As any HR pro knows, employees are the lifeblood of every business. If your team is unhappy, productivity slows, employee retention suffers, and the company’s bottom line plummets. For a business to succeed, employers must keep their employees happy and the work environment positive. A great way to achieve that is through employee incentive programs.
While employee incentive programs come at a cost, what’s far more expensive is employee turnover — and the research plainly shows that effective employee incentive programs dramatically help the bottom line for employers.
Today’s workforce wants far more from their workplace than simple financial incentives. So what does that look like? Here are 20 employee incentive ideas to reinvigorate your team and keep employees committed to your company.
But first, let’s go over the difference between monetary and non-monetary incentives.
While monetary rewards are no longer the chief reason professionals pursue or accept a position, money is still a strong motivator. Employees are more likely to perform at their best if they feel properly financially rewarded for their performance.
Non-monetary rewards are becoming more and more popular. Although everyone appreciates a good paycheck, millennials prioritize work-life balance over financial reward. And considering millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, it’s vital that companies keep up by offering incentives beyond pure financial gain.
Employee recognition comes in many forms. Offering flexible work arrangements and remote work options gives employees more autonomy to work in the way that best suits their unique skill sets and work habits.
Other smaller perks — such as in-person praise, cross-company recognition, awards, and learning opportunities — can also go a long way in making team members feel valued and appreciated. Don’t underestimate the power of simple positive reinforcement.
As an HR pro, it’s your job to seek feedback from employees and work with management to develop cost-effective staff incentive program ideas that everyone can get behind.
Who doesn’t like a little extra cash? Reward a job well done with a cash bonus. Extra money is not the most effective employee incentive because it can lead to a competitive, cutthroat company culture. But it can still motivate employees in the short term and should not be overlooked.
For the vast majority of us, more money means more freedom, and this added incentive can inspire employees to go above and beyond the call of duty. Increased salaries and financial initiatives can enhance employee performance. What’s even more effective is long-term financial incentives, such as stock options and profit-sharing.
Giving high-performing employees a stake in company profits provides them with a sense of personal ownership. They can see how their personal effectiveness and efficiency in their role boosts the company’s — and therefore their own — financial success. This will inspire them to work harder and take on leadership roles. They can directly see how the company’s profits are their profits too.
Long-term financial incentives of this kind help to create a company culture of accountability and dedication, and they also boost employee retention. Employees are much less likely to leave your company if they have a personal financial stake in it.
Create personalized trophies or plaques to celebrate individuals on your team. This incentive is an ideal way to recognize milestones with the company, such as one year, five years, and 10 years.
Incentives can go well beyond sales quotas and productivity. To promote a positive work culture that’s built on cooperation rather than competition, make sure to incentivize all of the traits you value in your employees.
You might recognize someone for their long-term commitment to the company, someone who continues to make new employees feel welcome, or someone who always makes the coffee in the morning.
3. Peer recognition
Encourage team members to recognize and commend each other’s achievements to further create a sense of camaraderie. One employee’s success should be the team’s success. This will occur naturally the more you spread recognition across the team. Remember, everyone has their own unique role and strengths.
The employee who goes out of their way to make every customer feel important, or the employee who takes their time to ask the tough questions during meetings, is just as valuable as the employee who gets work done the fastest.
Implement a system where employees can regularly congratulate and give kudos to team members. Consider an additional process that allows employees to nominate their colleagues for outstanding contributions both big and small.
This type of recognition enhances mutual appreciation and respect among team members, which, in turn, boosts engagement and company dedication. Who wants to leave a company where some of their best friends work?
4. Spotlight on social media
Highlight your employees on your company’s social media channels, such as LinkedIn, showcasing their contributions to the organization and giving them public recognition.
This helps your external engagement as well, as clients and community members are able to put a face to the name of the people within your organization and learn why they’re so good at what they do.
5. Company swag
While company swag should never be the only component of your employee incentive program, it’s a great way to surprise your team while building your company’s brand recognition.
Go beyond the typical pens, T-shirts, and stress balls. What product could uniquely represent your brand, and what swag items would your team members get excited about and actually use?
If you have 50 miscellaneous mugs lying around the office kitchen, custom mugs probably aren’t the way to go. But if everyone is always fighting for a couple of large mugs in the office, a large branded mug for every employee would solve office conflicts, delight team members, and get your branding scattered throughout your workplace.
Don’t forget about remote employees! A package in the mail with a brand-new swag item will brighten their day. Some office swag ideas include:
- Sticky notepads
- Tote bags
- Water bottles
- Mini coolers
- Bluetooth speakers
- Power banks
- Computer screen cleaner
6. Learning budget
Employees don’t want to remain in their current roles forever. Providing them with learning opportunities to grow within your company will keep them dedicated to your organization while also providing you with engaged leaders ready to take on more responsibility.
Provide employees with a budget for self-directed learning. This kind of reimbursement allows them to choose courses, books, conferences or resources that align with their professional development goals.
7. Skill certifications
This goes hand-in-hand with a learning budget. Skill certifications not only boost an employee’s knowledge, but they also enhance their confidence; plus, they improve their credibility and reputation in the eyes of your clients. That said, they also come with a price that may not be in every employee’s budget.
Offer to cover the costs of industry-recognized certifications for employees who demonstrate a commitment to enhancing their expertise. If it’s something the employee is passionate about pursuing, but it’s not within your budget, consider paying for a portion of the certification cost.
This commitment to your team’s development will promote a continuous improvement mindset and contribute to a positive company culture.
8. Flexible work hours
Another great incentive to boost engagement is to allow employees to set their own work schedules (within a reasonable range) to accommodate their personal preferences and unique job responsibilities.
When employees have control over their own workday, they can work when they feel they are at their most productive. Not everyone is an early morning person, and some feel they do their most productive work in the evening. Every employee is different, and acknowledging this fact not only enhances employee engagement but could also boost productivity.
Forcing employees to work during a time when they’re not at their best or most focused means less gets done. With flexible work hours, the employee’s work-life balance, productivity, and engagement all improve.
9. Remote work options
With the aid of today’s ever-expanding and near limitless technology, employees don’t need to remain in the office from 9-5 Monday through Friday in order to complete their work. Employees know this is true now more than ever, so the more their workplace demands they remain in the office as much as possible, the less engaged they will feel — and the more likely they’ll start to look for work elsewhere.
This is why remote work options are a great incentive for employees, as they reduce burnout and boost work-life balance. No more wasted time on a stressful morning commute, and more time spent with family and prioritizing wellness. Breakfast with the family or a morning spent meditating or exercising does worlds more to promote a productive day than a morning spent weaving in and out of traffic to get to work on time.
Plus, allowing employees to work from home or wherever they feel most comfortable shows your team you trust them. When an organization puts trust in its employees, employees put their trust in it. This fosters a company culture based on mutual respect and trust, rather than an organization that doesn’t trust its employees to work unless they’re being watched by management.
10. Balance days
As your employees reach certain work milestones or continue to go above and beyond, consider offering them balance days to use throughout the year.
Balance days are additional paid days off beyond the regular vacation and sick days allotted to employees. They are days employees can book off in order to focus on and prioritize their own wellness.
Often, vacation days are used up for longer trips, but balance days are designed to give employees a break in between extended vacations to prioritize their own mental health and well-being.
Ensure your employees know that these days are not meant to be taken in replacement of the sick days they are already entitled to. Balance days should focus on renewal and wellness — no questions asked.
11. Employee welcome gifts
The most tenuous time in an employee’s tenure with your company is their first few weeks. An employee’s first days are an opportunity to set the tone that will carry forward into the remainder of their employment with you. An employee welcome package illustrates right off the bat that your company goes above and beyond to make every team member feel welcomed and appreciated.
This welcome pack can include company swag and essential items to set up their new desk, whether at home or in the office, such as charging cables, wireless chargers, notepads, sticky notes, a water bottle, and stationery. You might also consider including gift certificates for nearby local restaurants and cafes — this will help new employees familiarize themselves with the neighborhood while supporting local businesses in your community.
12. Wellness budget
As any HR professional knows, healthy employees are productive employees. But it can be tough to find the time or the resources to exercise consistently, so another employee incentive idea is to offer a fitness budget to employees to enhance their wellness.
This budget could be used by each employee for whatever wellness activity or tools they prefer. For example, they might use the budget allotment to join a fitness class, get a gym membership, buy a fitness tracker, or add an exercise bike to their home office.
This type of incentive illustrates how much your organization values the health of its team. Not only will this boost employee wellness, but it also demonstrates to prospective employees that your workplace is one where their health will be a top priority.
13. Nap pods or relaxation spaces
Who hasn’t wanted to take a nap at work? While this may sound like a tough sell to leadership, keep in mind that research has proven short naps can enhance memory and mental functioning, as well as improve attention, reaction time, alertness, productivity and creativity.
As an HR pro, you know the kind of hard work your team puts in. A dedicated area in the workplace for short breaks, meditation or power naps can promote stress relief and boost cognition. Sure, it may sound like one of the more out-there employee perks, but the reality is that dedicated spaces like this, when managed with care, can really help employees stay focused, engaged, and both physically and mentally healthy at work.
14. Stipend for home office
Consider offering a one-time or recurring stipend for employees to outfit their home office in the way that makes them feel most comfortable and best optimizes their productivity.
This is especially helpful for remote teams, as remote team members may not have a space in their homes conducive to work. And while they could venture out to a cafe, Wi-Fi is often spotty at best, and co-working spaces come with a fee and a crowd.
Offering a stipend for a home office enables employees to set up a space free from distraction where they can achieve deep focus. This is a major incentive for employees who struggle to be productive when they’re surrounded by other people.
15. Team-building sessions
Offer your team members a bit of fun in the form of team building. You could take the team paintballing, go-karting, or to an escape room. An escape room comes with the added benefit of encouraging collaboration and problem-solving skills.
Teamwork is an invaluable skill to cultivate among employees. Team building sessions in fun, casual environments also allow team members to see each other in a different light and get to know each other outside of work. Instead of Dave, the IT guy, it’s Dave, the guy who loves puzzles and has two golden retrievers, Air and Bud.
Here are 13 reasons why team building is important, along with team building ideas and examples you can implement in your workplace today.
16. Company retreats
Company-wide retreats, when executed effectively, can be an engagement event that everyone looks forward to. These events improve the employee experience by providing some much-needed time off while also promoting employee well-being and affording employees the opportunity to communicate as friends outside of work. Plan off-site adventures such as hiking, camping, or a stay at a hotel to foster a sense of camaraderie among teammates.
Company retreats give everyone something to look forward to and further bond your team, which are both excellent incentives to work hard and stay with your company.
These events are often the only time remote workers get to meet each other in person, which can be an invaluable experience for remote teams.
17. Office parties
Office parties can reward employees while allowing them to let their hair down (just a little). They foster a sense of community and belonging, relieve stress, and strengthen connections between team members. Plus, they’re fun!
To get the party really going, consider renting a karaoke machine and offer incentives for getting your co-workers behind the mic. A team that plays together stays together!
Office parties can also extend to your client/customer base and community to become another form of outreach. Consider a yearly holiday party, company anniversary party, or summer party that gets your team as well as your community involved. Who does your company interact with who would feel special to receive an invite to your holiday party? Consider freelancers, vendors, delivery people, cleaning staff, and neighboring businesses.
If you have a remote team that isn’t able to meet in person, consider sending everyone party materials, such as drinks, food and group games that you all can play together online in celebration of an occasion or company milestone.
18. Catered lunches
Everyone appreciates delicious food! Give your team a culinary treat by providing a lunch catered by a local business. Of course, be sure to seek feedback from your team about food restrictions and preferences. If the team can’t reach a consensus on what to order, compromise and order the second most popular option next time.
The excitement of a delectable meal is a major incentive for employees and is sure to raise morale. Plus, it means your team doesn’t need to spend time in the morning making their own lunch, giving them more time to spend with their family, exercise, meditate, or just sleep in!
19. Monthly book club
Think outside the box when developing your employee incentive programs. Consider starting a monthly company book club where employees can read and discuss books related to personal development, leadership or industry trends.
As a business, you can support this program by building up a workplace library or by giving each employee a budget for books and audiobooks.
This can help cultivate a company culture of continuous learning and improvement and keep employees current with the ever-evolving business landscape. This can do more than just boost engagement; it can also inspire new leaders within your organization with an eye on the future.
20. Referral programs
Hiring quality employees who fit your company culture isn’t easy. And who knows your company culture better than your current employees? Incentivize your team to do your recruiting for you with referral programs. Employee referrals have been proven to have the highest ROI of any recruiting method.
Reward your employees for recommending new talent. You can also consider offering an extra bonus depending on how far the candidate gets in the hiring process.
Employee incentive programs boost employee engagement, retention and morale. Seek feedback from your team about the kind of incentive programs they’re most interested in — and listen closely! If employees aren’t excited by the program, there is no point in pursuing it. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to employee benefits!
As an HR pro, it’s up to you to help implement these recognition programs for employees to keep talent with your company and ensure your co-workers are content with their roles and performing at their best.
If you enjoyed this article, read our ultimate guide to employee recognition, which covers what makes a successful recognition program, the pitfalls to avoid, and how to get started on your own employee appreciation plan. The HRMorning website is filled with tools and resources to help human resources professionals just like you cultivate productive, engaged, healthy, and top-performing teams.