5 Employee Recognition & Reward Ideas to Help Retain Talent

The modern workplace has made some significant changes over the last couple of years. Many Americans have switched to new jobs or careers, and more employees than ever are working remote or hybrid schedules. Because of these changes, employee recognition programs may feel more difficult. Nonetheless, finding meaningful employee reward ideas to recognize your employees is essential.

In this blog, we’ll talk about why you should reward employees, when you should do so, and, finally, share some ideas of how to show employee recognition inside and outside the workplace.

Why Should You Give Reward Employees?

Simply put, humans need to feel like they are seen and appreciated. From a business perspective, employees whose work is acknowledged are more likely to be motivated to complete more work than those who aren’t acknowledged. According to the Harvard Business Review, data supports a close relationship between employee recognition and company loyalty. What’s more, taking time to praise employees boosts their overall job satisfaction.

“Paying attention to the work and efforts of our colleagues not only provides us with much-needed human connection, it can also heighten their motivation and perseverance,” Dr. Craig Dowden, an author and executive coach, says via Psychology Today.

Bottom line: Appreciated and recognized employees are more productive and likelier to stick around.

When Should You Recognize Employees?

The simple answer is “often.” There is not one metric you should stick to when giving employees the appreciation they deserve. The frequency of such efforts largely depends on what sort of reward employees receive (which we’ll discuss more soon). For example, words of affirmation are much easier to bestow often on others than, say, cash bonuses.

There are also different scenarios after which you’d reward employees, such as after significant moments like:

  • Certain major milestones or goals
  • Completion of lengthy projects
  • Better-than-expected financial quarters or years

However, in addition to these momentous occasions, employees should be recognized when they make smaller contributions, too, such as:

  • Coming up with a great idea
  • Taking the initiative on a challenging project
  • Supporting a fellow employee

As a manager, you should consistently appreciate employees for the work they do. It doesn’t have to be every day, but find intentional ways of integrating recognition and rewards.

Icons and text highlighting five employee recognition and reward ideas

5 Employee Recognition Ideas

1. Cash/Tangible Rewards

Show your employees that you appreciate them by giving out cash bonuses or other tangible rewards that make a real impact.

Pending your budgets, these rewards for staff can range from small gift cards to more considerable cash sums or funded benefits. Company swag, premium parking spots, and even tickets to local experiences are all great tangible rewards to give to employees.

Introduce these types of rewards when your team or company overachieves its financial goals. Surpassing these targets leaves room in the budget surplus to spend on employee appreciation efforts. Let them know when the company wins, everyone wins.

2. Wellness Gifts

Stress and anxiety are real issues within the workplace. While stress at work comes naturally through deadlines and other factors, make sure you’re doing your part as a company to support a positive work-life balance for staff. Do this proactively through generous paid-time-off policies and covered mental health resources. However, there are more accessible and affordable wellness incentives you can offer your employees as well.

You might offer an over-performing employee a bonus “self-care” paid day off. Or allow your employees to use a few hours each week for wellness time, such as going to the gym or on a long walk. You might even give employees a spa gift certificate after completing big projects by stressful deadlines.

Don’t wait until the holidays to give employees a break. Keep a pulse on the stress levels within the office and intervene as appropriate with wellness-themed recognition and rewards.

3. Affirmations/Promotions

Many people thrive on words of affirmation. These might be a simple “thank you” for completing a task or a compliment on a well-done proposal. Consistent, positive employee feedback goes a long way toward showing an employee they are appreciated.

You can also publicly praise an employee’s efforts. This can come in the form of:

  • Nominating an employee of the month
  • Spotlighting an employee on your company website or social media
  • Featuring a star employee in your company newsletter

But not all praise needs to be public. Some employees don’t feel comfortable in the limelight. Private praise works just as well!

Small affirmations will only go so far. If you consistently praise an employee for their excellent work or initiative, that may be a sign they deserve a promotion or raise.

Related: Leveraging Languages of Appreciation at Work for Leaders

4. Team Outings/Parties

Team outings can be great team-building exercises, but you can also leverage team-based activities as employee rewards. Some of these outings include:

  • Paid lunch or dinner
  • A staff night out at a bar (with limited free drinks and snacks)
  • Active events like TopGolf or bowling

While leaving the workplace — especially during the day — is a plus, you can also host parties at the office. Even something simple like buying team members treats for a staff meeting can show your appreciation. And remember to keep these activities as inclusive. Not everyone can go to a team dinner due to obligations outside of work. Not everyone will be able to attend each outing, but do your best to make them as inclusive and attendable as possible.

5. Office Perks/Improvements

The aforementioned employee recognition tips discussed rewarding employees for doing their jobs. How about giving your employees rewards that help them do their jobs better?

New laptops, comfortable office chairs, and even a fancy coffee machine can let your employees know you’re willing to invest in their potential and the work environment. All this helps boost morale, too.

Related: How to Measure and Boost Morale at Work

Get Creative!

Show employee recognition in various ways. Every company has different budget constraints and rules, but there are plenty of ways to provide rewards for staff that make an impact. Whether a genuine “thank you” or a large check, such gestures add up to a more productive and positive workplace.

Ready to get started? If you aspire to maximize your company’s employee potential and improve connection, retention, and results, check out Compass, Insight Global’s culture consulting division. You can find workshops, experiences, and other professional resources to enhance office morale and build an effective workplace culture.

Updated September 18, 2023