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13 Cheap Employee Rewards and Incentives on a Budget

Billy Haynes is a content writer and founder of HD Writing Co. He has an interest in many things and experience in writing about even more.

Ways to celebrate and reward good work without breaking your budget.

Ways to celebrate and reward good work without breaking your budget.

How to Reward Employees on a Budget

Are you searching for cheap rewards or incentives for your employees? This article offers great ideas for ways to reward employees on a budget, using low-cost and inexpensive incentives to show employees how much you appreciate them.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence, “only 51% of the U.S. Workforce claimed they felt their employer valued them. Over a third (36%) had not received any employee recognition in the past year. Furthermore, only 47% reported employee recognition being provided fairly.”

1. Send a Thank-You Card

This is a really simple and cost-efficient way to say thank you for doing a great job, and there are various options available.

  • Purchase a box of thank-you cards.
  • Individually choose each card.
  • Use a card maker to design the card and print it out for a personal touch.
Cheap rewards for employees

Cheap rewards for employees

2. Hand Out Gift Cards

If you are not sure what to get an employee to say thank you for hitting a deadline early, a gift card can be an excellent idea. If you know where they like to eat or shop, this will help make it even more meaningful as it shows you pay attention to them as an individual.

As an alternative, if you are not aware of their off-duty activities, you can simply put money on a prepaid Visa or MasterCard. They will be able to use this type of gift card just about anywhere.

3. Send Flowers From the Company

Giving flowers can be a great way to say thank you, but it can also be tricky as some people make get the wrong message. In order to avoid unknowingly creating tension in the workplace, it is recommended to research the type of flowers for the occasion.

Additionally, it would not hurt to be aware of the lesser-known holidays, such as Administrative Professionals Day. During the first week of April, some companies will send flowers to their secretary.

4. Provide Free Lunch for a Week

If you have a company kitchen, you could provide free lunch for a week. If it's a smart kitchen, simply waive the cost of a meal each day or add money to their company kitchen account.

As an alternative, if you do not have a company kitchen, you can find out what they would like for lunch each day and comp the charge for delivery.

5. Free Clothes

Another way of rewarding a good worker and advertising at the same time is by providing free clothing. Thank employees by providing hooded jackets, t-shirts, or other types of clothing. If you have the company logo printed on them, it works as an advertisement at the same time.

Those who work the hardest tend to be the ones that take pride in their work and would likely be proud to wear the company logo. Additionally, you can include the employee's name on the clothing to make it more personalized.

6. Create a Framed "Employee of the Month" Photo

You can promote your best workers and create an incentive to work harder by hanging up a framed "employee of the month" photo.

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It is human nature to be competitive. By introducing an employee of the month, you are giving your hardest workers the recognition they deserve and creating a competitive atmosphere. This could be a single photo frame or a multi-photo frame that shows the Employee of the Month each month for the whole year.

7. Take Them to Dinner

If you want something more personal than providing free lunch for a week, you could take the employee of the month to a sit down dinner. In some companies, the supervisor or plant manager will cover the expense. This gives the employee a chance to meet those in higher positions at a more personal level and makes them feel special.

Additionally, it creates a chance to ask the employee if they have any ideas or suggestions that would help advance a current project or the company.

8. Designate a Parking Spot

This is also a good method to thank an employee for their hard work. Have a sign made up with their name on it and put it in front of a parking space. That's easy enough, right?

Not only will this thank the employee for all of the hard work, but you are showing their achievements through the company.

9. Give Them a Gift

If you know what the employee enjoys doing in their free time, you could surprise them with a hobby-related gift. Do they enjoy woodworking, building model cars, or painting? Provide a gift set that they could use in their hobbies, such as a tool kit or model car kit.

If they're into painting, there are many possibilities. For example, you could give them a blank canvas and allow them to create a painting to hang in the office.

10. Give a Gift for Their Child

Does your employee have children? Find out their ages, how many, and if they are boys or girls. You could also inquire about what the employee's children enjoy. Then purchase something appropriate for them.

If you are not aware of what the children like, things can get tricky. In this case, you can resort back to a gift card for a toy store in the area. Then they can choose on their own. If they are teenagers, an electronics store may be a better fit.

One way to obtain the information while keeping the intentions hidden would be to conduct a "company survey." Include random questions in the survey, including questions such as: Do you have children? If yes, are they male/female? What age(s)?

By filling the survey with random questions, you can also find out information that can be retained and used at a later time as well.

11. Start an Auction

A reader, charmike4, commented about using this method in the past. You simply reward an employee's good work by giving them "money."

This could be monopoly money, or you can get creative by making your own company currency.

Pass out this "currency" when an employee is working hard. Find items people would like, then pick a certain time once a month to hold an auction. Employees can use the currency you choose or create to bid on the items at the auction.

12. Reward the Spouse

Remember that the employee has to sacrifice his family when they are required to work late hours, often staying over to reach deadlines or coming in on days off.

You can offer to make up for it by offering to send a gift home to the spouse. Some companies have comped the cost of flowers for the husband. Some have directly sent apology letters directly.

13. Paid Time Off

Employees enjoy being able to take a day off with pay if needed, and some enjoy hearing they can go home early—although not everyone can afford to take off early.

Has an employee been working hard and hit a deadline or daily goal ahead of schedule? Let them go home early, with pay. For example:

If the employee is scheduled to work eight hours, but hits the daily goal in five hours, give them the option of going home early and being paid for the full eight hours.

Employee Rewards and Incentives Q&A

Do employee incentive programs really work?

A study by Chidiebere Ogbonnaya, Kevin Daniels, and Karina Nielsen interviewed 1,293 private-sector workplaces, including senior managers in human resources, employment relations personnel management, and financial management. Their analysis indicated a positive association between performance-related pay and job satisfaction, management trust, and organizational commitments.

How do you reward employees without money?

Many employee reward ideas do not involve providing monetary gifts. In fact, cheap, low-cost incentives for employees may be a better motivator than money. The problem is that many employers do not have a proper incentive program in place.

According to Harold Stolovich, Ph.D., a study proved that employee rewards can boost performance by 25% to 44%. Providing incentives for employees or offering cheap rewards is becoming more popular. However, Stolovich added, “most organizations lack knowledge or willingness to create a proper employee reward program.”

Questions for Readers

  • Has an employer ever rewarded you for a job well done, if so how?
  • As an employee, how would you like to be rewarded for your hard work?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Billy Haynes


Billy Haynes (author) from Paragould, AR on June 30, 2020:

Thank you for reading. The list includes a range of ideas for different price points. Other than Dollar Tree items, I'm not sure how it gets much cheaper than sending a Thank You card, or covering lunch ($5-$7).

Would you mind sharing some other cheap ideas?

PinkSquirrel1 on June 29, 2020:

These are not cheap ideas. I am a Dept. Manager and have to pay for stuff out of my own pocket. I like to reward my Team members because they work hard and corporate is cheap. We work in Health Care. I guess I will stick to my DYI ideas.

Ijeoma Etozie on March 14, 2018:

Nice one. Yes I've been rewarded for a job well done by my employer. My picture was placed on the notice board and captioned 'agent of the month'. And a few nairas added to my pay for that Month. It motivated me.

Billy Haynes (author) from Paragould, AR on December 12, 2015:

Thanks Jodah! :)

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on December 12, 2015:

Some good ideas offered in this hub Bill, I hope some employers read this.

Billy Haynes (author) from Paragould, AR on January 12, 2015:

I would have to agree, anytime you get paid for not working is great. :)

Michelle Dee from Charlotte, NC on January 10, 2015:

I like number 13 the best - it helps with having a happy balance between work and personal life. Time off with pay is always good.

Billy Haynes (author) from Paragould, AR on March 07, 2012:

Thanks for reading and the comment. Your right it does show they are important and valued. If more companies took time to value those at home when requiring employees to work extra hours it might also help the health of the relationship by letting them know "I'm not a slave, the company actually considers loved ones at home". :) Best part is that it can be so cheap and easy to do.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on March 07, 2012:

These is a great collection of reward strategies. I think giving rewards for the employee's child or spouse will definitely work. It stresses that the family of the employee is important and valued as well.

Billy Haynes (author) from Paragould, AR on March 06, 2012:

Thanks, I actually seen them in the library the other day which is what gave me the idea for the hub. If a person is looking for more ways to reward employees or motivate them those are two really great books (and cheap). :)

Carolyn Gibson from Boston on March 06, 2012:

Very good hub with good ideas! The eBay book by Bob Nelson that you have listed here is excellent.

Billy Haynes (author) from Paragould, AR on March 06, 2012:

Awesome idea, so as the employees do a good job they earn the "money" which also gives you the fun of naming the money that can later be used in an auction. Time off is a wonderful idea as well, I sure will add that! Thanks for reading.

Michael Kromwyk from Adelaide, South Australia on March 05, 2012:

One activity that I did once was to have an auction. The staff earned 'money' for being on time, getting targets etc & at the end of the month we had a auction. I asked other departments, suppliers etc to provide items and we had a few drinks while we conducted an auction. It didn't cost us anything & it turned into a fantastic team building event.

If I can add a #12 to your list...give an hour or half hour off at the end of the day for good performance or going beyond the call of duty.

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