from multiple countries were asked which rewards they find most meaningful, how they want to be recognized by their employer(s) and whether their preferences were different for various occasions. The findings revealed a preference for prepaid rewards and a significant interest in digital and mobile wallet-compatible rewards. The study was commissioned by Blackhawk Network, a leader in embedding global payments and rewards into employee experiences to drive brand engagement, loyalty and growth.

“The workplace as we know it is likely permanently changed by the pandemic, with employees working in a combination of in-office, remote and hybrid arrangements. As employees weather the ongoing effects of the crisis, particularly workers in demanding frontline jobs, robust and effective employee rewards programs have never been more critical,” said Jeff Haughton, SVP, Incentives, Corporate Development & Strategy with Blackhawk Network. “Effectively rewarding and incenting employees helps encourage workplace engagement, boosts productivity, generates loyalty and drives desired behaviors. But without reward program modernization, the rewards businesses provide may fall flat. Our research provides HR managers and employers a helpful roadmap for employee reward strategy into the future.”

The “Global Rewards Preference” study was designed to learn which workplace rewards are preferred today among the most commonly offered options. The research surveyed more than 600 adults across the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. Topline findings and trends include:

  • People want prepaid. Among 78% of survey respondents, prepaid rewards were the number one preference regardless of the occasion, role within the company or industry in which they worked. Prepaid rewards beat out the other most common type of employee rewards-paid time off and merchandise-for use cases such as year-end celebrations, project completions, corporate wellness accomplishments, goal attainments, safety compliance, service anniversaries, peer-to-peer recognition and more.
  • Digital rewards must be in the mix. When asked if they preferred physical or digital prepaid rewards, respondents were split. While physical rewards had a slight edge (preferred by 57% of respondents), 43% reported wanting digital rewards. Among those who preferred digital rewards, 65% wanted to load their rewards into a mobile wallet. Effective reward mixes will include a hybrid of physical and digital rewards to satisfy varying employee preferences in addition to reaching employees whether they are in-office or working virtually.
  • Prepaid rewards can help encourage steps toward COVID prevention. Related research2 found that two thirds of respondents would accept a monetary incentive for getting the COVID-19 vaccine, 25% of those respondents would prefer a prepaid or gift card. As employers look to encourage vaccinations, prepaid rewards will be key.
  • Demographics take a backseat. The study found no significant characteristics among the different demographic groups surveyed-leading to the conclusion that the latest trends identified by the research are universally preferred no matter an employee’s age, gender, location or role within the company.

About Blackhawk Network

Blackhawk Network delivers branded payment solutions through the prepaid products, technologies and network that connect brands and people. We collaborate with our partners to innovate, translating market trends in branded payments to increase reach, loyalty and revenue. We reliably execute security-minded solutions worldwide. Join us as we shape the future of global branded payments. Learn more at

1 The “Global Rewards Preference” study is an internet-based study conducted by Isometric Solutions on behalf of Blackhawk Network in March, 2021. The sample size included 600 Australian, Canadian, US and UK adults ages 24-65.