There’s a killer in the midst of your business, stalking the hallways and slowly sucking the life out of your team’s motivation, loyalty, and productivity.
Do they need lavish bonuses? Over the top perks? Unfortunately, the biggest issue facing your workforce is far from exciting.
The modern workforce is bored.
A lack of employee engagement and a lack of employee recognition for the work they put in are the most common reasons given at exit interviews by Millennial workers—a group who will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020.
These disengaged workers are costing businesses big time. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated businesses are hit with $450–$550 billion in lost productivity.
So what do we do? Throw up our hands and accept the fact that we’re dealing with a zombie workforce shuffling through the day staring at the clock? Not a chance.
Training and Rewards—The Ultimate One-Two Combo for Employee Recognition
You see, your employees want to learn and grow. In fact, 87% of the Millennial workforce rates career growth and development opportunities as one of the most important parts of their job.
And why not? They want success, recognition, and all the perks that go along with being the best. And they know these are 100% tied to their continued education and growth. It’s simple math: The more prepared they are, the better they perform, the more chance they have for promotion.
All that means that it should also be in your interest to give them these opportunities.
As a business leader, you’re captain, coach, and cheerleader. And it’s your job to do whatever it takes to squeeze the best performance from your team, and set them up for a championship run. I think it was put best by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll who told me during a private training session:
“I spend 98% of my day sitting in my office and thinking about what I can do to get my team to play just 1% better.”
In the past, this might have meant sitting through a seminar or sending your workers home with some boring training materials. But we all know that doesn’t work.
The modern workforce has changed. To get that 1% growth every single day, you need to do more than just provide your team with basic training resources and videos.
The disengaged workforce wants something that challenges them. They’re competitive and hungry for growth and career advancement. And when the workplace isn’t competitive or interesting, they’re getting bored and leaving. A recent study found that 9 out of 10 Millennials today consider themselves competitive with 80% flat out saying they’re better than a co-worker.
So how do we take advantage of this new reality and build systems that keep employees engaged, alert, and ultimately excited to work?
It really comes down to 2 simple things:
- Training that’s practical, exciting, and presented in an engaging and competitive way
- Rewards that ignite their natural competitiveness
Let’s dive into a step-by-step look at how to create an employee-focused training and program that works for the modern workforce and then look at some specific examples of rewards that we’ve seen motivate and inspire teams.
3 Easy Steps to Designing and Launching an Employee Recognition and Rewards Program That Actually Works
You want to turn training into something that’s engaging, fun, accessible, works within your team’s schedule, and ultimately is effective.
But before we get into how you’re going to do this, you need to ask yourself why you’re doing it. Start with the basics and ask yourself these questions before moving on:
- Where are your team’s skill gaps? What do you need them to get better at right away?
- What are important programs, products, or initiatives for your business over the next 30 or 90 days?
- What behaviors do you want to change or impact with your team?
Once you’ve got your basics together it’s time to build a training and rewards program that gets your team amped up and ready to compete.
Step 1: Create Your Competition
Modern studies have shown that young workers have an attention span of less than 8 seconds. That’s less than a goldfish, which means how you present your competition needs to be quick, engaging, and quantifiable—any competition must have a very clear playing field.
Which behavior will your team be competing on? Here are a few ideas:
- Number of outbound calls made
- Meetings booked
- New clients closed
Use your creativity and turn your competition into a game with clear goals and rewards (we’ll get into that later).
Step 2: Pick Your Date Range
The next step is to decide the length of your competition. How long will they run for? And how often will you run them?
This step is entirely up to you and will depend on things like the time of year, complexity of your competition, and of course, your budget for rewards (we’ll go deep into this later).
In most cases, you’ll want to try to design a program that runs at least monthly, as that will allow you to design your training around the latest information that is important in your business, as well as give your team something to look forward to month-after-month. However, weekly and quarterly competitions can also work.
The key is consistency. When you set your competition schedule, you’re making a promise to your team. Don’t lose their trust.
Step 3: Pick Your Rewards
The last step is probably the most important for your program’s success: What prizes can you offer that will ignite your workforce’s natural competitiveness and get them engaged and excited?
From a high-level view, rewards fall into 3 buckets (which we’ll cover more below):
How you choose your rewards will be determined by what you know about your workers, as well as what your budget can support.
Think about it like this: If you run a hotel chain, I’m sure you’d love to be able to shower your guests with free champagne and comped nights when they show up. But that’s simply not sustainable. Instead, your goal should be to create a culture of repeatable rewards and experiences that make your customers, or in this case your employees, say ‘wow!’
If you’re too lazy or cheap to find rewards that get your team amped up, you’re failing as a leader. Use their competitive nature to your advantage and get them excited. They should be smack talking and going all in with their eyes set solely on the prize you’re providing.
Sure, it’s a big ask. But this is your job. And to make finding those killer rewards even easier, we’ve put together a few ideas to get you started.
37 Employee Recognition and Reward Ideas (That Aren’t All Cash)
Getting buy-in from your employees means finding the right rewards to motivate and excite them.
And while the Wu-Tang clan put it best when they said cash rules everything about me, dollar bills aren’t always the best way to empower your workforce.
Instead, here’s 37 examples of great employee rewards you can use in your business.
1. Office Perks
Who doesn’t want to shove their achievements in the face of their co-workers? Today’s more competitive workforce definitely does. Which is why workplace perks are fantastic rewards. Not only do they cost you as a company very little, but they show recognition in the workplace to all your employees and create the kind of friendly camaraderie that grows successful companies.
2. Camp Out in the Corner Office
Why it works so well: In most workplaces, the ‘corner office’ or a manager’s office is a sign of respect and accomplishment. Lending out your space for a day or a week to an employee that has earned it through a training program transfers that level of respect to them and not only shows that you recognize their achievement, but that you have the humility to give up your company hierarchy.
3. Dinner with the Boss
Why it works so well: Depending on the size of your company, access to the person at the top can be extremely limited and a sign of respect. Setting up a dinner with the CEO or president for your winner can increase loyalty, give them a chance to pitch their ideas and thoughts to a top decision maker, and make them feel noticed and recognized. As an added bonus, it also helps your boss connect with workers they might not normally be able to, fostering a better sense of community and culture at the company.
4. The Best Parking Spot
Why it works so well: Like your office, a parking spot that’s close to the office or in the shade shows a high-level of value and accomplishment. Give it up to your winner for a week as a daily reminder of how you value them. As an added bonus, you could even get a small sign with their name printed on it to show that the space is really ‘theirs’ for the week.
5. Assistant for the Week
Why it works so well: Your winner won the competition because they’re competitive, and because they work hard, and giving them a little help by hiring a personal assistant for the week is a great way to recognize the time and effort they put in every single day. It also can become an aspirational experience, showing them how much time gets eaten up by administrative or menial tasks and how much they can actually get done when they have the opportunity to focus solely on the big picture.
6. Office Update Budget
Why it works so well: While most of these perks are temporary changes, you can also reward winners with an office perk that lasts past a single day or week. Giving them a budget to upgrade or redecorate their office is a great way to create a lasting reminder that you recognize their hard work, as well as give them a space they feel good about coming into day after day.
7. Free Lunch for the Team (Your Choice, Of Course)
Why it works so well: Everybody loves food. But we all have personal tastes. Giving your winner the chance to order their favorite dishes and then sharing it with the team empowers them while also providing a great perk for the entire office. If you’re bored of basic catering or a pizza party, try something like an office bbq or even bringing in a private chef to cook for you on site.
Employee Recognition and Rewards: Experiences
A recent study by Harris Group found that 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material items. So while perks and special swag are still great rewards, offering up exclusive experiences can do even more to show that you align with your workforce’s values.
Even better, by offering up experiences, you’re creating a reward that your workforce brings back into the office through re-telling what happened and instils some serious FOMO when they post pictures of where they’ve been.
8. Festival or Sporting Event Tickets
Why it works so well: It’s pretty much impossible to find someone who doesn’t love either a certain kind of music or a specific sports team. Not only that, but these events are prime spots for social media posts, giving your winner a chance to show off. Find out before what sort of events are happening near you and grab a pair of great tickets as a reward.
9. Holiday in the Sun, on the Company
Why it works so well: Despite so many modern workplaces offering ‘unlimited vacations’, a new study from jobs site Glassdoor says that U.S. workers on average have taken just 54% of their allotted vacation time. Forcing your winner to take time off not only gives them a well-needed rest, but signals to the rest of your team that it’s OK to take the time they’ve earned and can help create a happier, more productive culture.
10. Wine Tasting or Brewery Tour
Why it works so well: If your winner likes to wind down with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine, why not send them somewhere local to up their taste level? Let them bring a friend or significant other along for the ride. Just make sure you book the tour for a Friday or Saturday to make them feel like they can really relax and enjoy themselves.
11. VIP Access to Their Favorite Band
Why it works so well: Music festivals are great for their overall vibe, but for real music lovers, a dedicated concert is such a better experience. Check online to see who’s coming to town and book VIP tickets well in advance. Not only does this create a truly exclusive experience, but it shows your team that you’ve been thinking about rewarding them in advance.
12. Extreme Adventure Day
Why it works so well: The benefits of exercise on our performance in the workplace are well documented, but the last thing you want to reward your winner with is a trip to the treadmill. Instead, look for an extreme adventure experience like ziplining, rock climbing, or even kayaking. Not only will this give them an experience they can talk about and share, but exercising creates a sense of euphoria and can even lead to extended periods of increased happiness.
13. Cruise for Two
Why it works so well: If your work is demanding, it’s not only hard to find time to spend with loved ones, but that time often consists of eating or decompressing over some Netflix. However, researchers from the University of Michigan have found that more access to time with people we care about makes us happier and less likely to become depressed at home and at work. Try giving your winner some stress-free downtime by booking a romantic dinner cruise or other date night for them to take their partner out on.
14. Passes to a Local Attraction
Why it works so well: Sometimes the best experiences are in our own backyard. But few of us take the time out to check out what our own city has to offer. Look for attractions that will be unique and inspiring for your winner, like museum or gallery passes or even access to a local water or theme park.
15. Spa Day
Why it works so well: Smooth jazz. Endless attention. Cucumber water. Need we say more? Show appreciation to your winner with some dedicated ‘me time’ by giving them a spa day or other special treatment.
Employee Recognition and Rewards: The Special Treatment
Not all of your rewards have to be based on items or experiences. And in fact, it’s sometimes easier to single out and recognize an employee than you think. Even without spending a dime.
While special treatment in the workplace can go wrong if it shows favoritism, using it as a reward shows that it’s clearly merit based and can be inspiring for everyone.
16. Take the Afternoon Off
Why it works so well: More than just a bit of down-time while the rest of the world is working, giving your winner a Friday afternoon off can let them get a jump start on the weekend or plan a trip out of town with friends. Sure, the rest of the team will be jealous when they start packing up at noon, but that’s the point. They earned it.
17. Run the Weekly Meeting
Why it works so well: This is one of those empowering perks that shows your winner you respect what they do and trust their judgment. If you have a weekly meeting that the entire team attends, let your winner take the helm. Don’t micromanage or jump in, but let them do it the way they see fit. This will give them confidence as well as let you see if they’ve got leadership chops.
18. Attend a Conference of Their Choice
Why it works so well: As we pointed out before, millennial workers are desperate for a leg-up in the workplace. And giving them access to the smartest people in their career path is a great way to give them that. Find conferences in your city or state that line up with what your team is interested in (and what you want them to learn) and pay for the winner to go. Even better, buy two tickets and let them bring a co-worker of their choice.
19. Work From Home
Why it works so well: Your commute is a way to mentally prepare for your day at work. Yet, for most workers their bus ride or drive in is far from inspiring. In fact, a study by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Alan Krueger revealed that, even among our least favorite activities like household chores, commuting ranked dead last. Try giving your winner a break from their commute and a chance to work from home.
20. Casual Friday Whenever They Want
Why it works so well: If you want your winner to feel recognized and you have a workplace dress code in effect, what better way than to let them come to work in whatever they want? Not only will this make them more comfortable at work, but it’s a day-long reminder of their achievement and a way for them to stand out from the rest of the team.
21. Lazy Monday Morning
Why it works so well: Just like leaving late on a Friday, giving your winner a late start at the beginning of the week lets them make more plans for the weekend. It also recognizes them for their achievement when they come into work, and can even make them happier all day long if it means an easier commute in not during rush hour.
Employee Recognition and Rewards: Swag
When it comes to gifts, they say it’s better to give than to receive. But when it comes to a merit-based reward, the social stigmas go away and we’re free to enjoy our gift guilt-free. So whether it’s a luxury item or something simple, swag of all sorts is a great way to reward your winner for their hard work.
22. New Laptop or iPad
Why it works so well: Our lives—both at work and at home—have become revolved so much around tech, that having a new device impacts nearly everything we do. Giving your winner an updated device not only makes them feel special and recognized, but also gives them a tool to be more productive. Pick either an updated work computer or something they can use at home.
23. Gift Card to Their Favorite Store
Why it works so well: Sure, gift cards get a bad rap as a gift, but they’re still a fantastic option for a reward. Choose something useful like a Starbucks or Amazon gift card or get personal and find out where your winner likes to shop and get them a gift card or credit there.
24. Tech Accessories Like Headphones, Speakers, or a Smart Watch
Why it works so well: Just like the laptop or iPad, tech accessories are one of the hottest gift items out there and can instil some serious competitive rivalry in your team. Pick something current and that can be used daily as a reminder to your winner that you recognize the hard work they put in.
25. Clothing Shopping Spree
Why it works so well: Clothes and fashion are one of the main ways we show our uniqueness and tell the world about our personality. In the workplace, clothes show your professionalism and that you’re part of the ‘in’ crowd. The key with this reward is to let your winner choose what they want. Give them a basic budget, but let them go to town on whatever they feel shows their personality best.
26. A New Car
Why it works so well: It was the biggest prize on The Price is Right for a reason. Big ticket items like a new car are a clear winner when it comes to rewarding employees. Now, you might not have the budget to outright buy your employee a car, so look at other options like upgrading a company car or a weekend with a luxury car lease.
27. Uber or Lyft Ride Credit
Why it works so well: If you live in a city with ride-sharing, your employees most likely use it. They might even use it to get into work on a daily basis. Give them a credit with the service they use the most that will cover a month of trips.
28. Home Entertainment Upgrade (TV, Home Assistant)
Why it works so well: You want your employees to leave work at work, but choosing a reward that they use at home is a great reminder that you value their work and recognize the effort they put in. Choose something useful and quality like a TV or a new home assistant like Amazon’s Alexa.
29. Subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, or Spotify
Why it works so well: Not every piece of swag has to be a huge expenditure. And in fact, sometimes it’s those little things we use daily that make us feel best. Give your winner a year-long subscription to the service of their choice. It’s not a huge cost, but it’s something they’ll remember all year long.
30. Company Swag
Why it works so well: Company branded swag, like shirts, hoodies, bags, or hats, are great ways to create a community feeling amongst your team. As a bonus, they’re usually items you already have around and won’t have to shell out for every time you run a contest. However, you’ll want to pick something that feels special or has a little more value than the box of t-shirts you printed for a trade show last year.
31. Books, Audiobooks, or Workshops
Why it works so well: Your employees want to constantly better themselves. That’s why they competed so hard to win this contest. Give them the gift of continued learning by getting them a Kindle (with subscription), books on a subject they enjoy, or even just an open budget for an Audible membership or online courses and workshops.
Employee Recognition and Employee Rewards: Team-building activities
More than just a reward for your sole winner, offering a special event for the entire team creates a stronger culture and makes your winner feel like a champion of the people. However, make sure that each of these rewards has a focus on the winner so they still feel recognized and empowered in how the activity takes place.
32. Movie Day in the Office
Why it works so well: When we experience an emotion as a group, like laughter during a comedy or fear during a thriller, we create a strong psychological bond. What better way to create a stronger team than to take a slow afternoon off to watch a movie in the office? As an added bonus, let your winner pick the film.
33. Team Off-Site
Why it works so well: Getting everyone out of the office for some activities and games is another great way to build a strong culture and get your team to know each other better. Pick activities that are accessible to your entire team and get your winner to act as a ‘team leader’ to make them feel empowered.
34. Team Party or Other Activity
Why it works so well: Whether it’s happy hour, an office party, or group dinner, these activities give your team an opportunity to get to know each other in a casual setting and to blow off a little steam from a stressful workweek. Let your winner pick the theme or where you’ll go and be the master of ceremonies to keep the party going.
Employee Recognition and Employee Rewards: The Intangibles
Not all rewards need to carry a monetary value, and sometimes it’s the intangible rewards that carry a weight and value that inspires your workers. Think about small gestures you can do that will give your winner a sense of pride and let them know that they are respected by the entire team.
35. A Well-Designed and Honest Thank You Note
Why it works so well: It might seem like a cop out or a throwaway reward, but a well-designed and thoughtful thank you note can motivate and propel workers to keep putting in their all. The key here is to put in the effort to show how much you appreciate the worker. As Margaret Shepherd explains in The Art of the Handwritten Note, a proper thank you note has 5 characteristics: It’s generous, specific, prompt, succinct and personal.
36. Public Recognition (Like Having Their Photo on the Wall)
Why it works so well: Employee of the month status isn’t limited to fast food chains and gas stations. Public recognition of a job well done is another incredible way to create a strong company culture and invigorate your workforce. Make it into a regular event that people expect with a small ceremony and even a trophy to create a workplace tradition.
37. High-Five from the CEO or an Important Client
Why it works so well: Is there anything as great as a good ol’ high five? Only when it comes from someone unexpected. Take the basketball team the Washington Wizards, for example, who had star player John Wall come down and give their sales rep a high-five during a sales meeting as a reward. It cost them nothing, but was an unforgettable experience for their winner and their entire team.
Remember What We Said About Cash?
Well, we lied (a little!)
It’s hard to beat a couple hundred bucks as a reward for a job well done. We all could use more money in our lives and while there are certainly more imaginative options out there, if you’re stuck for ideas this is an easy fallback.
Creating an employee recognition and rewards system for your team is an incredibly easy way to keep them engaged, happy, loyal, and motivated. And as we’ve seen, you don’t need to go all out on one big effort. The key is consistency.
Make employee recognition, rewards, and competitions part of your culture, and you’ll be building an educated and emotionally invested workforce that’ll stick with you for the long-run.