Why are objects and success symbols so important? For the same reason that an object can be meaningless to one person, but priceless to another. We attach personal value to objects. Objects are clues and links to our thoughts, memories and emotions. For this reason, they make better motivators than cash when used in employee incentive programs. Companies like Atlanta-based Incentive Solutions utilize personal significance as the foundation of tangible rewards programs, tapping into the positive emotional associations that make objects so appealing.
In her collection of essays about the personal significance objects hold, Evocative Objects, Sherry Turkle writes, “we think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.” We all have complicated inner lives, but objects play a large role in how we interact with and display ourselves to the world. Objects are containers of memory—photographs, souvenirs—and tangible links to complicated, abstract ideas. As Turkle explains, “an object serves as a marker of relationship and emotional connection” (Turkle, S., 2007).
The very nature of objects and how people use them as emotional markers plays a role in their value. When discussing objects versus cash in an incentive rewards capacity, it is clear why non-cash rewards have the advantage. Cash rewards tend to have very short lifespans. Responsibilities like gas, groceries, and bills can pile up and eat into funds that were designed to be rewards. Non-cash rewards, tangible items and experiences have all the emotional power that comes along with object attachment.
People attach to objects because objects convey ideas and emotions. One of the ideas an object can represent is success. If a saleswoman buys a new mobile phone with points earned in an incentive program, that phone is now intrinsically linked to her achievement. Maybe she was the top performer for a sales quarter, or closed a valuable new lead. She can mention it anytime she checks the time or looks at a text when out with friends. This self-esteem boost lends the phone immense trophy value.
Money, in contrast, lacks this inherent visibility and positivity. It’s actually considered rather rude to brag about success in monetary terms. On the other hand, people like to talk about object rewards or experiences, like dinner or trips, associated with work (Fisher, J., 1995).
Motivation Through Object Attachment
Object attachment and trophy value are strong sentiments. Online incentive programs are designed to turn these sentiments into motivations for employees. Rather than just doling out cash—which is lumped in with salary and usually becomes part of routine bill-paying and necessity-shopping—employers can offer their staff exciting, non-cash rewards that come with weighty emotional associations. The Incentive Solutions rewards catalog features millions of items, appealing to a broad range of personality types. Every program participant can find objects that hold personal significance to them, whether they’re cinephiles who want to expand their film collection or parents who want to see their children enjoy new toys.
Society’s fixation on objects is deeper than mere materialism or hoarding. We love objects because they are the totems of our personalities; objects are how we communicate to the outside world what we love and what’s important to us. Incentive programs can translate that love of communication through objects into a motivational tool. Because of the ideas and emotions objects can symbolize, they present a stronger draw that cash-only rewards.
Fisher, J. (1995). How to run successful employee incentive schemes: creating effective programs for improved performance. Philadelphia, PA. Kogan Page.
Turkle, S. (2007). Evocative objects: things we think with. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.