When it comes to rewarding your employees, cash is king—but only for a few hours. Money is not a long-term motivator. Sure, employees love a check—who doesn’t?—but finding ways to engage with them rather than pay them off will result in more loyal, harder working employees.
Here are 101 ways to say, “I appreciate you and all your hard work,” without breaking your budget.
1. Flexible Hours. Let your team work when they want to work. The flexibility can be worth a lot more than cash. Maybe they won’t need daycare services for their child, for example, if they can make their own schedule.
2. A Thank You Note. Saying thanks about something specific may be the ultimate reward. If you do it selectively yet authentically, a thank you note may be pinned above your employee’s desk for years.
3. Pizza Party. Lunch with colleagues is fun, breaks up the routine and keeps employees in the office. It’s an all-around win for anyone who likes to eat.
4. Guess the Baby. Reward your team with a break from work by having a “guess the baby” event. Have everyone bring in their baby photo, then have everyone guess who’s who.
5. The Boss’s Office. Swap desks with your employee for a day, as a reward. They still do their work of course, but with their feet up on the desk (and yours in the cubicle).
6. Primo Parking. This is an old-school reward that has been around forever … because it works. It’s a great form of public recognition.
7. Flip Flop Day. Casual Friday has turned into casual every day. Change things up by allowing flip flops as a fun way of recognizing success.
8. Day Off Pass. An extra day off from work always helps, and is even better when employees can pick the day and get paid to boot.
9. Tour Time. Take your employees for a tour of one of your vendors or suppliers’ facilities. It’s a cool way to learn more about who you work with, and can be as fun as a field trip was in grade school days.
10. Presidential Seal. Create a formal letter recognizing your employee’s achievement. Sign it and use the company’s seal to give the letter something extra. If you really want to do it right, frame it too.
11. Let Them Eat Cake. Any celebration is that much better when there’s yummy cake.
12. Standing O. Get all your employees together in the same room. Really pack them in. Then invite in the employee you’re recognizing and give him or her a standing ovation.
13. Gourmet Coffee. Replace that burnt coffee pot with a selection of gourmet coffees.
14. Breakfast from the Boss. Bring in a catered breakfast for your team, and designate yourself as the main waiter, serving all your wonderful employees.
15. Rented Wheels. Rent a nice car for a week and give it to your employee.
16. History Lesson. Have the local historian take your company for a tour of your town or city. Share the history of where you are today and what used to be there.
17. Company Scrapbook. Create a scrapbook as your company grows over time. Each month start off a scrapbook page with the employee you’re recognizing. Their names will be part of history, literally.
18. Monopoly Money. Reward employees with your own custom phony money (or use Monopoly money) and allow them to redeem it for gifts at the end of each quarter.
19. Wall of Fame. Create a wall of fame for each recognized employee. Be sure to write below their picture what they did that you’re recognizing them for.
20. Helmet Stickers. Get a football helmet from each employee’s alma mater and put it on their desk. Every time they do something great, give them a helmet sticker … just like the college sports teams.
21. The Amazing Office. Set up one amazing office in your building (yes, better than yours). Each month, for an entire month, give the employee you’re recognizing the office to work out of.
22. The Morphing Trophy. We did this at my first company and it always brought fun, laughter and recognition. Get a big trophy and give it to the employee you are recognizing for the week. At the end of the week, they must return the trophy but they need to add one thing to it. (You would be shocked how many things can stick to a trophy.) Then next week give it to the next winner. At the end of the year, you’ll have a trophy with 52 things stuck to it. It looks hysterical and has lots of memories. At the end of the year, retire the trophy and put it in your reception area. Do it every year.
23. Wax On, Wax Off. Have their car professionally detailed while they’re at work. If you want to save a lot of money, do the detailing yourself.
24. In the News. Tell your local paper about your employee’s success. Also tell the paper in the town where your employee lives. Run a press release too. Then, when it gets printed in the paper, get the article framed and give it as a gift to your employee.
25. Dump It. Let your employee ditch one project they like the least, and you do it yourself instead.
26. Name the Room. Name an office, lounge, conference room or any room in your office building after the employee. Be sure to put a plaque right outside the room.
27. Massage. Have a massage therapist come to your office for the day and give every recognized employee a chair massage. A chiropractor isn’t a bad idea either
28. The Oscars. Have your own annual Academy Awards ceremony (or name it whatever you like). This can be done in the summer to offset the annual winter holiday parties.
29. Life Coach. Hire them a life coach to work on whatever they want. Just be careful with how you present this one. You want to make sure it’s seen as a reward and not a hidden agenda to fix something.
30. Adult Education. Pay for one adult education class of their choosing. My preference? Cooking class.
31. Any Magazine. Give them a subscription to any magazine of their choosing. This gift shows up monthly (or weekly) all year round, reminding them of your appreciation.
32. Picnic Basket. Get them a catered lunch, in a picnic basket, and invite their spouse or significant other to enjoy it with them during an extended lunch break.
33. Recognition Circle. Get each employee to write something positive about the person you’re recognizing on a piece of paper. Either give them the box of collected sayings or frame them for the person.
34. Commute on Me. Give them a gas card (or public transportation passes) to cover a month’s worth of travel expenses.
35. Movie Time. Give them a pair of movie tickets, and the time off to go see their favorite movie during the workday.
36. Support the Girl Scouts. Have the company buy dozens of boxes of cookies from your employee’s daughter (assuming she’s in the Girl Scouts) and give out the boxes to all the other employees at the office. You shouldn’t be eating that much anyway.
37. Just Say it. The words “thank you” are powerful. And sometimes all you need to do is to say it sincerely.
38. A Concert Shout Out. Get your employees tickets to see their favorite band in concert. Call the event in advance and see if you can get the band to give them a shout out during the concert. (You’d be surprised at how many bands are willing to do it.)
39. Family Thank You. Take the thank you card to a whole new level, and write a card to the employee’s entire family explaining how much you appreciate your colleague.
40. Pick a Door. Put a gift in each of three offices and close the door. Then have the employee choose the door they want, and they get the gift behind it.
41. Collectors’ Paradise. Find out what your employee’s passions, hobbies or interests are. Then give them a gift in that field. Collectors are the easiest to do this for—they always love to get that perfect coin or stamp, etc.
42. Thank You Video. Create a video recognizing your employee. Post it on YouTube for your employee and anyone they want to share it with.
43. Flowers. The all-time classic method of giving recognition. Add a handwritten thank you note for an important personal touch.
44. A New Chair. Many employees sit for at least eight hours a day. Reward their exceptional effort with a new comfortable, supportive chair.
45. Sticky Notes. Post a sticky note on their monitor, saying thanks and saying why. Simple, but effective, when it’s authentic.
46. Email Everyone. I’m not a big fan of email blasts. But in this instance, I encourage it. Send an email to the entire company explaining how impressed you are by your employee for going above and beyond.
47. Double Time. Double the time of their breaks for a full week—double the lunch break, coffee break, any and all breaks.
48. Lottery Tickets. Give them the chance to win millions, and it only costs you one dollar.
49. Have Their Home Cleaned. Who wants to come home from work, to work on the home. Hire a maid to clean their house for a full year!
50. Bring the Pooch. Allow your employee to bring their dog (or other pet to work). Be sure that a crate or cage comes along. A snake slithering around or a bird landing on your colleague’s head may not be well received.
51. Donuts. While not necessarily a healthy choice, they’re super yummy. Bring in donuts for the team you’re recognizing.
52. Company Newsletter. If you have one, feature them in it.
53. Team Jerseys. Recognize team players with a team jersey from their favorite sports team, and their name on the back.
54. Singing Telegram. Have a gorilla, or whatever creature is available, show up at work with a singing telegram about how great the employee is. Videotape the song and response and post it on YouTube or your website.
55. Say it with Fruit or Cookies. Send the employee a bouquet of healthy, edible fruit or cookies. Have it delivered to their home, or in the office if they live alone.
56. Name a Beer After Them. Microbreweries will often brew a small run of beer, slap a label with your employee’s name on it—Magnificent Mike Michalowicz Mead for instance. Or create a label and stick it over their favorite beverage.
57. King for a Day. Buy an elaborate costume jewelry kind of crown (the more elaborate and gaudy, the better) and crown them during a morning meeting. “King” for the day privileges includes primo parking, free lunch at their desk and the option to leave 30 minutes early from work.
58. Their Own Personal Assistant. Hire a temporary assistant for the day, week or month to help them with whatever work tasks they have, from filing to answering phones.
59. Ice Cream Party. There’s nothing like an old-fashioned ice cream party where the teams you’re appreciating make their own sundaes and desserts from a selection of ice cream and toppings.
60. Popcorn. Buy or rent an old-fashioned freestanding popcorn popper. Break it out to pop popcorn only when it’s time to recognize someone, or show appreciation for a great effort by a team.
61. Music. If your business has music playing in the background all day, show your appreciation by letting the employee you’re appreciating select the music for the day. I personally suggest some Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Judas Priest.
62. Appreciation Jar. Have every employee write up a gift, privilege or recognition they’d like (or just use this list) and then put each item into an Appreciation Jar. Have the employee being recognized select their method of appreciation at random from the jar.
63. Talking Plaque. Buy one of the talking photo frames available at any photo store. Place a certificate of appreciation inside, and record a personal 10-second message of appreciation in your own voice.
64. Talking Fish. If you’re not a fan of plaques, hire someone to rewire a “Billy Bass” or “Frankie Fish” talking fish to convey your gratitude with attitude.
65. Letterman Jackets. Get employees vests or jackets with the company name or logo on it, but then award them “letters” or bling. (Think restaurants whose waiters show off their awards and pins on their vests.)
66. Employee of the Month. This can be a great way to show recognition as long as employees take the award seriously and it comes with real perks, like a parking space for the following month, flexible hours or a longer lunch hour.
67. Founder’s Wall. Instead of just a wall of fame for employee photos, create a wall that not only recognizes employees with a photo, but with a short description and timeline of how they have contributed to where the company is today. Make sure you can add to their accomplishments as they keep succeeding.
68. Appreciate Personal Wins. Don’t just appreciate employees for what they do for you. If they’ve achieved a milestone in their lives outside the office, celebrate with them in the office. Decorate their cubicle with balloons and cards when they achieve a personal win, like completing a marathon, winning a tournament, losing weight (if they’ve been public with their diet), having a baby, buying a new home or graduating from a class.
69. Celebrate Birthdays. Everyone likes to be remembered on their birthday. Celebrate with a cake, or take the whole office to lunch and buy the birthday person’s lunch.
70. Performance Hours. If employees consistently perform well, give them “performance hours” tokens they can redeem to take a longer lunch, run errands or use for personal reasons.
71. Special Causes Board. Employees almost always have a special cause or group they support. Show your employees you appreciate their outside interests and causes by allowing them to post flyers, cards, photos and forms on the special causes board.
72. Acknowledge Employees in Meetings. When an employee has a good idea, performs above and beyond, secures a big win or account, or does something worthy, acknowledge him or her by name in meetings.
73. Dinner With the Boss. There’s no better way to get employees’ attention than to take them and their family to dinner. Make it a nice restaurant of their choice from a list you provide.
74. Put it in the File. After you write a personal, handwritten note to the employee, thanking them for their effort or accomplishment, put a photocopy of the note in their file.
75. Compressed Workday. Pick a day and let employees come in late and leave early.
76. Random Gifts. Leave token gifts like Starbucks Cards, movie tickets, candy bars or gift cards on employees’ desks with a note that says, “Thanks for all your hard work. I noticed!”
77. Show and Tell. Set aside one day a month for “Show and Tell.” Cater in lunch and have employees bring in something from home (hobby, accomplishment, video game, etc.) to “show and tell” other employees about. It doesn’t have to be a trophy, just an interest—such as a cake recipe (with samples), a new video game.
78. Family Day. Set aside one afternoon a month for employees to bring in family, kids or friends for a pizza party, or other activity. Set up tours of the company so their family can see where they work and what they do.
79. Employee Appreciation Barbecues. Hold an annual summer or fall barbecue to recognize employees and their families.
80. Music Video Day. Have employees create a music video (shoot, edit and show) of their favorite song. The Gangnam style song has about run its course, but the Harlem Shake and whatever is trending on YouTube is fun.
81. Training and Conferences. Provide training opportunities to high performing employees, or send them to an annual conference they’d enjoy.
82. Website Recognition. Post appreciation of employees on your website. Have a photo and description of what they’re being recognized for, and any client or customer testimonials as well.
83. Training Videos. Put high-performing employees in your training videos. This gives them exposure to the rest of the company and says “job well done” at the same time.
84. Talk About Anything But Business. Take time to have coffee with your employees. Chat, ask them about their life and family. Take time to get to know them as people. It shows you’re interested and that you appreciate them for being them.
85. Know Everyone’s Name. Learn everyone’s name and use it. Say, “Thank you, Carol,” not just “Thanks!” People love to hear their names, so use them and use them often, especially when acknowledging their efforts and achievements.
86. Nicknames Rule. Use name placards with fun titles and nicknames of the employee’s choosing. You can even post or paint the names in their parking spots as one computer game company did, naming the parking spots after characters from the Lord of The Rings.
87. Learning Library. Create a “learning library” of CDs, DVDs and audiobooks that employees can check out. Show your appreciation to employees by allowing them to select new programs based on what they want to learn.
88. Lifetime Achievement Award. Every time you hire new employees, have a “Lifetime Achievement Award” luncheon where you acknowledge every employee who has been with the company for a year or more. This lets the newbies in on what’s valued and who gets valued. It sets expectations and provides a benchmark for future efforts.
89. Brag Boards. Create a board where anyone in the company can post a “brag” about their accomplishments or that of a co-worker.
90. Stock the Kitchen. Most places stock coffee, creamer and sugar for employees, but go a step further. Fill the fridge with juice, sodas, water, fruit and nuts.
91. Innovation Day. Have a half day a week where employees can work on a personal project, or volunteer at the organization of their choice.
92. Tuition. Offer to pay a percentage of the employee’s tuition, or books and supplies, for all courses related to their job, dependent upon their length of employment or level of work.
93. Taxi Service. Many employees have spouses, babysitters or other people dependent on them for rides. Offer free taxi service for people who depend on your employee when you’ve asked them to work late.
94. Perk Your Part-Timers. Not all employees are full-time workers, but treat them like they are. Acknowledge their contributions. If they’re temps, write notes to their representative about their great work.
95. Thank the Entire Family. When the employee has to go out of town, work longer hours or weekends, or is taken away from their family for work-related reasons, write a note, send flowers or gift cards for dinner out to the employee’s spouse, acknowledging the family’s sacrifice and thanking them for it. Tickets to a local amusement park or museum for the entire family (including your employee) to visit for the day is also a nice gesture.
96. Start a Team. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer softball, bowling or badminton. The idea is to build relationships, camaraderie and respect among employees.
97. Name it and Claim it. Name a product or award after a really stellar employee who invents, suggests or comes up with a new process, product or service.
98. Time. Give the gift of your time and attention. Offer to mentor or coach employees you truly appreciate.
99. Close Early or Open Late. Close down unexpectedly early one day and give everyone the afternoon off. Or, open half a day later after a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day.
100. The Dunk Machine. Set up a dunking machine in your parking lot. Go sit in there (in some business attire you don’t mind getting destroyed), and let your employees throw softballs at the target. It’s a fun release for them, and shows you’re one of the team.
101. Show Respect in Everything You Do and Say. All your hard work and appreciation of an employee can be destroyed in an instant if you yell at them, disrespect or belittle them in private or public. They won’t remember the 100 times you said you appreciated them. They’ll remember the one time you didn’t. Bite your tongue, smile and always show respect regardless of your personal feelings.