Employers Take Note: Employee Incentives Don’t Align with Their Preferences


In advance of National Employee Appreciation Day, new research from incentives solutions leader Blackhawk Network reveals key data on employee recognition preferences

PLEASANTON, Calif. – Feb. 23, 2021– With National Employee Appreciation Day on the horizon on March 5, 2021, insights from a national survey¹ conducted for incentive solutions leader, Blackhawk Network, indicate over 40% of the respondents’ employers do not recognize workers or offer an incentive/rewards program. Conversely, almost 90% of the employees surveyed said it is important for their employer to express appreciation for their contributions to the company. Employees also report desiring different incentives from those they are currently receiving.

“Incenting and recognizing employees is vital to engagement—especially amidst the new working environment many of us are now in—and many employers are missing this opportunity to boost loyalty and retention,” said Jeff Haughton, SVP, Incentives, Corporate Development & Strategy at Blackhawk Network, a global branded payments provider. “As employers design incentive programs this year, it is critical to select rewards that feel special, can be deployed quickly, and have digital redemption capabilities. Prepaid and gift cards are a great solution for these reasons, and our research shows they are desirable and effective.”

Blackhawk’s “Employee Appreciation Survey” was conducted online in late January 2021. Findings included:

  • Employees want to be celebrated: Roughly 80% of respondents indicated it is important for employers to celebrate workplace accomplishments, anniversaries, and achievements, and more than 86% said they want their employer to express appreciation for their personal contributions.
  • Recognition and incentive programs are not universal: More than 40% of respondents reported their employer does not offer an incentive/rewards program or recognize employees.
  • Desired incentives by surveyed employees are not aligned with their employer’s offerings:
    • 66% want bonuses; 28% receive them
    • 42% would like time off work; 15% are granted it
    • 41% prefer prepaid or gift cards; 20% are awarded them
    • 33% want personalized cards or emails; 25% receive them
    • 19% are interested in being singled out at a company event or ceremony; 27% are recognized this way
  • Gift and prepaid cards are effective incentives: More than 80% of respondents indicated a gift or prepaid card incentive would increase productivity and loyalty. This data aligns with findings from Blackhawk Network’s 2020 Multinational BrandedPay™ report² where 86% of employee respondents confirmed the receipt of a gift or prepaid card from their employer would make them feel valued, 81% said it would motivate them to work harder and feel more loyal, and 79% conveyed they would want to stay longer with their employer.
  • Digital gift cards are highly valued: Nearly 60% of respondents reported they work remotely all or some of the time now and 44% indicated the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their preference for digital cards. Survey results also revealed that if offered a gift card, the preference for digital cards is equal to the desire to receive a physical card (both at approximately 20%), while over 50% of respondents indicated they are fine with either option. Additionally, one third of respondents indicated they want the ability to load cards into a mobile wallet.
  • Timing is everything: For more than half of the respondents, the impact of a reward would be lessened if it took too long to receive it. Respondents defined “too long” as:
    • A day (7%)
    • A week (24%)
    • Two weeks (24%)
    • A month (23%)
    • More than a month(22%)

Blackhawk Network is one of the top issuers of gift and prepaid cards. Visit blackhawknetwork.com for a full selection of prepaid and gift card options, including a variety of employee rewards that can be offered via contactless delivery such as egifts and virtual prepaid cards.

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. Serving 28 countries, we reliably execute security-minded solutions worldwide. Join us as we shape the future of global branded payments. Learn more at blackhawknetwork.com.


¹ “The Employee Appreciation Survey” was an online survey conducted by SurveyMonkey on behalf of Blackhawk Network between January 29–31, 2021. The sample size included 2,000 U.S. respondents ages 18+.

² “BrandedPay: How People and Brands Connect Through Payments” is based on the findings of an internet-based survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Blackhawk Network between February 12–March 17, 2020. The sample size included over 12,000 respondents in eight countries.