16 Employee Incentive Ideas

Recently you may have noticed some of your team members suffering from less overall engagement. This can happen for a variety of reasons, from burnout to lowered motivation to seasonal depression to turnovers. Many of these things can add up to feelings of listlessness and lowered productivity, even among the best of your staff.

A lack of engagement has become a problem across a variety of companies and sectors. Employees are collectively suffering from working exhaustion, poor management, and ineffective company hierarchy. Team member engagement is an enormous concern for any company, as low morale can affect everything from retention to the bottom line. 

You may be wondering how you can get your employees engaged again. Instead of jumping through corporate hoops, go straight to what your employees want: incentivization. Working incentives give your team members something to reach for, and also grant them visible praise for a job well done. Over 80% of all workers feel more motivated in their daily tasks if they have an attainable incentive.

There are many different types of incentives, and what works for you, your company, and your employees is always going to be different. It’s important to try out many different incentives and see what fits. In many cases, offering simultaneous incentives will only increase productivity, improve morale and decrease exhaustion.

16 Employee Incentive Ideas

  • 1. Recognition and Rewards
  • 2. Profit Sharing
  • 3. CEO for the day
  • 4. Additional Time Off
  • 5. Double time
  • 6. Flexibility 
  • 7. Choice of Projects
  • 8. Health and Wellness Benefits
  • 9. Tuition Reimbursement
  • 10. Bonuses and Raises
  • 11. Fun Gifts
  • 12. Bring Your Pet To Work
  • 13. Company Offsite 
  • 14. Green Commuting
  • 15. Personal Growth
  • 16. Time Off To Volunteer 

What Are Employee Incentive Programs?

Employee Incentive Programs are a smart way to engage your employees, attract new opportunities, and retain the brilliant staff you already have. Incentives are reward and benefit programs that exist to engender positive responses in your team members and workforce. These incentives can be many different things, from time off to work flexibility to bonuses to reimbursement. Employee incentive programs should always be selected based on your staff, reflecting their needs, the benefits of the company, and your social and economic values.

The Value of Employee Incentive Programs

The benefits of employee incentive programs should be immediate and obvious—they improve morale, increase engagement, and make your staff feel valued. The reason incentive programs work so well is because they’re natural to human needs and behavior. When a goal is linked to visible motivation, an employee is more compelled to do it. 

Broadly, organizations and businesses that regularly use employee incentive programs experience a huge boost in the accomplishment of set goals. If you feel like your team is stagnating, incentives are a great way to increase motivation and camaraderie, while also improving daily work culture and synthesizing your workforce. Companies that have adopted employee incentive programs across the board have seen sales increases, annual revenue increases, attraction of new staff, and company-wide satisfaction and benefits. Virtual employee engagement is more important now than it has ever been.

16 Employee Incentive Ideas

1. Recognition and Rewards

In our ever-changing world of unknowns, recognition really matters. A massive portion of the American workforce has said they want increased recognition in the workplace, and a wave of workers are reporting dissatisfaction with their jobs and work cultures. Organizations that regularly recognize their employees have statistically noted employee retention and engagement, though despite these statistics, many companies have been slow to incorporate morale-boosting incentives. 

Incentive programs aren’t just a one-time thing, they need to be embedded in the very foundations of a company and utilized as a part of daily life. Team members want to see that their input, efforts, and successes have value. When you recognize individuals and teams, you create a lasting structure between employees that goes all the way to the top. Proper incentivization is social and financial, and your employees know when they are being short-changed.

Social recognition is a way to increase morale that doesn’t dip into your organization’s costs—you can express gratitude, shower employees with praise, create a management recognition program, and overall increase the “good feelings” that exist within your company. Financial recognition is more straightforward and obvious—your employees should constantly have a clear path toward benefits, bonuses, and other monetary incentives. You can create a points-based system, reward them with physical or digital objects, or provide them with meaningful experiences like concerts or dinners.

2. Profit Sharing

There are many different profit sharing plans out there, used with varying success by a variety of companies. Profit sharing can be a great alternative (or possible supplement) to existing plans. Under profit sharing, your employees gain steady contributions for their retirement plans in the form of stock, cash, and direct payments. 

Profit sharing is a financial incentive, but it also empowers your employees. They will view themselves as a valuable part of the company—investors, not simply workers. These programs can create loyalty, and they incentivize your employees to invest back into the company they work in day after day.

3. CEO for the Day

Have any of your frustrated employees ever wondered what it might be like to be the top boss for a day? Under this program, they can gain that experience. It’s difficult to know how it feels to work the various roles of a company, and sometimes you really do have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to empathize with their experience. 

Promoting someone to CEO for the day is a unique challenge. There are a variety of ways to do this, but a great one is to let this person make one decision that will benefit the company as a whole. You can set rational guidelines, such as budget, accountability, shared company responsibility, and deadlines. The only way this incentive works is if the employee feels like the position has merit and value—you can’t hamstring their decisions or give them an embarrassingly small decision-making budget.

“CEO for the day” should incentivize employees to grow, and also teach them something important about leadership, money, and authority. Financial decisions are difficult, but creating this rotating program can build transparency in your organization and foster employee trust.

4. Additional Time Off

This incentive is the best way to prevent burnout and mitigate exhaustion. Time off is so important that some employees have expressed that they would take a slight salary reduction just to have extra vacation. Time to rest and recuperate is incredibly important for a healthy work-life balance—it increases motivation, freshens the spirit, and prevents people from thinking about a new job. If additional time off is in your budget, you should strongly consider it as an incentive. Vacation time, hourly flexibility, dropping a work day or creating an entirely new structure can erase these feelings of listlessness and disconnect. 

5. Double Time

Springboarding from additional time off is this easy incentive: double their breaks. What is the current structure and schedule of breaks and lunch at your office? No matter what it is, double it. At first this may seem absurd, but consider the benefits—your employees will feel rested, respected, and empowered to get back to work. Longer lunches, more leisure and social time, and additional breaks for stretching and snacks makes everyone feel more human. You might be surprised at how cost-effective and structural the inclusion of additional breaks can be.

6. Flexibility

If increasing the amount of breaks doesn’t make sense on paper—or you don’t know how to implement the schedule changes—then allow your employees to create their own flexible work schedule. Your employees are a trustworthy group, and they know their needs and tasks better than everyone. They should be able to set their hours, when and where they work, and how they need to arrange their time. 

Some people enjoy working from home, some people are workhorses that want to come into the office every day. If this incentive seems too extreme, maybe create one or two days a week that are “flexibility days” where people can experiment with personal scheduling.

7. Choice of Projects

Beyond breaks and flexibility is an incentive even more tantalizing: the ability for your responsible employees to choose their own projects. This may be a “higher level” incentive for your bright achievers, and it’s a great way to incentivize them into a place of company responsibility. More likely than not, your managers spend a lot of their time dealing with permission and structure, maintaining the workflow and deciding what everyone should be working on. Leaders that allow their employees to create their own work goals often see a workforce that is more trusting, more motivated, and more goal-oriented. This incentive is a great way to foster a new environment of trust within your workplace, and is a way to see which of your employees might be brought to their full potential.

This is an incentive that can be easily personalized on a whim, and can be massively appealing to both employer and employee. Your workers will feel more trusted and respected, and you will be able to use the extra time to find new projects or assign your managers elsewhere. Choosing projects can alter the scope of your team leaders, and foster a great sense of communication among your team members. It can also restructure the goals and timeframes of your projects, benefitting revenue and sales.

8. Health and Wellness Benefits

One of the most important benefits for any job in America is its wellness package. Health and wellness incentives are paramount to preventing burnout because they can acutely address the core problem. Mental and physical health is fundamental to a structured work-life balance, and is critically important for the world we currently live in. Important health and wellness benefits include healthy snacks and lunches, meditation time, travel reimbursements, exercise routines, standing desks, wellness opportunities and more. You can even create a wellness program that rewards individuals based on meeting their personal fitness goals.

The best way to incorporate health and wellness incentives is to encourage people to engage in healthy habits both at work and at home. Utilizing wellness platforms that have constant recognition and rewards is a great way to synergize health on and off work. Employees can benefit one another by lifting one another up, and creating both transparent and personalized wellness incentive plans will boost morale by saying “We are all in this together!”

9. Tuition Reimbursement

Education should be considered a priority of both employer and employee, and when a team member feels like their boss cares about their education, they put in more effort at work. Tuition is extremely expensive in America, and tuition assistance is of immense importance for anyone considering a new position. Employees that are offered some kind of tuition reimbursement or assistance are most likely to stay with their current company.

No matter your role in the company, you should be striving to learn something new every day. Tuition reimbursement enforces the idea that your organization actually cares about education, whether it’s continuing education or paying off a gratuitous loan. Beyond simple reimbursement, your managers and team leaders should be aggressively promoting the importance of education through milestones, certifications, daily praise, and peer-recognized public achievements.

10. Bonuses and Raises

This is the big deal—there is truly no incentive above bonuses and raises. Rewarding your employees with surprise bonuses and raises is a remarkably powerful motivational tool, especially if it’s coupled with praise about personal performance. If you’re building potential bonuses as incentivizing tools, you should set up a transparent roadmap of how they can reach this bonus in an appropriate amount of time. Remember, these sorts of incentives are supposed to benefit everyone and increase motivation and morale—don’t do anything that will shortchange fellow employees or cause unrest in the workplace. 

11. Fun Gifts

Fun, sporadic gift giving is a great way to show you care about your employees, especially when those gifts are thoughtful, helpful, or necessary. Gifts are terrific incentives for company events, holidays, personal anniversaries, employee appreciation week/month, or different family-themed events. You can even add a little twist to the gift-giving process by throwing in games, icebreakers, or team building events. 

Gifts are popular, and while they should reflect both the giver and the receiver, some gifts are evergreen. You can consider free lunches, a half-day paid time off, catered snacks, gift cards, tickets, flowers, office plants, and more. In many instances, the small act of a bit of cash goes a long way.

12. Bring Your Pet To Work

Who doesn’t love pets? This is a fantastic incentive that benefits everyone and doesn’t cost you a thing! You can even dedicate a day of the week or a part of the month to “Pet Day” and promote everyone’s pets (this also gives a heads-up to anyone with allergies or pet aversions). Pet Day is popular because it gives everyone a chance to get to know an intimate part of their coworkers lives.

Everyone loves to show off pictures of their cats, dogs, and birds, and getting to experience the unbridled joy of these furry friends all day creates camaraderie and happiness within the workplace. This translates to productivity and relaxation, and could very well become the social event that your office orbits around!

13. Company Offsite 

Everyone loves going on a little adventure. Offering a company-wide offsite event is a terrific reward when the team meets specific goals, such as closing on an offer or making the big sale. Company offsite events can be anything from seeing a local movie together to visiting a restaurant to bowling to hiking to skiing to a work retreat event. These offsite events are also a fun way to bring your employees closer together while also synthesizing your company culture and values.

14. Green Commuting

We all want to make the planet a more beautiful place, and companies that strive toward eco-friendly incentives motivate their employees to care. You can offer rewards for employees that do any eco-friendly activities such as walking or biking to work, carpooling or taking the bus or train, or making personal efforts at home such as recycling or donating to local eco-friendly groups. This is a fantastic way for your company to promote its green beliefs while also giving back to the employees and the community they live in.

15. Personal Growth

It may be difficult to think about personal growth right now, which is why your company needs to take great strides in incentivizing it. Creativity is incredibly important in your organization, and any team that incentivizes growth and betterment will come out ahead.

Invest in your employees directly by offering a stipend for personal growth. Don’t put limits on it—they’re adults, and you should let them figure out how to best invest in themselves. Give some suggestions about how this stipend should be used, and promote educational and stress-alleviating experiences.

16. Time Off To Volunteer 

When investing in your community, it’s important to make sure that your employees are benefiting themselves and the environment around them. Volunteer work is best when it’s done as a team activity, and giving your employees time off to help their local communities can foster growth, improve morale, and create friendships. You can even host this volunteer day yourself and find time when everyone can join in together.

Why Not Just Pay Your Employees More?

While incentives are very useful tools for increasing motivation and preventing burnout, it inevitably all comes down to mony. Payroll is complicated, and although every business and organization would love to pay their employees more, sometimes this isn’t in the cards. Perks and incentives are considered a business expense, and the savings accrued by them can be put back into the well-being of your employees. If your team members ask why not simply go for raises instead of the song and dance of incentives, be transparent. They can handle it, and maybe they will want to work with you to figure out a situation that benefits everyone.

At the end of the day, what you put into your employees is returned tenfold. No matter what incentive or reward program you go with, if it benefits your employees and increases their motivation, it’s a win-win. Consider things from their point of view when selecting your incentive idea—different teams and individuals will like different incentives more than others. If properly implemented, you will notice the changes immediately!

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