The Voucher Association was established as a trade body in 1996 to represent the key players in the £1billion corporate incentive, loyalty, reward and consumer gift voucher market. Today, the Voucher Association has 23 full members and 9 associate members, representing many of the key players in the industry.

Vouchers - helping to incentivise the public sector

Both in the public and private sector, organisations strive to motivate and encourage their workforce. Vouchers have traditionally been very popular in the private sector where they have been used to reward and incentivise all types of staff, especially sales teams. However with the publication of the white paper "Modernising Government" and its section "Incentives for Change", which states that all public sector frontline staff must be incentivised on their work performance, the public sector is also looking to vouchers.

Overall, vouchers are more popular than ever. The Voucher Association estimates the annual sales of vouchers for the entire industry to be well over £1 billion a year, with the 22 members of the Voucher Association alone contributing £750 million to this total.

The need to retain staff is an important issue for the public sector, where the same jobs in the private sector are often better compensated. One way to do this through incentive schemes. Incentive schemes not only encourage staff to work harder but can also serve as a vital tool in an organisation's efforts to hold on to its knowledge base.

So why, in the realm of staff incentives, do employers continue to favour vouchers? What is it that makes them such a successful motivational tool?

Vouchers have a perceived added value as they are more like a 'gift' than the equal amount in cash. This is because cash has no 'trophy value'. Rewarding staff by simply topping up wages lacks the personal touch. Vouchers, however, enable the employee to make a choice, and experience the satisfaction of receiving a 'gift'. Merchandise, on the other hand, represents a restriction of choice - what one member of staff may appreciate, another may not find particularly fulfilling or interesting. Also, using vouchers saves employers from the headache of trying to choose the 'right' gift.

Vouchers can overcome yet another prickly problem faced by those whose job it is to design and implement incentive schemes. Simply rewarding the few can serve to de-motivate the masses. However, rewarding the masses in a homogenous manner can alienate many. Vouchers resolve such problems as levels of value are easily assigned and the choice is put firmly in the hand of the recipient.

The beauty of vouchers is that there is something for everyone: there are over 160 different gift vouchers on offer, redeemable across the retail, travel and leisure sectors. Amongst the members of the Voucher Association there are 22 companies providing vouchers for a wide range of products ranging from electrical goods to clothing, as well as vouchers for meals in restaurants, and for holidays. They also cater for different tiers of the market, ranging from weekend stays at upmarket hotels, to vouchers that can be used for the weekend supermarket shop. Vouchers make it so much easier to relate rewards directly to achievement, as they work on so many levels.

For managers who keen to reward and motivate staff, vouchers provide an excellent solution. When compared to other incentive schemes, vouchers have an unquestionable advantage in the choice and flexibility they offer.