5 Creative Employee Reward Ideas

Dec 30, 2021
5 Creative Employee Reward Ideas
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One of the most cost-effective ways to improve the performance of your organization is simply to start recognizing –– and rewarding –– the great work of your employees.

According to Quantum Workforce, when employees believe their efforts will be recognized, they are 2.7X more likely to feel highly engaged at work. That’s important because a meta-analysis from Gallup reveals that high employee engagement leads to:

  • 41% lower absenteeism

  • 17% higher productivity

  • 24% less employee turnover in high-turnover organizations

  • 59% less turnover in low-turnover organizations

Whatever industry you’re in, rewarding your employees makes sense from a business perspective. But what should that look like? Get inspired with these five creative employee reward ideas.

Creative Employee Reward Ideas to Boost Company Morale:

1. Offer Top-Performing Employees a Gift

Obviously, people love gifts, so what better way to reward the amazing work of your employees or celebrate work anniversaries than buying them a present?

However, not all presents are likely to yield the desired results, with more than eight in ten employees admitting they have received a corporate gift they didn’t want. 

It seems there are some definite no-nos when it comes to buying employee gifts. 

For instance, branded company swag –– T-shirts, pens, mouse mats, and the like –– might seem like an obvious gift, but it turns out almost three-quarters of workers prefer to receive gifts that don’t feature their company logo.

What’s more, things like gift cards and coupons are a perennial favorite in the world of employee incentives. It’s easy to see why: they effectively shift the burden of choosing a gift from the leadership team to the individual team member. Yet in reality, they leave employees feeling cold, with three-quarters describing gift cards as less meaningful than “actual” gifts, and nearly nine-tenths admitting they ended up losing the gift card or forgetting it had a balance.

Okay, so gift cards and company swag are out. But that doesn’t mean you need to delete gifts from your list of creative employee reward ideas. Instead, try the following:

  • Buy them art: If you know the employee and their interior design preferences, buy them an art print to hang up at home.

  • Give them some budget to redecorate their workspace: According to the University of Exeter's School of Psychology, giving employees control of their workspace layout makes them happier, healthier, and up to 32% more productive.

  • Choose a gift that fits their routine: Personalization is an important element of effective employee gifting. If they love the gym, upgrade their membership or pay for some classes. Can’t live without coffee? Buy them a membership to a coffee club.

2. Applaud Their Performance In Words

When it comes to creative employee reward ideas, you might assume that physical gifts are a far more effective incentive than mere words.


Yet research suggests otherwise. As the previous section demonstrates, gifts can often have the opposite effect, leaving employees feeling like their efforts aren’t really appreciated. On the other hand, meaningful words that speak to their abilities and achievements can have a big impact.

According to a survey of more than 100,000 employees published in the journal Strategic HR Review, verbal praise is the number one way that employees like to be shown appreciation in the workplace, cited by 47% of respondents.

Importantly, “verbal praise” doesn’t have to mean speaking to the employee one-to-one. Per the study, it also includes:

  • Written praise

  • Recognition in front of fellow team members

  • Speech in front of a large group

Rather than a few words around the water cooler or in the canteen, try recognizing exceptional performance via a handwritten note –– something the employee can keep and look back on when they need a little extra motivation. You could even start a company newsletter that is sent to employees every week. This newsletter could include the names of employees that have exceeded expectations. This way you get to congratulate them in a way where everyone hears about it as well!

Or, for maximum impact, consider applauding them in writing on social media. Don’t forget to tag them!

For example, Attorney Brian White & Associates recognizes their top-performing employees on social media to make sure they know that they are appreciated.

Social media is a great way to interact with your employees- past, present, and future. Companies are realizing this and it is about time that yours does too. 

3. Give Them More Control of Their Work-Life Balance

No matter what industry your business lies within- even if you absolutely love your job and can’t wait to get into the office every morning, it’s still important to switch off when you get home. 

So it’s worrying that 60% of Americans have an unhealthy work-life balance.

This doesn't just affect employees; it can damage their organizations too. Research from Prudential discovered that 25% of Americans plan to look for a new job after the pandemic, with work-life balance named as one of their top priorities. 

In short, if your employees don’t get enough downtime, there’s a good chance they’ll leave, so it makes sense to incorporate work-life balance in your employee reward ideas.

There are lots of ways to do this.

An obvious solution is through flexible working. If they’re a trusted employee, give them greater control over their working hours. Maybe they’d prefer to start and leave earlier, take a shorter lunch break, or do half-days on Fridays and make up the hours throughout the week. If it makes them feel appreciated, improves their work-life balance, and doesn’t affect the quality of their work, there’s literally no downside.

But it doesn’t stop there. Work-life balance doesn’t necessarily mean spending less time in the office; it also means making the most of your home life (and doing less of the things you don’t enjoy).

To that end, you could add house-cleaning services to your list of employee incentives. Pay for a cleaning service for a month and they don’t have to worry about doing the dishes or hanging up their laundry during their downtime.

Or you could simply give them a parking spot –– or upgrade their existing space –– so they can park closer to the office and cut time from their commute. That means more time to unwind in the morning, so they come in feeling fresher and happier.

4. Enrol Them In a Subscription Box

Subscription boxes –– that is, a type of delivery service that brings exciting new products straight to our door every week, month, or quarter –– have been one of the retail success stories of the past decade.

Their popularity started to wane somewhat, only for the sector to receive a timely shot in the arm from the pandemic. Since 2020, the number of consumers with retail subscriptions has increased by an astonishing 99%, with one in five consumers now having access to at least one subscription, according to research from PYMNTS.

Given that people love subscription boxes, it makes sense to include them in your mix of employee incentives. But how to do it?

Firstly, it’s about getting the right box. From makeup and snacks to bath products and wine, there’s a practically limitless choice in the subscription box market. Ideally, you’d let the reward recipient choose their favorite subscription box (up to a certain monthly value). Alternatively, you can try negotiating discounts with subscription box providers in multiple categories, then offer employees a choice from your short list of “preferred providers”.

Another element to consider here is the duration of your reward. Typically, when you “gift” an employee, your reward is a one-off purchase. With subscription boxes, that might not be the case; you could be paying for months. Get around this challenge by offering a maximum value of the subscription. For instance, you might award them a subscription of up to $100; it’s up to them whether that pays for a full year of cheaper service, or three months of a more expensive one.

You could also offer employees the ability to further their knowledge in their sector. This could mean investing in their education by paying for a course, a certification, or an educational retreat. This really shows employees that you care about their careers and are willing to invest in them.

For example, if your SEO consultant is doing great work, show them you noticed by offering them a paid for SEO certification that could help them grow.

5. Organize a Night Out for Them & Their Work Friends

Company cultures are built on the people we work with.

If you employ a bunch of positive, generous, empathetic people with can-do attitudes, chances are your culture will have a distinctly feel-good edge. On the flip side, if your employees tend to be more “glass-half-empty”, it might not matter what employee reward ideas you come up with –– they still won’t feel satisfied and engaged.

So it’s no surprise that our work relationships are one of the biggest factors in determining whether or not we’re happy at work, according to research from the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Lean into this by rewarding entire teams rather than individual employees.

Has your sales team landed a big contract? Your account managers secured a huge upsell? Or did your front-line delivery team hit a key deadline or receive amazing feedback from a client? Pay for them to go out for dinner, buy them theater tickets, or put some money behind the bar at the local happy hour.

That way, you’re not just making them feel valued as individuals; you’re bringing the whole team closer together and improving your workplace culture in the process. It’s a double win.

Bringing it All Together

Ultimately, there’s no such thing as the “right way” to do employee incentives.

Rather, the creative employee reward ideas that work best for you will depend on the type of people you employ and the practicalities of your workplace. If you work in a laboratory with strict hygiene controls, it’s probably impractical to let an employee redecorate. And if you’re in a busy city center, a parking space might set you back thousands of dollars.

Your best bet is simply to ask your employees how they’d like to be rewarded. Whether that means showering them with gifts, paying for experiences, or simply offering more meaningful verbal feedback, listen to them and make it happen.


Author Bio: This article is written by our marketing team at HR Cloud. HR Cloud is a leading provider of HR solutions, including recruiting, onboarding, employee engagement, and intranet software. Our aim is to help your company improve employee engagement, employee productivity, and to save you valuable time!

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