Incentive-Based Compensation

What is Incentive-Based Compensation ?


Incentive-based compensation, also known as incentive pay, is a type of reward system employers use to encourage high performance in employees. This type of compensation is separate and variable from an employee’s guaranteed salary or hourly wage, serving as an additional motivator.

Types of Incentive Compensation Plan

There are two main categories of employee incentives: monetary and non-monetary.

  • Monetary Incentives: These can include cash bonuses, company equity, stock options, sales commissions, profit sharing, performance-based raises, and rewards like gift or debit cards.
  • Non-Monetary Incentives: Examples include flexible work arrangements and wellness programs.

Another example of monetary incentive is performance-based bonuses. In this scenario, employees receive additional compensation based on meeting or exceeding specific performance targets. For instance, if an employee achieves or surpasses a set goal, such as a 20% increase in client retention over a quarter, they might be awarded a bonus. This bonus could be a predetermined amount, like $2,000, or a percentage of their base salary, such as 10%. Such incentives motivate employees to focus on specific, measurable outcomes that align with the company's objectives.

Characteristics of Effective Incentive Compensation Plan

Designing an optimal incentive compensation program requires careful consideration:

  • Consistency and Fairness: The plan should be equitable, evaluating all employees based on their performance and ensuring fair application across the board.
  • Simplicity: The program must be easy to understand for employees and manageable for the company to administer.
  • Measurability: Incentives should be tied to clear, measurable metrics like total revenue, average sale value, or call volume.
  • Attractiveness: The incentives offered must be appealing to employees while keeping overall compensation costs in check.

Incentive Pay vs. Bonus

Incentive pay and bonuses are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. While bonuses are a form of incentive pay, incentive compensation encompasses a broader range of rewards. Bonuses are usually cash-based and not guaranteed in advance, whereas incentive plans are more diverse and aim to influence employee behaviour more directly.

Effectiveness of Incentive Pay

Incentive pay programs, when well-structured, are effective in motivating employees. The majority of companies use some form of incentive program, finding that it benefits both the employer and employee when properly implemented.