Four Great Ways to Reward Your Employees

Do you feel overworked and underappreciated? If you do, you’re not alone. According to work researcher Bob Nelson Ph.D., author of 1501 Ways to Reward Employees, 85% of employees feel this way.

We all want to be appreciated for the good work we do. In fact, Nelson found that 99.4% of us want to be recognized for our good work, while the other .6% also want to be recognized but checked the wrong box on the survey.

However, when it comes to recognition there seems to be a one-size-fits-all mentality in business: money first, personalized reward last.

I know what you’re saying, what’s wrong with a thick wad of cash? Money IS a great reward—if you’re working paycheck to paycheck. However, if you’re paid well, a $100 dollar bonus might not be as nice as a day off or a gift certificate to a spa. What you reward people is just as important as giving them rewards.

If you want to give people what they really want, all you need to do is ask. Then you can customize the reward to what motivates the person the most.

Customizing your reward is important

Gift giving is one of the biggest ways to keep employees happy and loyal. The principle of reciprocity is one of the strongest principles of persuasion there is. No matter who you are, you feel obligated to a person who gives you a gift.

How obligated you feel, however, depends on the type of gift you receive. According to social psychologist Robert Cialdini, gifts that are meaningful, unexpected, and customized have the biggest effect on behavior.

In a recent talk at our company, Cialdini recounted the power of customization. He told us how his speakers bureau agent in Europe was always having problems getting a client to pay on time. Cialdini advised her to include a gift to the client when she sent the next invoice. The agent recalled how the client liked modern art and so inserted a postcard of a modern art piece in the envelope with the next invoice. The customized gift worked like a charm.

The client felt obligated to return the favor and paid the agent right away. Just imagine how you could use the right gift to encourage employees great efforts?

Four different types of rewards

There are four different types of rewards you should consider giving other than money, depending on the action rewarded and the company’s resources.

1. Low-end rewards are great for unexpected gifts or small rewards. These rewards can be gift cards to Starbucks or Amazon, discounts to events or restaurants, or even flowers. At BigSpeak, we send Starbucks gift cards with our checks as a way of saying thank you for the good service we received.

2. Symbolic recognition can be just as important as cash. Being recognized in front of your peers is a great way for a company to show recognition of good work. Symbolic rewards are tokens, pins, ribbons, plaques, and certificates.

Just make sure that such recognition is timely, specific, and public so people understand and feel appreciated. The Ritz-Carlton is famous for recognizing employees in front of their peers, and speaker Chester Elton notes how the #1 ranked hospital in New York City goes even further to recognize employees by sending thank you notes to the employee’s family.

3. Time off is a great non-cash reward you can give. It doesn’t have to be a full vacation day. It can be a voucher for a long lunch or a half-day off. This reward also pays dividends to the company. Employees refreshed from their time off are more engaged and productive.

4. Employee perks are an array of work rewards you can give to employees to show how you appreciate them. Perks can be free snacks in the breakroom, company fitness, or maybe shuttle service to work. While often costing very little, these perks send a message to employees that their efforts are appreciated.

Whatever the type of reward you give, always remember to let the employee know why it is being given for the best effect. You get what you reward. 


Kyle Crocco is the Marketing Coordinator for BigSpeak, has a Ph.D. in Education from UCSB, and is an all-around cool guy to his friends.