Maritz Inc., Fenton, Mo., has a new study out that analyzes employees based on the way they like to be recognized. After talking to 1,003 adults employed full time, researchers arrived at six categories — Freedom Yearners, Nesters, Award Seekers, Bottom Liners, Praise Cravers, and Upward Movers — to define employees with specific traits in the hopes of helping companies better motivate their winners.

“We decided to do this study because of the changing demographics of the workplace,” says Rodger Stotz, vice president, managing consultant for Maritz. “There are mature winners who enjoy the traditional trip, and younger winners who might want to go for the more adventurous, like mountain climbing or biking. Then there's the fact that the winners, or earners, are not all men anymore. We didn't want to be surprised by the impact these changes will have on awards.”

Take the Freedom Yearners, who make up 17 percent of the general population. They are less materially motivated and are probably not going to like an incentive trip where every minute is scheduled. And be sure not to send the Nesters (20 percent) too far away from their spouses and children; they're more interested in a regional trip or a trip to Disney with the family. On the other hand, the younger Award Seekers (22 percent) like to travel, while the Bottom Liners, the group that tends to be dissatisfied with their jobs, prefer cash bonuses or cumulative award points that they can save up to obtain rewards. The Praise Cravers (16 percent) and the Upward Movers (8 percent) would just as soon stay in the office and, well, move up.

These findings not only point to what people want from their reward programs, but also to what they value in general. For instance, the Freedom Yearner might want lots of time to lie on the beach on an incentive trip; at the same time, having flex time in the office will most likely keep this employee more committed to the company.

“By using this incentive travel insight, we can cater to and support a much larger group of participants,” Stotz says. “We also know what the middle 60 percent to 70 percent of workers who don't win [incentive contests] want, so when companies choose the right award for this group, it just might elevate their performance.”

Generally, companies that have been planning incentive programs for years keep to the same formula, which is a mistake, Stotz says. To stay competitive, companies must offer participants a variety of activities, “and knowing your audience is key to providing the best offerings,” he says.

“It's important to do the due diligence before planning a trip to understand the population that you're trying to motivate and not assume what they want. It's all about learning what they yearn for.”