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The Empuls Glossary

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Employee Incentive Plan

An employee incentive plan is a structured program implemented by an organization to motivate and reward employees for achieving specific goals or behaviors that contribute to the success of the company.

What is an employee incentive plan

An employee incentive plan is a program designed by employers to reward and recognize employees’ exceptional performance and contributions to the company’s success.

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What are the different types of employee incentive plans?

The types of employee incentive plans are

1. Financial incentives

  • Salary increases - Periodic increases in base pay based on performance evaluations or tenure.
  • Bonuses - Lump-sum payments awarded for meeting or exceeding performance targets, such as individual, team, or company-wide goals.
  • Profit sharing - Distributing a portion of the company's profits among employees, typically on an annual basis.
  • Stock options - Providing employees with the option to buy company stock at a predetermined price, often as a reward for achieving performance targets or remaining with the company for a certain period.

2. Non-financial incentives

  • Recognition and awards -  Public acknowledgment of exceptional performance through certificates, plaques, or trophies.
  • Employee of the month programs - Highlighting outstanding employees on a regular basis.
  • Employee appreciation events - Organizing social events, outings, or celebrations to recognize and appreciate employees' efforts.
  • Career development opportunities - Offering opportunities for skill development, training programs, or career advancement paths.
  • Flexible work arrangements - Providing options such as telecommuting, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks to improve work-life balance.
  • Workplace wellness programs -  Initiatives promoting physical and mental well-being, such as gym memberships, health screenings, or stress management workshops.

3. Team-based incentives

  • Team bonuses - Rewards distributed to entire teams for achieving collective goals or completing projects within budget and on time.
  • Profit sharing for teams - Sharing a portion of company profits among teams based on their contribution to overall performance.
  • Group recognition - Acknowledging the accomplishments of teams through ceremonies, newsletters, or internal communications.

4. Performance-based incentives

  • Sales commission - Offering a percentage of sales revenue to sales staff as a commission.
  • Merit pay increases -  Rewarding individual performance with pay raises based on performance appraisals.
  • Piece-rate pay - Compensating employees based on the number of units produced or tasks completed.
  • Performance-based bonuses -  Providing bonuses tied directly to achieving specific performance metrics or targets.

5. Long-term incentives

  • Restricted stock units (RSUs) - Granting employees shares of company stock that vest over time or upon achieving performance milestones.
  • Deferred compensation plans - Allowing employees to defer a portion of their compensation until a future date, often tied to performance or tenure.
  • Pension plans - Offering retirement benefits based on years of service or salary history.

Why are employee incentive plans important for an organization’s success?

Employee incentive plans are important for an organization’s success because:

  • Motivation and engagement: Incentive plans provide employees with tangible rewards or recognition for achieving specific goals or performance targets. This motivates employees to work harder, improve productivity, and actively contribute to the success of the organization.
  • Alignment with organizational goals: Incentive plans can be designed to align employee efforts with organizational objectives. By linking incentives to key performance indicators (KPIs) or strategic priorities, employees are encouraged to focus on activities that drive business success.
  • Attraction and retention of talent: Competitive incentive plans can help attract top talent to the organization and retain existing employees. Incentives such as bonuses, commissions, or stock options serve as valuable incentives for employees to stay committed to the company.
  • Performance improvement: Incentive plans create a performance-driven culture where employees are rewarded for their contributions. This fosters a sense of accountability and encourages employees to continuously strive for excellence, leading to improved overall performance.
  • Innovation and creativity: Incentive plans can stimulate innovation and creativity by rewarding employees for generating new ideas, solving problems, or implementing process improvements. Incentives motivate employees to think outside the box and contribute to the company's growth and competitiveness.
  • Cost-effective reward system: Incentive plans offer a cost-effective way to reward employees based on their performance and contributions. Unlike fixed salary increases or bonuses, incentive plans are often tied to specific achievements or outcomes, ensuring that rewards are directly linked to results.
  • Employee satisfaction and morale: Recognizing and rewarding employees for their efforts and achievements boosts morale and job satisfaction. Incentive plans demonstrate that the organization values and appreciates employee contributions, leading to greater job satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Employee development and growth: Incentive plans can be used to encourage employee development and growth by tying rewards to skill development, training, or career advancement. This encourages employees to invest in their professional development and acquire new skills that benefit both the individual and the organization.
  • Competitive advantage: A well-designed incentive plan can give the company a competitive advantage in attracting, motivating, and retaining talent. Organizations that offer attractive incentive packages are more likely to attract high-caliber employees and outperform competitors in the marketplace.
  • Employee ownership and accountability: Incentive plans that include stock options or profit-sharing arrangements can foster a sense of ownership and accountability among employees. When employees have a stake in the company's success, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and strive for excellence.

Why is it important to regularly review and update an employee incentive plan?

Regularly reviewing and updating an employee incentive plan is crucial for several reasons:

  • Adaptation to changing business environment: Business conditions, market dynamics, and organizational goals can evolve over time. Regularly reviewing the incentive plan allows the organization to remain relevant and aligned with the current business environment. Updates may be necessary to reflect changes in strategic priorities, market conditions, or industry trends.
  • Employee feedback and engagement: Soliciting feedback from employees about the effectiveness of the incentive plan can provide valuable insights into what is working well and what could be improved. Regular reviews create opportunities for employees to share their perspectives, concerns, and suggestions for enhancing the plan, fostering greater engagement and buy-in from the workforce.
  • Performance evaluation and goal alignment: As employees achieve their goals and objectives, assessing their performance and adjusting incentive structures is essential. Regular reviews enable organizations to evaluate the effectiveness of existing performance metrics and goals and make necessary revisions to ensure they remain challenging yet attainable and aligned with organizational priorities.
  • Fairness and equity: Over time, changes in organizational structure, roles, and responsibilities may impact the fairness and equity of the incentive plan. Regular reviews help identify and address any disparities or inequities in how rewards are distributed among employees. Updates may be needed to ensure that the incentive plan is fair, transparent, and accessible to all employees, regardless of their position or tenure.
  • Retention and motivation: Employee preferences, motivations, and expectations may change over time. Regularly reviewing and updating the incentive plan allows organizations to tailor rewards and incentives to meet the evolving needs and preferences of their workforce. This helps maintain high levels of employee motivation, satisfaction, and retention.
  • Compliance and legal considerations: Employee incentive plans may be subject to regulatory requirements, tax laws, or industry-specific regulations. Regular reviews ensure that the incentive plan remains compliant with relevant legal and regulatory frameworks. Updates may be necessary to address any changes in legislation or regulatory guidelines that could affect the design or implementation of the plan.
  • Competitive advantage: In a competitive labor market, offering attractive and competitive incentive plans can help the organization attract and retain top talent. Regularly reviewing and updating the incentive plan allows organizations to stay competitive by benchmarking against industry standards and best practices and making adjustments as needed to remain an employer of choice.

How does a company effectively implement an Employee incentive plan?

Here are steps to effectively implement an employee incentive plan:

  • Set clear objectives: Define the incentive plan's goals and objectives, ensuring they align with the organization's overall strategic priorities and business objectives. Clearly articulate the desired outcomes and performance metrics that will drive incentive eligibility.
  • Design the incentive structure: Determine the structure of the incentive plan, including the types of incentives (e.g., bonuses, commissions, profit-sharing, stock options) and the criteria for earning rewards. Design incentive mechanisms that are fair, transparent, and achievable for employees.
  • Communicate expectations: Communicate the incentive plan details to employees in a clear and transparent manner. Ensure employees understand the goals, performance criteria, eligibility requirements, and potential rewards associated with the incentive plan. Address any questions or concerns to foster buy-in and commitment.
  • Provide training and support: Offer training and support to help employees understand how to achieve the performance targets outlined in the incentive plan. Provide resources, tools, and guidance to support employees in improving their performance and maximizing their potential to earn incentives.
  • Monitor performance and progress: Implement systems and processes to track employee performance and progress toward incentive targets. Regularly monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) and provide feedback to employees on their performance relative to incentive goals. Use performance data to identify areas for improvement and make adjustments to the incentive plan as needed.
  • Reward achievement: Ensure that incentives are awarded fairly and consistently based on objective performance criteria. Avoid favoritism or bias in the allocation of rewards, and provide clear guidelines for determining eligibility and calculating incentive payouts.
  • Celebrate success: Recognize and celebrate employee achievements and successes related to the incentive plan. Publicly acknowledge individuals or teams that meet or exceed performance targets, and highlight the positive impact of their contributions on the organization's success.
  • Evaluate and adjust: Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the incentive plan in driving desired outcomes and achieving organizational goals. Solicit feedback from employees to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement in the incentive program. Use this feedback to make adjustments to the incentive plan as necessary to optimize its impact.
  • Ensure legal compliance: Ensure that the incentive plan complies with all relevant laws, regulations, and company policies. Consider consulting legal and HR experts to ensure that the incentive plan is legally compliant and does not inadvertently create any liabilities or risks for the organization.
  • Maintain transparency and communication: Maintain open and transparent communication with employees regarding the performance of the incentive plan, including progress updates, changes, and results. Solicit feedback from employees to gauge their satisfaction with the incentive program and address any concerns or issues that may arise.

Employee pulse surveys:

These are short surveys that can be sent frequently to check what your employees think about an issue quickly. The survey comprises fewer questions (not more than 10) to get the information quickly. These can be administered at regular intervals (monthly/weekly/quarterly).

One-on-one meetings:

Having periodic, hour-long meetings for an informal chat with every team member is an excellent way to get a true sense of what’s happening with them. Since it is a safe and private conversation, it helps you get better details about an issue.


eNPS (employee Net Promoter score) is one of the simplest yet effective ways to assess your employee's opinion of your company. It includes one intriguing question that gauges loyalty. An example of eNPS questions include: How likely are you to recommend our company to others? Employees respond to the eNPS survey on a scale of 1-10, where 10 denotes they are ‘highly likely’ to recommend the company and 1 signifies they are ‘highly unlikely’ to recommend it.

Based on the responses, employees can be placed in three different categories:

  • Promoters
    Employees who have responded positively or agreed.
  • Detractors
    Employees who have reacted negatively or disagreed.
  • Passives
    Employees who have stayed neutral with their responses.

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