10 Innovative Ways To Reward Your Employees

We often think that rewarding employees means big bonuses, but recognition can come in all shapes and sizes.
December 02, 2011

We often think that rewarding employees means big bonuses, which can affect the bottom line. But recognition for a job well-done can come in all shapes and sizes.

Small tokens of appreciation given at the right moment not only provide well-deserved acknowledgement—they can keep your employees motivated. Let’s explore the art of saying “thank you” in new and innovative ways.

1. Get flexible

Reward dedicated employees by offering flexible work hours. Start with flex Monday and Friday schedules or find a way for it to work more broadly for the entire week. This vote of confidence in your employees’ ability to self-manage and get things done is a great acknowledgement and motivator.

2. Go remote

If your business can leverage the work of off-site employees, offer telecommuting arrangements for your best and brightest. Remote workers can skip long commute times, tolls, parking hassles and stress. One energetic and happy employee in pajamas can perform better than two frazzled commuters in corporate casuals.

3. Snag rock-star parking

Depending on the size of your office, a good parking spot may come at a premium. Reward rock-star employees by assigning them a stellar parking spot for a month or for a quarter. Consider dedicating a permanent parking space for this very purpose and rotate it among your star performers.

4. Reward effort

In our bottom-line world, we tend to focus on end results and not realize the effort involved in simply trying. The best way to keep employees trying hard and working toward success is to reward effort. Take a moment to discover who’s giving their all and find a small way to acknowledge those efforts personally.

5. Give a freebie

Recognize and reward a well-done job by offering a day or two of discretionary time off. Coordinate with HR to add the bonus as no-strings-attached vacation time. Once it’s on the books, send a card to your employee letting them know how they earned it.

6. Throw a party

If a group of employees or an entire department continues to knock your socks off, have a party. The very best parties (the ones that truly feel like a reward) are “planned surprises.” Have your employees clear their schedules for an hour or two in the afternoon to prepare for a company or departmental meeting that’s really a party. Without pressing appointments, waiting clients and calls to return, employees can relax for a bit and enjoy themselves and each other.

7. Treat a lunch bunch

Reward an entire department by treating everyone to lunch. Acknowledge a single employee by making a group reservation for her and five of her good friends or colleagues. Leisurely lunches are the best lunches—give your staff at least two hours to relax and enjoy themselves.

8. Let them decompress

Celebrate the end of a long and successful project by giving your key employees a gift certificate for an off-site massage or spa visit. To sweeten the deal, don’t let those muscles tense up again afterwards—give them the afternoon off.

9. Make them a member

Consider covering the cost of a year’s membership in the trade or professional association of your employee’s choice. Annual costs can often be daunting to families, but can be written off as an employee-development expense for businesses. This sort of reward not only thanks your employee, it can create valuable business connections down the road.

10. Say the magic words

Your mom was right—a simple and heartfelt “thank you” goes a long way. Taking the time to call an employee into your office for the sole purpose of thanking them or sending a handwritten note in the mail is a personal and profound gesture. In our hectic, abbreviated and automated world, don’t forget the more human connections that make employees feel valued.

Whatever method of acknowledgement you choose, be specific about why you’re thanking your employee. What impressed you the most? What set this employee apart from peers in the office? What small detail or effort made all the difference on the project? Ultimately, your thank you should reflect what you’d like to see more of in all your employees.

Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.