Table of contents
  1. Types of Incentive Pay
  2. Pros and Cons of Offering Incentive Pay
  3. Tips for Designing an Incentive Pay Plan
  4. Conclusion

Incentive pay is compensation paid to an employee when they meet certain objectives such as sales or profit targets or key performance indicators (KPIs). Based on the theory that rewards drive behavior, incentive pay is a type of compensation strategy and is used to motivate employees to achieve individual or team goals. It’s often given in the form of bonuses or commissions, incentive pay can also include other benefits such as gift vouchers, prizes, or extra paid time off. 

Types of Incentive Pay

There are both monetary and non-monetary types of incentive pay.

Monetary incentive pay

  • Commissions. Often used for sales positions, commissions are calculated according to the number of sales an employee or team makes. 
  • Cash bonuses. A one-off additional cash bonus payment for instances such as signing with an organization, holidays, retention, referral, or a general annual bonus at the end of the year. 
  • Profit-sharing. This is where an organization agrees to share end-of-year profits with employees—either via cash payment or stocks. 

Non-monetary incentive pay

  • Stock options. These allow employees to buy shares in the company at a discount. This can help build a sense of ownership among employees. 
  • Gift cards or vouchers
  • Extra paid leave
  • Other gifts such as chocolates or a bottle of wine. 

Structured incentive pay

These are formal, well-defined rewards with specific criteria and measurable outcomes. Examples include performance-based bonuses, commission structures, sales targets, or achievement of specific project milestones. They are typically consistent, transparent, and based on predetermined objectives, ensuring fairness and clarity in how rewards are distributed.

Casual incentive pay

Casual incentives are more informal and spontaneous, often used to recognize efforts or achievements that may not be covered by structured programs. Examples include on-the-spot bonuses, impromptu time-off, small gifts, public recognition, or casual dress days. They offer flexibility and can be personalized, which can significantly boost morale and show employees that their efforts are noticed and appreciated in real-time.

Pros and Cons of Offering Incentive Pay


  • Recognizing and rewarding employee performance: This is a key factor in creating higher levels of employee job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and trust in management. 
  • Employee retention: Employees who feel recognized and valued by an organization are more likely to remain with it in the longer term.  Incentive pay builds on this by motivating employees to achieve certain objectives that support an organization’s broader business goals.
  • Competitive edge: Businesses often compete to attract top talent, and an incentive pay program can help you stand out from the crowd of potential employers.
  • Increased productivity: Incentive pay can increase employee satisfaction by motivating employees to work more efficiently and productively, as their efforts are directly tied to tangible rewards.
  • Creates a results-oriented culture: Such programs create a work environment that prioritizes and values tangible results and achievements.


  • Unhealthy competition: Incentive programs can sometimes foster a competitive environment that may lead to conflict among employees, undermining teamwork and collaboration.
  • Short-term focus: Employees might focus more on short-term goals to meet incentive criteria, potentially neglecting long-term objectives and sustainable growth.
  • Quality compromise: In the rush to meet targets for incentives, there’s a risk that employees may compromise on the quality of their work.
  • Inequity and morale issues: If not structured carefully, incentive programs can create perceptions of unfairness, especially if some employees feel the criteria are biased or favor certain groups.
  • Dependency on rewards: Over time, workers may become dependent on incentives and may not perform effectively without employee rewards. This can diminish intrinsic motivation.

Tips for Designing an Incentive Pay Plan

  • Ensure your incentive pay plan aligns with your business strategy. It should help your organization achieve its business goals. If it doesn’t, you risk spending money without increasing profits. 
  • Identify what you want to achieve with your incentive program. Do you want to attract top talent, increase sales, or ensure a large project is completed on time? Identifying these goals helps you to measure the effectiveness of your incentive plan and review it if necessary. 
  • Carefully consider how to structure your incentive pay program. Will it be structured,  casual, or a mix of both? What types of incentives will you offer and which employees will you offer them to? 
  • Review your proposed incentive pay plan to confirm whether it may create any inequities or other unfair outcomes. If there is potential for this, your plan may have the opposite of its intended effect and you should review it accordingly. 
  • Check legal requirements. It’s important to ensure your incentive pay plan complies with any relevant employment laws, especially regarding discrimination. It’s also essential to understand the tax consequences of your plan for both the organization and its employees. It’s worth seeking professional legal and tax advice on this. 
  • Communicate it to your employees. Employees can’t be motivated by something they don’t know about. Make sure you explain your incentive pay plan to them and make it accessible. You can do this via a company-wide email, posting the plan on your intranet, and asking managers to discuss it with their team. Setting out your incentive plan also ensures transparency around the process. 

💡 Pro Tip:

Using an management app with a company updates feature to share your incentive plan with your entire team at once. This social media-style newsfeed appears on all your employees’ phones and allows you to easily communicate policies and important announcements with a click.


While incentive pay can boost the employee experience and be a powerful tool for employee motivation and boosting productivity, it’s crucial for businesses to carefully balance its benefits against potential drawbacks like unhealthy competition and short-term focus. A well-designed incentive pay program, tailored to align with the company’s long-term goals and values, can be instrumental in fostering a motivated, productive, and harmonious work environment.