25 Employee Incentive Ideas To Motivate Your Team

In the article, you’ll dive into the significance of employee incentives and how they can transform the workplace environment. Learn how to motivate your team beyond just their paycheck, discover 25 innovative incentive ideas that won’t strain your budget, and understand the lasting benefits these incentives can bring to your organization, from increased productivity to happier employees.

Key takeaways:

  1. Employee incentive programs boost morale, productivity, and retention.
  2. Incentives range from simple gestures like saying “thank you” to more elaborate rewards such as offering flexible work schedules.
  3. Recognizing and rewarding positivity, as well as personal accomplishments, fosters a positive work culture.
  4. Employee incentives can be tailored to address specific pain points and exceed employee expectations.
  5. Engaging tools like the When I Work scheduling app can serve as valuable incentives by promoting work-life balance.

Sure, your employees come to work to earn their pay. But in today’s labor market, where workers want more than just a check, how do you motivate them to do great work that keeps them fulfilled? And how do you get them to stay at your business to do it? The answer is in an employee incentive program.

If you want to retain your best workers, motivate them to keep performing at a high level, and improve employee morale overall, an employee incentive program is the best place to start. Incentives encourage workers to do their best, pushing good workers to be great and encouraging average workers to try harder. 

You want your employees to want to strive to do their best every day, and the best way to do that is to give them an added incentive. It’s positive reinforcement for a job well done, which is always more effective than a negative consequence.

Related read: 18 Simple Ways To Keep A Positive Attitude At Work

Introducing an employee incentive program, even just a small one that won’t break the bank, will have lasting benefits throughout your organization, including:

  • Increased productivity—offering incentives can keep your employees productive, pushing them to achieve a goal they might not otherwise hit.
  • Decreased turnover—when your workers know they’ll be rewarded for their efforts, they’re more likely to feel valued and stay at your business longer.
  • Happier employees—incentives give your employees the chance to win prizes, blow off steam, or just feel appreciated in general, which is great for their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Better recruiting—use your employee incentive program as a recruiting tool to get prospective employees in the door and motivate your new hires. These are the types of benefits that are your hiring competitive advantage.

How to start an employee incentive program

The best part of starting an employee incentive program? It’s simple. You can start motivating your workers today with some of the more simple ideas.

Then, when you’re ready to put together a more comprehensive plan, you should start with your budget. Putting money behind these incentives shows your workers that you’re committed to really rewarding their hard work, and they’ll be more appreciative of the effort.

Once you’ve decided on your budget, it’s time to have some fun! Go through the employee incentive program ideas below. Feel free to use them as is or take them as inspiration to start something new. Either way, be sure your incentives are tied to your business goals and incorporate your unique company culture.

Here are 25 ideas for you to get started on your own employee incentive program: 

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 much.

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 ideas 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.

Employee incentive programs 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).

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

One more thing about employee incentive programs …

The best employee incentive might be one that you don’t even expect. Instead of figuring out how you can squeeze gift cards or bonuses into your budget, ask your employees what they want. You may find that all they really want is an easy way to manage their work life balance. Consider using an employee scheduling app, like When I Work, to include flexible scheduling as an employee incentive.

Flexible scheduling just gives your employees the chance to choose the shifts that work best for them, and the ability to use it easily for your business is built right into When I Work. You can try it free for 14 days to see how your employees might enjoy it. Sign up for your free 14-day trial of When I Work today!

Employee incentives: FAQs

Q: What are employee incentives and why are they crucial in today’s workplace?

A: Employee incentives are rewards or recognitions given to employees to motivate and encourage them to perform at their best. In today’s competitive labor market, employee incentives are essential for retaining top talent, boosting morale, increasing productivity, and ensuring overall job satisfaction.

Q: Can employee incentives be offered without a significant financial investment?

A: Absolutely! Many effective employee incentives, such as saying “thank you” or recognizing achievements publicly, don’t necessarily require a large financial commitment. The key is to be creative and understand what truly resonates with your employees.

Q: How can employee incentives impact productivity and turnover rates?

A: Employee incentives can lead to increased productivity as they encourage workers to strive for excellence and achieve goals they might not otherwise pursue. Additionally, when employees feel valued and rewarded for their efforts, they are more likely to remain loyal to the company, leading to decreased turnover rates.

Q: Are there any modern tools or platforms that can serve as employee incentives?

A: Yes, tools like the When I Work scheduling app can be used as employee incentives. Such tools promote work-life balance by allowing flexible scheduling, making employees feel more in control of their time and valued by the organization.

Q: How can I tailor employee incentives to best fit my organization’s needs and culture?

A: It’s essential to understand your employees’ pain points and expectations. Once you have this insight, you can design incentives that address specific challenges and align with your company’s goals and culture. Whether it’s offering flexibility, recognizing personal achievements, or providing tools that simplify tasks, the right incentives can make a significant difference in employee satisfaction and performance.

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