Cash vs. Non-Cash Incentives: All You Need to Know


Cash reigns supreme. Is that the case? It's tempting to believe that money makes the world go round, but this isn't the universal case regarding incentives. A cash incentive is an amazing way to motivate and reward staff, but it's far from the only successful choice. While offering increased pay or cash bonuses may be alluring to recruit people and boost performance, you should also consider non-cash incentives. In short, there are two distinct pathways: cash and non-cash incentives or rewards:

  • Employees receive cash incentives through a cash bonus or a commission structure.
  • Non-cash incentives are benefits linked to achieving a goal or selling a product.

What are Cash Incentives?

Cash incentives are the amount awarded to the employee for achieving their quota. As its name indicates, a cash incentive has a clear monetary value; an employee knows exactly how much one is worth. Cash incentives motivate employees to complete their quotas and achieve the company's overall revenue. This monetary benefit, a cash incentive, can be a great driver for many salespeople. Some cash incentives include bonuses for achieving sales quotas, cash rewards for creative ideas, providing funds for employees' education or training, team bonuses for completing projects on time, etc. Examples of cash incentives include individual/ team bonuses, annual bonuses, contests with cash rewards, profit-sharing, and salary raises.

What are Non-Cash Incentives?

Non-cash incentives are non-monetary perks that firms provide to their employees, as the name implies. They are methods of rewarding employees in addition to monetary remuneration and bonuses. Non-cash incentives are intended to reward a significant accomplishment or completion of a task that improves an employee's work performance or worth to the company. Achieving a sales target, completing a specific research project, or graduating from a training program that leads to a sought certification are examples of meritorious categories. Non-cash rewards may be a great way to show your staff how much you appreciate their hard work. There are a variety of non-cash workplace incentives that you may test out with your staff, such as travel vouchers for excursions, tickets to a sporting event, a theatre performance, or a musical performance, a sought high-tech gadget, fine dining experiences, having lunch with the CEO, a day at the spa, a round of golf, or another leisure activity, for example.

Cash vs Non-Cash Incentives: Which are Better?

"A sales incentive program can help you maximize each salesperson's potential. Many companies use a cash-based sales reward scheme." Often heard, right? It appears to be the quickest, easiest, and most broadly attractive option. However, you might be shocked to learn that non-cash incentives function the best in terms of cost-effectiveness, ROI, and overall results when it comes to incentives.

Appealing to people's interests and emotions is preferable if you want to improve their participation in an already familiar activity. Research shows that non-cash incentives are actually more effective in motivating workers to fulfill corporate goals.

When asked how they want to be rewarded, most people say cash. However, behavioral economics research shows that the emotions associated with non-cash incentives can outweigh the dollar's straightforward utility. Non-cash sales incentives make your rewards more appealing and motivating and allow you to pay less for a higher return.

Benefits of Non-Cash Incentives

Let's look at some of the benefits of non-cash rewards before diving into our list of examples.

1. Memorable

Non-cash incentives are more unforgettable than monetary rewards because they are simpler to distinguish from pay. Being honored at work with a gift, lunch, or a short trip has a longer-lasting, more favorable influence on employees than receiving additional cash. This is amplified when they're given out as part of a formal event, such as an awards dinner. It helps the employee(s) who got the reward to feel unique and cherished, which is often more difficult to do with money. It will make their experience with your company one to remember.

2. Provide Great Value for Money

You can have a big influence without shattering the budget if you use non-cash incentives. Non-cash incentives, for the most part, may be provided relatively cheaply. Many non-cash rewards have a hazy value attached to them. Subsidized gym memberships are one example, as are high-quality employee recognition programs, which are made less expensive by their excellent return on investment. You don't need a lot of money to start such programs, and the perks are numerous: from improved employee connections and long-term engagement to increased trust, productivity, performance, and so on. Non-cash incentives are frequently appreciated higher than their monetary worth.

3. Good Fringe Benefits Attract Millennials

Because let's be honest, money is vital. However, money isn't always the primary motivator for us to stay with or join a company. Employee benefits are a wonderful place to start if you want to recruit new talent, especially those who have recently graduated from university or graduate school programs. Unique office benefits and wellness programs appeal to the market's younger workers. As a result, non-cash incentives may be an important aspect of your employer's branding strategy, and they may be the decisive factor in applicants' decisions to select you over a rival.

4. Attraction and Retention

Non-cash incentives evoke interest and motivation because they make people feel appreciated, provide growth opportunities, and demonstrate their influence on the firm. They assist in employee participation. Non-cash incentives are wonderful conversation starters, like time off for volunteering, actual gifts, or team excursions. They may be a great way for people to break the ice and start a discussion. We stay because of the people we work with, our boss, the job itself, and the non-cash incentives. Also, you can instantaneously reward someone. Unlike a cash bonus or a salary raise, which must be delivered on the following paycheck, most non-cash incentives can be offered immediately.

Examples of Non-Cash Incentives to Offer

Here are the top four enticing non-cash incentives you can offer your sales reps:

1. Experiential Rewards

Instead of transactional rewards, experiential incentives have the advantage of being more remembered. They also enable you to create an emotional bond between your employees and your brand. It may be anything from a trip to the spa to a trip worldwide! Instead of financial compensation for their accomplishment and hard work, employees view these rewards to be more meaningful. However, the great thing about experiential rewards is that you can customize them to fit your business, your workers, and your budget. Giving your workers what they want, indulging their hobbies, or assisting them in discovering a new activity is the key. Employee engagement and retention have been shown to improve with experiential rewards.

2. Shoutout and Recognition

As corny as it may sound, a simple (open) thank you may go a long way regarding non-cash incentives. If there isn't enough money for prizes and awards, acknowledgment and shoutouts can suffice. Employees who have put in a lot of effort deserve to be recognized.

Fostering a culture of appreciation backed by a strong peer recognition program and embraced by everyone in the business (from top to bottom and vice versa) is an effective method to guarantee that employees hear "thank you" when needed. Not only may they be used to inspire employees in the same way as rewards do, but they can also develop connections between employees and employers by demonstrating that their efforts are valued and establishing trust. This can be a direct email complimenting them from you or a manager, a thank you letter or a written statement, noting their accomplishment at a meeting, or social media acknowledgment.

3. Extra Leave

We all enjoy a day off, so giving your employees an unexpected additional day off (outside of their yearly leave allotment) may be a terrific way to express gratitude. Employees can be rewarded with more time off by giving them an extra day or a birthday off, a longer lunch break, an early finish on Friday, or a later start on Monday. A healthy work/life balance may also help workers be healthier, happier, and more engaged at work, which benefits them and you. However, you should only do so if it serves your company goals and has no negative impact on your return on investment.

4. Flexible Work Hours

You may provide your top achievers employment flexibility in exchange for their hard work. Flexible work schedules allow them to spend more time with their family and friends while also demonstrating confidence in them. This is, unsurprisingly, one of the most well-liked non-cash incentives among employees. This implies that workers have as much control as possible over what they do. Employees with positions that allow them to work from home can work from home, come to the office a couple of days a week, or work full-time from the office. When applicants apply, certain organizations may provide them with the option of choosing between positions that are totally remote or (partially) office-based. If your sales staff fulfills your goals, there's no reason why you shouldn't provide them with a more flexible schedule.


Your company's specific circumstances and desired goals should guide your decision on whether to give cash or non-cash incentives to employees. You must recognize and reward people for their hard work and devotion, and being an effective manager requires knowing what sorts of incentive plans and awards your employees value. While money is useful, it cannot be used to establish an emotional relationship. As a result, non-cash incentives are a more powerful motivator. After all, people are the lifeblood of your business, and expressing gratitude is critical to its success.

About Author

Sumeet Shah

Chief Growth Officer @Incentivate, has over 15 years of experience in management consulting, product engineering, and analytics, working with clients across multiple countries, functions, and domains.