25 Employee Incentive Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank

The most expensive thing you can do is lose valuable employees. Yet you are in a competitive workforce with an upcoming generation that tends to weigh benefits and incentives more than salary. So how do you offer work incentives that attract and retain employees without breaking the bank?

Here are 25 employee incentive ideas for every budget:

1. Say “thank you” when employees do great work

You can say “thank you” with a card, a handwritten note, a bouquet of flowers, or a gift card to their favorite restaurant.

Send a note to the employee’s family, letting them know how valuable they are and what they’ve done that makes you appreciate them so.

2. Make sure they’re using the best equipment

Get your employee an improved desk or chair. Make sure their computer or monitor aren’t lagging behind others. Use an employee scheduling app so they don’t have to take pictures of their schedule with their phones. 

Get them the best equipment you can afford so their job is easier and more comfortable to do. Tell them you want to know if they think they need an upgrade, or if they hear of equipment or technology that would make their job easier.

3. Honor your best employees publicly

Public recognition is a great way to honor your employees. You’re telling them “thank you”, but you are also letting them know that you want everyone to know how thankful you really are.

Whether you have an employee of the week (or month) program, or simply want to honor great work, you might want to:

  • Roll out the red carpet. Give that employee the best parking spot, or a special coffee mug.
  • Name something in their honor. Temporarily name the conference room after them, or some other room or location in your business.
  • Give them first choice in food. Let them choose who will cater a special once-a-month employee lunch.
  • Give them your office. Let them use the best office (your office, the boss’s office) or any room of their choosing, for a day.
  • Mention them to the public. Note the employee and what they’ve done in the local paper, the company newsletter or publication, the website, or the radio.
  • Tell the rest of the team. Mention the featured employee, and what they did, in front of the rest of the group, and encourage a round of applause.
  • Create a wall of fame, one that stays up all the time. Ever been to a coffee shop or bookstore where employees there write down their recommendations or thoughts on a form, and they are posted for customers to see? Give your wall of fame winners a chance to do the same. Post their photo, and what they did to get the honor.

4. Create an unassigned office that is amazing

Set up an office with a great view, fantastic chair, comfortable desk, and any other amenities you can think of. Designate this office for no specific person, but instead, as a reward.

5. Throw a party

Have a meal brought into the office periodically, or throw surprise pizza parties. Have a celebratory cake for special events, like birthdays or when a huge project is completed.

6. Give them an extra vacation day

Give your employee a paid day off, one that doesn’t count against the standard vacation day limits you might have in place. It may be in the form of an agreement, or a “free day pass” that they can use whenever they want to.

7. Give them double time

Give your employees the option to choose a day when they want to double their breaks. So, instead of just 30 minutes for lunch, they can take an hour.

8. Give them the option of flexibility

Let your employees create a flexible work schedule, whether it be the hours they work, when they work, or where they work. Some employees like the office, others might appreciate working from home. If you need everyone together once or twice a week, give them the option to be flexible with the remaining days.

9. Create a casual dress day

Fridays have become, for many businesses, a day for employees to dress down. If your office allows for it, consider letting your employees have a casual dress day.

10. Give away outside services

Who wouldn’t enjoy a relaxing chair massage during a busy work day?

Treat employees to services right there at work, a few times a year. Bring in a professional masseuse, chiropractor, dietician or nutrition expert, yoga instructor, investment counselor, life coach, personal trainer, or anything that would be either enjoyable or helpful that your employees might not take advantage of otherwise.

When such services are offered for free right there at work, it is easier for your employees to take advantage of them. Find services that are helpful and enjoyable, things they might not do on their own time or own dime. Make it clear they are welcome and encouraged to step away from their work and make use of these services when they are available.

11. Give away coupons and gift cards

Don’t limit your gifting just to services you bring into the office. Employees appreciate valuable coupons and gift cards, too.

Employee incentives you could extend include:

  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Car wash and detail coupon
  • Book allowance
  • Movie theater gift card
  • Concert tickets
  • House-cleaning or maid service at their home
  • Pay for a class or college course
  • Museum memberships

12. Make a fun game out of the gifts

Spice up your generosity with a little fun by hiding your gift. Put it behind a door or a box, and have employees choose which door or box to open. Tuck them around the office and let employees keep what they find.

Not only are you giving them the actual gift, but you’re giving them a break from their work as you let them focus on the game or the hunt instead of the work on their to-do list.

13. Create a cumulative, and funny, award

Create an award that gets passed from one employee to the next. Require them to add something to the reward. Whether you use an actual trophy, a humorous knick-knack, or even a scrapbook, the award itself becomes a source of humor and history.

For example, if you’re running an employee of the week program, put the award on their desk. When it’s their turn to pass it to the next recipient, have them add to it. When the award is full and can’t bear any more modifications, put it in a trophy case or display area, and start again.

14. Encourage employees to share about themselves

We all like to let others know about ourselves. We like to tell others what we’re interested in, or our current hobbies. Have a regular (e.g. monthly) “show and tell” time where specific employees or departments can bring in something important to them and tell the others about it during a meeting.

Not only is it a good way to highlight employees, but it’s a good way for your team to get to know each other better. Employee incentives don’t always have to revolve around monetary or material gain. 

15. Let them discard a project or “fire” a client

If an employee has done amazing work and you’re desperate to find a way to reward them that they’ll really appreciate, more than any gift or fun momentary recognition, consider this: let them “fire” a client they don’t want to work for, or drop a project that’s weighing them down.

Now, you certainly aren’t going to want them to be rude to a client, but depending on the situation, you may be in a place to allow an employee to shift away from a project or client without it hurting your bottom line. Others can continue working on that project or with that client.

16. Give them a personal assistant

Assign a secretary or personal assistant to an employee to help with filing or other tasks that may be arduous. Whether you use it as a reward, or simply to make their life easier, it will be a much appreciated employee incentive.

17. Celebrate the less obvious accomplishments, too

Do you have an employee who is doing really well with a high workload?  Who works on a variety of projects or tasks without complaining? Have they accomplished something in their personal life that has nothing to do with work?

You don’t need a specific event to have a cause for celebration. Excellence in work, when you see it, is worthy on its own. Likewise for the achievements they make in their personal life. However you choose to celebrate the accomplishment, you let your team know you appreciate them in the “everyday” things they do. As you’ve probably noticed so far, many of these work incentives simply revolve around compassion from your business leaders. 

18. Draw attention to employees outside interests

You may have employees involved in athletic competitions, charitable organizations, or other notable activities. Give them a bulletin board or a place to both be recognized for what they do, and to let others know about events.

19. Get on a first-name basis

Learn each employee’s first name. Know it. Use it. Be personal with each employee, seeing them as individuals instead of worker bees serving the company’s goals.

20. Find an excuse for a holiday

Reward employees by closing down or reducing the hours on a holiday they don’t expect. Maybe it’s Valentine’s Day, or the first day of summer—whatever you choose, put it in the employee manual and let your team enjoy being off work when the rest of the working world isn’t.

21. Highlight and reward positivity

Make a point to highlight positive things, and note that person’s name each time something positive happens. Let employees get in on the act for the kindness and positive moments they experience during the week. Put them all in a box and each week or pay period, draw out a winner. Give them a gift card or another reward.

22. Have company picnics

It sounds old school, but company picnics are a great way for everyone to get together and have fun outside of the office. They don’t have to be boring. You could rent a gym, amusement park, or other recreational facility or park to spice things up a bit.

23. Shake up the hierarchy

Have your C-suite or upper management serve your employees at a lunch, picnic, or other event. Show them they matter enough to management that they are willing to serve them.

24. Allow for family days

Most businesses have sick and vacation leave, and there are laws that dictate official family leave. Offer your own brand of family days on top of this, particularly if you have a lot of employees with children in school.

Make it easy and non-punitive for parents to request to work from home or miss work when there are snow days, kids are sick, or when there are only half days at the school. Let them use these days instead of valuable sick or vacation days.

25. Encourage community service

Give your employees paid days to be used to serve the community in any capacity they see fit. Let them get involved with organizations that are important to them so they can feel like they’re making a difference without being penalized at work.

Bonus: Ask them what they’d like

Let your employee know you appreciate their work, and why. Ask them what they’d like as a reward. Put your rewards into a box and let employees draw out their reward.

There are endless ways you can create low-cost incentives for employees that reward a job well done. The key is being creative and understanding two things:

  • Pain points. What things do your employees dread or what weighs them down? Once you know this, you can periodically reward them by removing a pain point that their job normally requires.
  • Expectations. What do your employees expect from you and their job? Once you know this, you can exceed those expectations (even in small ways) and make them feel great.

Incentives for employees can work for special occasions as well as part of a more regular or daily approach. Some of the work incentives listed here are more elaborate, for example, and should only be used once in a while. Others, however, should be in constant use (special parking space and office, for example).

Employee incentives are a balance between making daily work life more bearable and having high moments that employees can look forward to.

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