There was a time when bonus payments were the normal reward for targets achieved, and the incentive worked well. But in recent years, more people are opting for experiences over material rewards, suggesting experiences motivate more effectively than possessions.

Millennials are the principal drivers behind this trend. In one study, some 78% of US workers aged between 18 and 34 said they would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or going to an event over an object, while 72% said they would like to increase their spending on experiences.

It’s not just Millennials that prefer experiences, of course, with the same study noting that spending on live experiences and events has increased by 70% since 1987, relative to total US spending trends. In fact, there is a large body of research that shows experiences are a bigger motivator than money or possessions, and deliver happiness in a way that possessions never can.

So why does experience motivate people so much? And why are they considered more important than material possessions? Here are the 3 principle reasons.

  1. Possessions Don’t Build Relationships

When we speak of quality time with the family, it involves time spent together – not buying things.  According to Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, experiences allow people to connect because they “consume experiences directly with other people. And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

It’s the same in the workplace. Colleagues connect when they have a shared experience to talk about, and it’s this communication, the emotional connection with an event, that brings people together. Possessions, on the other hand, are items. Whether they are sports cars, clothing, jewelry or the latest gadget, these items can be seen but never felt or shared as a memory can.

  1. Memories Are Unforgettable Moments

There is research that explains why moments stick in our memories so effectively, allowing us to relive them with colleagues and friends. It’s all to do with the anticipation that builds up before the moment occurs. One study concluded that emotion is stronger when anticipating an upcoming event than when recalling an everyday activity. This then impacts on how people communicate with each other about that event.

It explains why we remember events that we are given time to build up to, like a concert we bought tickets for 2 or 3 weeks in advance of it taking place, or a sports event or our wedding. There is time to think about what is coming, and to imagine possible outcomes, so there is more energy and emotion (fear, hope etc) associated with it. So, when your colleagues are preparing for a teambuilding activity weekend, and have a few weeks to look forward to it, the experience becomes more memorable.

  1. Experiences Broaden Horizons

When we talk about experiences, almost everyone refers to how it can broaden our horizon. When you visit Paris for the first time, you notice everything that distinguishes that city from home – the architecture, the food, the wine, the public transport, and the language, of course.

Any new experience has the potential to introduce new perspectives. Imagine you are in group during a teambuilding activity that includes people you have never met before, from different departments or a different project team. In a collaborative activity, you can gain new insight from their input and career experience.  If they hail from another country, you can learn of a different culture, its social values and outlooks.

Even if you don’t agree with a new perspective, you benefit from learning and considering them, a process which requires positive personal elements like thoughtfulness, compassion and even gratefulness.

Incentive Experiences Motivate

Businesses need to evolve to meet the expectations of the new employment market. Some offering yoga classes or a weekend at a health spa as a reward is fine, but incentive experiences that bring colleagues together have benefits of greater value.

Incentive experiences are (by definition) rewards for achievements made. But they are also about building relationships through shared experiences, and so motivate individuals to work towards a common goal.

The setting, the tasks, the challenges are new, so colleagues get to spend time together, building memories in a fun, collaborative environment.  And with 79% of Millennials admitting they believe sharing events helps deepen their relationships with friends and family, and 77% that the best memories of their lives have been at live events, the attraction for both sides is clear.

At Orangeworks, we create exceptional experiences that our customers remember forever. Orangeworks is part of the Catalyst Global Network – the largest teambuilding network in the world with 32 companies in over 40 regions.

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