Have you heard about the perks enjoyed by Silicon Valley employees? From free lunches to on-site massages to lucrative stock options, big tech firms offer blockbuster incentives to recruit and retain employees. But you don’t have to be a billion-dollar company to offer incentives that can both boost morale and motivate your team. Here are some practical employee incentive ideas that encourage your workforce while being financially sound for employers.

Get to know your employees and find out what motivates them

The best employee incentive ideas often come from employees themselves. Employees might appreciate a day off a quarter to participate in volunteer work in the community, which would build goodwill all around. Perhaps giving an employee a stipend to hire a freelance or contract worker would not only make them happier and less burned out, but it would also boost productivity and allow them to focus on higher-level tasks. 

Just don’t assume you know what motivates your employees. It may be tempting to survey them, but that strategy could backfire. You won’t be able to please everyone, and if an employee doesn’t see that their preferred perk made the cut, they may feel left out.

To find out what motivates your employees, talk to them, they will tell you.  Companies must have a concentrated effort with a dedicated resource to continuously reach out and ask for feedback.

“When you receive the feedback, the key is to take action, even if you don’t implement a suggestion,” says Michelle Thompson, director of human resources for XMI. “Most employees will understand if something isn’t implemented; what they don’t understand is lack of communication.

Use flexibility as an employee incentive

It might sound counterintuitive, but creating a flexible work environment might be all the incentive a company needs to increase employee productivity. Obviously, you don’t want to cause disruption or produce entitled employees—the trains still have to keep running, and deadlines still have to be met. However, encouraging an employee to take time off during the traditional workday to coach her kid’s soccer team or participate in a cause he believes in can have an overall positive impact on job satisfaction.

With the expectations of workers in the workforce today, a flexible work environment should be a key component of any incentive program, Thompson says. While some industries with more restrictions regarding work hours (e.g. healthcare, manufacturing), “most can still adopt a flexible environment to allow employees to attend important activities, with proper planning by both parties.”

Use the Big Tech employee incentive ideas (but scale them down) 

Can’t afford to provide breakfast or lunch every day? Bring in bagels for the Monday morning meeting or provide pizza on Wednesdays to get people over hump day.

Are hefty quarterly bonuses still a bit out of reach? Host a monthly luncheon to recognize stellar employees or give a Friday off to a team that’s posted good results.

When implementing employee incentive ideas, focus on fitness

Looking for a two-for-one deal? Boost health and morale by reimbursing employees for their monthly gym memberships or giving prizes such as wearable fitness trackers to the winners of company-wide health contests. If feasible, install a shower in your building so that employees can more easily bike to work.

Get creative and collaborative with your celebrations

Promote camaraderie at semi-regular all-staff parties for which employees choose the theme. Have an employee who’s a rabid basketball fan? Ask her to plan the March Madness watch party, then put up company funds to sweeten the pot for the best prognosticator in the March Madness bracket. But don’t plan too many all-staff parties outside of work hours so you’re not forcing the fun, advise experts from the Forbes Coaches Council.

Don’t underestimate recognition 

Personal notes of commendation—with specific examples of outstanding work—from a supervisor can make employees feel as valued and appreciated as a gift card to Starbucks.

There are a lot of ways to provide low-cost or no-cost incentives. “Public recognition for a job well done, an email to the organization recognizing someone who exhibits a core value in a unique way or a simple thank you goes a long way,” Thompson says.

The key is for leaders to be looking for opportunities to praise employees and make it recognition a part of company culture—not just for a select few, but for the whole team.


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