Employee rewards are an essential component of an effective engagement strategy, but many leaders still struggle to implement rewards successfully. Aligning the rewards you provide with the things your team truly values will make a big difference in how they're received.
If that seems like a challenge, don't worry — we've got you covered with a huge list of creative reward ideas for your staff. The list was so popular, we updated and expanded it for 2016.
Employee rewards don't have to be large or costly; in many cases, small rewards are equally effective because they can be given more frequently — and frequency is a crucial element of a successful rewards program. Creativity, not cost, is the real key to building a great set of employee rewards everyone will be excited to earn.
Creativity not your core competency? Don't worry.
To help oil the gears, we put together a list of employee reward ideas, organized by category to make it easy to find the perfect option. Think of this as a jumping-off point to developing your own outstanding catalog of creative employee rewards.
What are some rewards that only you can give to your employees? These are some of the most unique employee rewards you can provide. If you're not considering them as an option, you're missing the boat. Here are a couple ideas to get started:
Before we go any further here: make sure these things are cool or useful so people actually want them. Lots of companies have the standard cheap screen printed pens and such, but you can be more creative than that, right?
If it feels like junk or is garishly branded, it's not going to be a particularly enticing reward — worse, it can even reflect poorly on the company. It doesn't take a huge mental leap to equate the apparent value of a reward with the value placed on the contributions that earned it.
This type of reward is most effective when this gear is tasteful, useful, and of the best quality possible. It can be especially fun when there's a limited quantity available.
For example: we have a limited-edition early employee t-shirt that everyone covets for its unrivaled softness and awesome design featuring the Brooklyn Bridge. Over a year later, I still wear mine and smile about the early days every time I put it on.
Some other basic examples include:
- Coffee mugs
- Water bottles
Although those can be great options, sometimes an even better approach would be to match those items to the team's culture.
If there are a lot of outdoor enthusiasts among the team, maybe consider something like a daypack. If there's a large contingent of golfers among you, consider some gear that fits. You can get almost anything branded or personalized.
Still not sure what kind of gear you should be considering? Poll your team and pick from the most popular suggestions.
Lunch with the president/CEO/leader
You might be surprised how many employees would love a chance to sit down and break bread with the leader of the organization. If your employees want to get to know you better, why not give them a chance in an informal, relaxed setting?
Master classes (lunch and learn)
Do you have a senior employee willing to share some of their highly valuable skills or insights? Provide an incentive for them to hold a master class — you could fund it through the rewards program.
You might also have a virtuoso, or hobbyist on your team that would be willing to teach a class on their area of expertise in return for picking up the tab for lunch. We recently held some great lunch and learns on topics like "Listening with Empathy" and "Google Analytics."
Bring your pet to work
If your office circumstances permit, pets at work can be a great way to improve morale across the entire team. It's a good idea to check with everyone before rolling out something like this though — not everyone is keen on sharing their work space with pets.
The best parking spot
Unless (like half of our team) you're based somewhere like NYC, there's almost always going to be a number one parking spot that everyone wants. If your company has designated parking, reserving the absolute best spot for a celebrated teammate can be a great reward.
Pick the music
If you have music playing in your office and there's not already a mandatory soundtrack, consider offering the ability to choose the music for the day as a reward for employees.
It costs nothing, can boost morale, and presents the opportunity for members of the team to share a bit about themselves. Who knows — you might even get introduced to your new favorite song.
Professional development is good for both employees and the company. For that reason, many companies offer a subsidy for these types of rewards. Here are a couple examples:
As an employer, you can help provide the materials an employee needs to improve their mastery over a subject. See what kinds of books and other educational resources might be valuable to your team.
Audiobooks and eBooks are also a great resource that aren't often considered. They're delivered digitally, which makes fulfilling them easy.
There are countless courses that employees can enroll in to improve their skills and gain certifications. Consider curating a list of online courses you can provide subsidized or free access to.
Seminars are a great way to absorb a large amount of information, meet people, and expand skill sets. This is an employee reward that offers major benefits to the organization as well, as employees gain valuable skills that can be applied on the job.
There are some excellent online services out there that can help people learn new skills for free. Many of those services offer paid memberships with added benefits and expanded catalogs and functionality.
Conferences can be expensive to attend, but they're often fun, and a great place to learn about the latest best practices, and build valuable relationships. Subsidizing or covering the cost of a trip to a conference can be a great reward for employees who has show extra initiative and interest.
There are some rewards that you can provide to your team that are only available in your location. These are great rewards to offer because they are unique, and often favorites of people in the area.
Every city has a list of favorite local establishments, and many of them sell gift certificates. Think of a few cherished local spots you can add to your list of rewards.
Local events are another great, custom-tailored reward you can offer your team. Are there any events coming to town that you know your team would be excited to attend? Those would be some excellent rewards for a job well done.
It doesn't matter where you're located — there will always be local attractions. Maybe there's a great ski area nearby, a golf course, or a boat ride. Take advantage of the unique things your area has to offer.
Time is a person's most valuable resource, and it's the one thing you can never get back. Why not offer some of it back to your team? Even if you absolutely love your job, a little extra time to yourself is always welcome.
An extra long, relaxed lunch can set a zen-like tone for the rest of the day, even when the extra time spent is relatively small.
Think back to your school days, and remember the utter joy of 'early release day.' This is especially appealing during the spring and summer months, when the weather is great, and an extra hour can feel like a half-day off. Just one extra hour can make enough time for activities you'd otherwise miss out on.
Have you ever woken to an alarm in the early morning hours — sunlight barely peeking through the curtains and the world just beginning to hum — wishing that you could indulge in that moment just a little longer?
Providing the option to enjoy that time could be a great way to reward an employee's contributions. As an added bonus, it might help eliminate grouchy behavior.
Extra PTO hours
You could also consider extra PTO hours as a reward. This gives employees the autonomy to save up extra hours of PTO for a half, or even a full day.
Work from home day
If you have the infrastructure to support it (it is 2016 after all), a work from home day is a great reward that provides the autonomy and flexibility so frequently listed as a crucial differentiator between employers in the modern talent landscape.
In many cases, eliminating the commute can make for an exceptionally productive day. Everybody wins.
You don't always need to give employees time away from the office to give them the gift of time. Consider offering vouchers for a house cleaning as a reward. It will give them back the precious time they would have spent cleaning.
If you're located in a city where laundromats are a way of life, this is just another example of an easy way to give time back to your team.
Sometimes the easiest way to pick the right reward is to let the recipient choose it.
There's a special feeling you get when you buy a pair of new shoes, a spa day, or a cup of coffee on the weekend and know your company just treated you to it. There is a huge variety of gift cards from your team's favorite retailers that you can provide.
Many of your employees are likely making charitable donations already. You can help them to amplify the impact they're making by giving them an option to make charitable donations as a reward for great work on the job.
It's a goal of many great leaders to help their team get where they want to be in life. Offering travel as a reward for great work can make that easier.
Here are a couple examples:
You don't have to send the team on a tropical vacation to get some mileage out of this reward, and there are some great ways you can approach it to maximize the benefits.
For example: We offer a travel subsidy for employees traveling between NYC and Boulder, CO (where our offices are).
The travel doesn't have to be work related — the only stipulation is that the traveler must make it to at least one team lunch or happy hour while they're there. This provides a nice incentive to take a trip somewhere fun, and helps strengthen the bond across our team.
Depending on your location, getting to and from the office can be a challenge, and in some cases, expensive. If it's not already mandatory in your city to offer transit assistance to employees, it's a great way to eliminate the daily stress associated with getting to and from work.
Car rental upgrade
Are you already offering a car rental stipend for employees during work trips? It might be worth considering a car rental upgrade as a reward for a big contribution.
Employee rewards don't have to be given on an individual basis. There are a bunch of rewards you can offer to help inspire stronger bonds between coworkers, which is an incredibly valuable asset for both them and the organization as a whole.
Happy hours are a great way to get everyone together outside of the office in a more neutral and relaxed setting. It doesn't necessarily have to be at a bar, or include alcohol — the real goal here is to provide an environment that gives everyone an opportunity to kick off their shoes and get to know each other better.
If you have more than one office, offering employees opportunities to spend time working in a different office is a great way to break the monotony of the daily routine, while still getting great work done. It's also a nice way for employees who may never have met face-to-face to forge valuable friendships.
It's always great to break bread with the team. It gives everyone time to enjoy each other's company in a different environment, and a different context. If cost is an issue, there are a lot of creative ways to keep it affordable — even if it's simply a bag lunch day in a nice, alternate setting.
Healthy employees are often more productive, according to research shared by the CDC. Offering rewards that can help improve employee health can benefit everyone.
Here are a couple examples:
At Bonusly, our NYC office has a yearlong CitiBike membership available as a reward. This is a great option because it covers both health and transit. If you're not based in a city with a bike share program, there are likely some similar services to take advantage of.
A gym membership is a great way to help employees maintain their physical health, especially in the winter months when it's harder to get active outside.
There's no guarantee that this is something everyone will be interested in taking advantage of, but that's OK. Those who are interested will greatly appreciate it, and those who aren't will have plenty of other options to choose from.
Part of building a great catalog of employee rewards is keeping it broad enough to appeal to the wide variety of people on your team.
Personal training vouchers
It's in an employer's best interest to help their employees achieve their goals — whether that means operating at the top of their professional field, or feeling great physically. If members of the team show interest in this type of reward, it's a great way to help them achieve their personal goals.
Some call it mindfulness, some meditation — no matter the name, it can be great to take a few moments to step back and reset. Although this activity has such a strong potential upside, there's very little a company needs to sacrifice in order to put something like this in place. Just a few minutes a day.
Yoga can help improve fitness of both the body and mind. Offering a yoga class to employees can be a great reward, and an excellent tool for unwinding after a hard day's work.
This list is only the beginning. There are some other great resources available that you might find helpful too. The key is to use these guides to start thinking about your own unique and creative ways to reward your employees with things they will genuinely value.
If you're ready to take the next step in your journey to building a more engaged team, feel free to take a free copy of our latest guide: