8 Real World Examples of Companies Using Incentive Programs

Incentive programs are a powerful way to keep your employees happy and motivated. When tuned properly, they can be a strong driving force for performance. Unfortunately, much of what is written about them online is based on hypotheticals, example situations, and unrealistic ideal conditions that aren’t common.

Have you ever wanted to see how an incentive program looks in action? There are many companies around the world using incentive programs, so all it takes is finding exemplary examples.

We’ve compiled the details on eight such companies to show you how it’s done and what kinds of lessons you can learn.

1: Zappos


If you’ve spent any time at all reading about various ways to make your company stand out in a positive way, you’ve likely seen Zappos as a prime example. They’ve done a lot of things in a unique and compelling way, though many of their initiatives are experimental and don’t last indefinitely. For example, they pioneered the “pay to quit” program that has since been adopted by many organizations as a way to buy out unhappy employees and ensure that everyone who sticks around is there because they want to be. It’s one of their core values.

Zappos maintains a uniquely flat employee hierarchy and reinforces this by allowing everyone to recognize and award anyone else within the company, along with a monthly choice to identify a top performer as a “hero” who gets a whole parade and a slew of minor perks, ranging from a cape to wear to a covered parking spot.

Zappos Incentive Program Example

There’s no single example of an incentive in Zappos that is absolutely game-changing. Instead, they show that a variety of different minor incentives can add up to one comprehensive program that keeps employees happy, motivated, and engaged with the company and its values.

2: Bain and Company

Bain and Company

Bain and Company is a global consulting firm that swoops in, works with a company, defines industry-relevant challenges, and identifies solutions to those challenges. Their unique culture, their emphasis on making a real difference in the world, and their incentive programs have earned them a top spot on Glassdoor’s “best places to work” list for 14 years and counting.

What kinds of incentives come into play at Bain? A little of everything.

  • Flexible working situations, including flexible hours, hybrid and remote work, and other models.
  • Paid time off, earned as a performance bonus for a job well done.
  • The ability to work in different locations and on various problems, wherever the employee feels they can be the most productive.
  • Significant performance bonuses, signing bonuses, and other powerfully-motivating monetary rewards.

One essential element of all of Bain’s performance incentives is that they’re generally collaborative, and the company structure is focused on letting employees work in areas and with companies where they can be most productive. Thus, bonuses and incentives aren’t monopolized by employees who happen to be a bit more well-connected or got lucky in their placement; mobility means everyone has an equal chance to succeed.

Bain and Company Recognition

Of course, many of the employees Bain hires are already well-compensated, so for many, it’s less about the raw money and more about the flexibility and mobility to solve the problems they genuinely want to tackle. This alignment of intrinsic motivation with company focus sends morale skyrocketing.

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3: Chesapeake Energy Corp

Chesapeake Energy Corp

Chesapeake Energy is one of the largest natural gas producers in the nation, and though they’ve had some tough times recently, they still focus on employee benefits. One such slate of benefits is a dramatic focus on health and wellness.

This takes many forms. Chesapeake benefits include a wealth of time off that can be taken as sick leave and mental vacation days, comprehensive employee insurance that covers medical, dental, vision, prescriptions, disability coverage, and more.

On top of that, they offer numerous “implicit” health benefits. For example, they provide free SCUBA certification, and their massive fitness center has an Olympic-sized pool, an enormous climbing wall, and a giant walking track. All of these are ways to passively encourage physical health, which in turn promotes mental health, motivation, and morale.

Chesapeake Energy Benefits

Relatively few companies are able to provide such robust physical incentives to their employees – and indeed, many Chesapeake employees may not work in the facility equipped with all of these perks – but it’s still a decisive motivating factor for many workers.

4: HP

HP Incentives

HP has a range of employee-motivating perks, including many that have been implemented since the start of the COVID pandemic. Many employee incentives require employees to work in a central facility that has access to those incentives, and that wasn’t feasible for quite a while. So, new incentives needed to take their place. HP has offered a range of such incentives, including:

  • Casual, social meetings like virtual dance parties on the weekends.
  • Guided experiences, like cooking classes led by Michelin chefs.
  • Tutoring and home learning support for children of employees, particularly those forced into virtual classes or homeschooling.
  • Various financial incentives, of course.

On top of this, one special incentive HP offers is paying for volunteer work. Employees who report at least ten hours of volunteer work each quarter are awarded with both financial and non-financial rewards, including $50 gifts to charities, employee discounts of varying kinds, and even paid vacation time. HP does this in partnership with the Network for Good, which has produced a case study about their incentive programs.

HP Benefits

The variety of incentives is a commonality between HP and the other companies on this list. It’s a great lesson to take: no single incentive program is likely to be enough for your entire workforce. Rather than trying to build a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s often better to put together what amounts to an ala carte selection of incentives and benefits that can, through customization, motivate and incentivize your entire workforce in different ways, all tailored to their desires.

5: Apple

Apple Incentives

Apple is a global megacorporation, and as such, they have several unique concerns, especially when it comes to employee motivation.

Here’s an example: Apple offered not just one but three paid vacation days centered around Thanksgiving. That’s great for people in the USA who celebrate Thanksgiving. What about people in other countries or people who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving? Apple thought of them and offered similar vacation days centered around other regional and religious holidays, like Diwali or Eid.

Of course, if Apple gave their retail employees three days off around Thanksgiving, they’d be closed for Black Friday, one of the busiest retail days of the year. So, instead of offering those particular days to retail employees, they choose a different set of days during off-peak times. They get the best of both worlds; employee motivation and productivity on busy days and rewards when times are slower, and they don’t impact the bottom line as much.

Apple Incentive Page

It’s all too common for global corporations to fail to take cultural differences, religious variance, and job roles into consideration when developing an incentive program. Even in smaller companies, you’re likely to have a diverse roster of employees, and it can be hugely beneficial to understand varying cultural, religious, and social pressures and customize incentives for them. Even if you only have one or two employees who celebrate Diwali, they’ll definitely feel better about being offered the incentive of taking that time off for it.

6: DreamWorks

DreamWorks Incentives

DreamWorks may often play second fiddle to the Disney/Pixar animation giant, but they’re still one of the largest and most popular animation studios in the world. Their workplace culture is, understandably, focused on art, creativity, and innovation.

As such, one prevailing set of incentives for DreamWorks employees is a wide range of art shows, craft fairs, movie screenings, art classes, development lectures, and other creative development sessions. After all, it’s hard to be uniquely creative without a wide range of inputs giving you inspiration, and it’s always a good idea for creative employees to be exposed to avenues to learn and develop their artistic skills.

This is another example of how contextual incentives can be beneficial to a company. If a company like Walmart or a manufacturing firm offered attendance to an art fair or a film screening to their employees, it might be a pleasant diversion for a small percentage of them, but it’s not terribly relevant to the company or its employees. But, with a company focused on creativity and art like DreamWorks, the incentive is much more aligned with their work. It not only improves employee morale and motivation but can also help foster inspiration, creativity, and skills.

7: Unilever

Unilever Incentives

As another global corporation, Unilever faced the challenge of incentive programs that need to be easy to administrate for tens of thousands of employees while still providing a slate of rewards that are motivating and relevant to individuals.

Their solution was to develop a flexible reward system that analyzed various behaviors, interests, proclivities, and cultural influences of each individual employee. Unilever tailored the rewards program to each one of its employees by selecting from a slate of incentives and rewards out of a more significant system. Everything they offer, from financial incentives to time off to recognition and more, is all managed through this system.

The system proved to be so helpful and powerful, in fact, that they spun it off into its own company. In addition to customized rewards, the system is also heavily transparent, in that each part of the incentive package is assigned a value, and those values are all visible to employees, so they can recognize that their incentives, while tailored to them, are still equitable across various demographics.

8: Google

Google Incentives

Google has to be on any list of employee incentive programs simply because they’ve tried so many different options over the years that some of their innovation has stuck and trickled to others in the industry.

What does Google offer? It’s almost an easier question to say what they don’t provide. Throughout the years, Google has offered everything from in-house sports and recreation, a bowling alley, a food pantry, extensive financial incentives, plenty of health and wellness coverage, and much more.

Google is also notorious for offering employees flexibility in projects, allocating 20% of their time to passion projects. This has resulted in plenty of abandoned projects, but it has also resulted in some of the most popular Google services.

Another semi-famous perk is related to bereavement; the spouse or family of any Google employee would get some percentage of their salary if the employee passes away for ten years. This no longer seems to be available, but with the massive range of other incentives, it’s no surprise that some of them get chopped along the way.

One downside to this approach, however, is the inconsistency. It’s continually unclear what incentives are available at any given time, at least from the outside. Maybe Google employees have a better view of what they get. It’s one risk inherent to offering comprehensive and customizable plans without some centralized system like Unilever uses to manage it all.

Customized Incentives for Your Business

Customized Incentives

Your company needs incentives; that much is clear. Whether you want purely financial incentives, customizable incentives, travel, gift cards, employee recognition programs, or something else, you have plenty of options available to you. In fact, there are so many options that it can be difficult to determine what you can offer and how you can manage it.

That’s where we come in. We’re experts in developing and managing customized incentive programs for businesses large and small. We create turn-key solutions for your incentive needs, working with you to develop your program and giving you full control over it. All you need to do is reach out to us to develop an incentive program for you.

What do you think? Which companies have the best incentive programs, and which ones are ideal for you to model your own program after? What do you want to offer your employees to keep their motivation high? Let us know in the comments!

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