Digital Is All the Rage: Why Employee Rewards Must Include Digital Options In 2021

2020 is in the rearview mirror, and this new year gives each of us a much-needed, symbolic opportunity to hit “restart.” And, the same holds true for companies looking to move forward after last year’s business plans and carefully thought-out strategies were likely thrown out the window or revamped unexpectedly.

As a result of the pandemic, there have been dramatic shifts in peoples’ acceptance of and preferences toward all things digital—evident by increases in online and mobile shopping, contactless payments, virtual hangouts and even remote workplaces. People are also more budget-conscious and are showing a keen interest in using the rewards they earn to pay for things and treat themselves instead of letting those rewards sit idle. This is a huge opportunity for employers. Offering digital employee rewards gives employers a way to give employees a payment tool they can use the where, when and how they want—making them more meaningful and likely to resonate.

Here are the top reasons you should offer digital rewards to your employees in 2021:

  • Employees want to feel “seen” and appreciated in their virtual and remote environments. One of the most significant disruptions to what was “normal” day-to-day life has been the shift in where people work. Our latest research found that approximately 50 percent of Americans are working from home right now[1], many for the foreseeable future. In-person recognition and reward tactics that used to be effective are now irrelevant in many virtual environments. If your workforce is spread apart geographically and separated from in-person interactions, digital rewards can reach your employees where they are to keep them engaged with your business. People want to feel “seen” and appreciated, and digital rewards can do both via the digital channels remote workers rely on to do their jobs and go about their lives.
  • Digital rewards are mobile wallet-friendly. There was a surge in digital wallet adoption last year. We know, based on recent research[2], that mobile wallet adoption in the U.S. jumped from 38% usage before the pandemic to 55%. Additionally, on a global scale, 88% of shoppers surveyed across eight countries use a digital wallet of some kind2. Add to that the fact that our research[3] found 86 percent of surveyed consumers want the option to add rewards to a digital wallet and you’ve got a recipe for an easy win since digital rewards can be uploaded to digital wallets for easy, contactless spending.
  • Digital rewards are easy to spend via traditional and contactless methods. A versatile rewards mix ensures you’re better equipped to satisfy a wide range of employee payment preferences—even for those who aren’t riding the contactless wave. Digital rewards can be uploaded into mobile wallets and redeemed almost anywhere major credit cards are accepted—and they can even be printed for in-store scanning. For example, eGifts are delivered via email or SMS message and offer redemption flexibility since they can be spent online, in-app, via mobile wallet in addition to being printed out and scanned in-store. No matter someone’s redemption preference, digital rewards open the doors for a wide variety of payment options.
  • People want rewards fast and businesses want to save money. People want to receive their rewards soon after earning them. Digital rewards satisfy the desire for near-instant results delivered quickly—enabling faster, safer and more flexible redemption. This helps increase efficiency since you can circumvent the slow, cumbersome snail mail process. It also cuts overhead since digital rewards eliminate the need for shipping costs. Delivering rewards within minutes after they are earned empowers recipients to turn around and spend them almost immediately. It also helps quickly reinforce why rewards are earned in the first place at a lower cost than physical rewards employers have to pay to ship.
  • Wellness will be top of mind. At the beginning of any year, employees are typically more enthusiastic about their New Year’s resolutions and motivated to prioritize their health than any other time of the year. To help avoid a drop-off in this gusto as the year goes on, you can continually offer digital rewards to employees who take regular steps toward wellness—including visiting their doctor for check-ups and screenings (which helps you stave off higher healthcare costs). Digital incentives can help keep your employees engaged, healthy and productive while also helping keep your business in tip top shape.

Reward programs circa 2020 won’t cut it in our new world. People have come to prefer digital integration in all facets of their day-to-day lives—and the rewards they receive from an employer are no exception. To reap the benefits of a successful employee rewards program such as increased loyalty, engagement and productivity employers need to think digital in 2021.


[1]The “Holiday Rewards” study was an internet-based study conducted by SurveyMonkey on behalf of Blackhawk Network in October 2020. The sample size included 4,164 working age Americans ages 18-60.

[2] “BrandedPay: How People and Brands Connect Through Payments” is based on the findings of an internet-based survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Blackhawk Network between February 12 and March 17, 2020. The sample size included over 12,000 respondents in eight countries.

[3] “The Emerging Payments study” is an online survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Blackhawk Network from October 3–22, 2019. The sample size included 2,219 participants.

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