38 Employee Incentive Ideas for An Engaged Team

People teams are always on the lookout for incentive and reward ideas that will help them engage, attract, and retain the best of the best employees. Here at Gable, we don’t only help companies engage and connect their (remote) teams — we practice quite a few of these ideas in our team.

This comprehensive list of employee incentives is divided by category. Still, to make things even easier, we included the 🚫💰 emojis next to each free or low-cost activity. After all, creativity and cost savings matter, especially when a recession may be approaching.

Now, let’s dive in 👇

Employee recognition and appreciation

Most employees like getting their hard work and effort recognized, and some even say recognition is their most significant driver to perform and do great work. So these following few ideas mainly showcase creative, non-monetary incentives that boost employee morale and add a bit of fun to your everyday work.

Slack of Fame 🚫💰

This idea is a modern variation of the “employee of the month” initiatives and walls of fame some companies used to have in their offices. In today's workplace, there are faster, more efficient, and more fun ways to recognize your team's great work.

Create a Slack of Fame channel for your team and invite every department to submit one team member each week and highlight a win they achieved. If you want to keep it competitive, the candidates from each department can get votes to compete for awards like a lunch gift card.

You’ll soon see departments engaging in healthy competitions and working hard on submitting their applications. Still, in the long run, this will encourage every employee to take note of their wins. Most of us get lost in the daily grind and forget to write down our achievements; this little game can help us show our progress and enjoy it.

Custom Emojis 🚫💰

Creating custom emojis for your team is an easy, free, and incredibly engaging way to showcase your company culture. At Gable, every newly onboarded team member gets introduced on Slack with their custom emoji waiting to be flaunted.

As you can imagine (and see below), our team now has multiple emojis for every team member.

We can even make custom ones by ourselves to use in every situation — which we absolutely do!

Custom Emoji

Work anniversary notes 🚫💰

Even though some employees won’t remember their work anniversary dates, it’s a pretty cool move to remind them, congratulate them, and send a note of appreciation. You can send these out to the employee’s address, in which case some flowers or additional gifts would be a good idea.

On the Gable team, we do these on Slack, as we’re spread across continents and time zones. Our virtual anniversary cards feature our pictures inside some very elaborate balloon arches, which may or may not have spurred a few Brooklyn99 references 😉

Welcome notes for new team members 🚫💰

Welcoming new team members warmly is an essential piece of every well-designed onboarding checklist. Introducing new hires and enabling them to get to know their teammates right off the bat can do wonders for employee engagement and relationship building, especially if your team is spread out across locations.

We made a cool list of welcome messages you can send to new employees to get them going and showcase a good work environment. See the message templates >>>

Face time with the CEO 🚫💰

Getting an appreciation note from the company CEO can go a long way, but getting some 1-on-1 time with them can be a game changer when showing employee appreciation. You can do a fixed number of CEO sessions every year or quarter and reserve the spots for team members in each department who hit their milestones or had extraordinary achievements.

Depending on budgets, locations, and other factors, you can choose a virtual session, a coffee and cake break, or a dinner in person. Socializing with the company leader can help employees suggest new ideas, pitch new projects, or make a case for a bigger department budget.

Awards ceremonies 🚫💰

Here’s another tip straight from us at Gable: host an award ceremony for your team! In 2022, we hosted our first-ever (virtual) Oscar Night and handed out awards in all categories, from the best-dressed teammate to the most likely to make you laugh.

Some of us dressed up for the occasion, and we all raised glasses and coffee mugs for the successes we achieved together and the next ceremony we’ll organize.

A formal employee recognition program

If your inspiration for recognition activities is running dry, you can always try a more structured, formal employee recognition program. One of the best is Bonusly — they help companies increase engagement, lower turnout, and foster a culture of recognition with their rewards program management tool.

Events and activities

What’s a modern take on the old “work hard, play hard” mindset? If you ask the Gable team, it’s definitely company events. It’s probably our favorite type of incentive because it feels really good to step away from the avalanche of work and into an event where we get to know each other better, connect, and have fun!

Virtual parties 🚫💰

Throwing a virtual party will cost you next to nothing, yet if you design it well, your team will surely have a blast! Virtual parties are especially good to organize to celebrate the end-of-year or any other holidays, as they allow parents and caretakers to join without commuting.

Guess what? We assembled 16 of the best virtual holiday party ideas in a neat list, and they’re waiting for you to try them out! See the list >>>

Team building sessions

Want to lift the team spirit and see teamwork in action? Take your team out for a bonding exercise, and let them blow off steam while building relationships. Here are our favorite team building activities:

  • Go out bowling
  • Head to an escape room
  • Go for a hike together
  • Do a cooking class
  • Play board games

Offsites

And if you want to expand on that in-person experience for everyone on the team, it’s a great idea to host a company offsite at least once every year. Some companies even organize additional team offsites for different departments in addition to the company-wide events.

Offsites typically break the time between work-related meetings, workshops, and team bonding activities. It’s a perfect time to get everyone aligned on company goals, build relationships, and reward your top performers.

Need a handy guide to help you organize an amazing offsite? We made one showcasing how you can do it with Gable. See offsite guide >>>

Bring-family-to-work day 🚫💰

It’s often said that employees enjoy working for companies where they can bring their whole selves to work. And what’s a better way to enable that than organizing a family day at the office? Now, the office can also be a Zoom call, but hosting a family day with trivia games, introductions, and a casual atmosphere is guaranteed to help with employee happiness.

An important note here: make the event inclusive for all kinds of families! Your event should be designed and set up in a way that lets employees choose whether to invite a friend, roommate, spouse, children, parents, or pets because families come in all shapes and forms.

Birthday celebrations 🚫💰

Sending a happy birthday note to employees goes without saying, but the cool companies out there also send a nice gift. It should be something the employee really loves or needs. Some examples include AirPods cases, planners with stickers, a piece of exercise equipment, or a concert or theatre ticket.

In addition to all this, truly awesome companies also give out a small allowance to employees to celebrate their birthdays with team members. Is anyone up for a slice of cake? 🍰

Swag Day

Everyone loves good company swag, and awaiting a package full of company-branded goodies is the best excitement. Pick a time to send swag packages to your time, and refresh the contents at least once every year with new stuff.

Additionally, ensure all new hires get their fair share of swag as soon as they join — it’s one of the most effective ways to kickstart connection and engagement. Here are the swag items our team members love the most:

  • Water bottles
  • Laptop stickers
  • Socks!
  • Tote bags
  • Hats

Employee health and wellness

Employees across industries and locations have been struggling with burnout, isolation, and poor work-life balance in these past few years. That means companies need to show they care for their wellbeing, especially if they want employee retention rates to stay high.

Here are a few ideas to incentivize health and wellness in your team👇

Paid time off

This is a fundamental employee benefit and one that probably impacts your team’s wellbeing the most. Make sure to create and communicate your PTO policy to every employee, and also ensure they actually take their time off.

Bonus points for managers who lead by example and don’t respond to emails while away from the office. Encourage employees to log off, recharge, and return to work energized and ready to do impactful work.

Fitness memberships

We wanted to suggest gym memberships, but the truth is not everyone likes gyms. And while physical activity is an amazing perk to offer employees to keep them healthy and active, be aware that their individual preferences may differ.

You’ll probably see a healthy mix of gym rats, hikers, surfers, and even dancers on your team, so make sure to give a monthly fitness allowance or reimburse employees for the membership they choose.

Fitness buddy programs 🚫💰

And while we’re on the topic of staying active, some people like having accountability buddies to ensure they’ll track and meet their fitness goals. So whether your team wants to up their step count, start doing yoga, or prepare for a marathon, a buddy would do them good.

Survey your team and gather data on how many employees would participate in the buddy program. Then, match employees in pairs or small groups regardless of their chosen activity and let them take it from there.

Meal subscriptions

While some of our team members enjoy cooking dinner every day, others don’t always have time for it or simply don’t like it. So what’s a company to do here?

Well, you can give out a meal subscription service like Hello Fresh, so they can always eat well, even when they don’t want to make dinner.

Mental health stipends

For many employees, juggling work tasks, career progress, personal life, parenting, caretaking, socializing, and staying healthy can sometimes take a toll. If you want to make it easier for your team, don’t forget to include mental health support in your employee incentive plans.

Staff members who feel supported in terms of mental health show better job satisfaction and are more likely to report a positive company culture and engagement levels. Offer your team a monthly stipend for mental health or a few options to choose from they can use whenever they feel the need.

Yoga and mindfulness 🚫💰

Yoga and mindfulness sessions are a fantastic way to nurture both the body and spirit. They come in handy for office workers spending all day in a chair and stressful environments.

If your team is office-based, organize a weekly yoga session in the office and invite the team to join, or do the same virtually if you’re remote. Everyone will enjoy stretching and de-stressing, especially during work hours!

Remote and distributed teams

With remote work becoming a global phenomenon and everyone from small businesses to corporations hiring remote workers, it’s time to realize they need different reward systems. Remote employees don’t care about parking spots and focus more on connection and communication.

Here’s how to incentivize them 👇

Home office setup

Work from home is the default setup for many remote workers who care a lot about their work environment. If your company employs a remote or distributed team, set them up with a good home office setup when they start and provide monthly or yearly budgets for this purpose.

Here are some home office essentials to offer to your team:

  • Laptop and additions like monitors, keyboards, screens, and trackpads
  • Paid internet expenses
  • Headphones and good lighting for Zoom calls
  • An ergonomic chair and/or standing desk

Flexibility at work 🚫💰

If your team works remotely, does it matter when they work? Apart from meetings, most roles don’t require a fixed work schedule, and flexible schedules are a reward employees genuinely value. Let your team collaborate asynchronously and set their work hours — they’ll be more productive, and their performance will improve.

A place to connect with coworkers 🚫💰

It may sound strange, but the perk remote workers want the most after flexibility and home office setups is... a workspace outside of the home.

44% of employees say connecting with coworkers is the biggest challenge of working remotely, and that’s precisely what workspaces do for them. The office is no longer where people sit at a desk but rather a place they go to collaborate, exchange ideas, and get to know each other better.

Providing access to workspaces whenever employees need them is quite cost-effective compared to office leases, so you will likely save some money while giving your team the place and time to connect on their own terms.

Provide your remote employees with workspace options, no matter where they live, while you stay in control of budget spending, usage, and real-time insights and data — all in one place. Try Gable today >>>

Help with childcare

You have to admit productivity can take a dip if you’re working from home and don’t have childcare covered. It’s practically impossible to get anything done with the noise and distractions. Companies can and should cover at least part of childcare expenses to ensure remote workers can achieve peak employee performance

Pet care budgets 🚫💰

And while pets may not always require full-time daycare, it’s a nice idea to set a monthly budget for pet care for pet owners on your team. The money doesn’t have to be big — a toy or some treats every month can do wonders in keeping our best friends happy 🐾

Hobbies and interests

We all have hobbies or interests that make us happy, and we often enjoy sharing them with others. If you truly want to make employees happy outside of work, too, consider contributing to what they love doing.

Service and app subscriptions 🚫💰

On our team, we have so many different interests, from plant lovers and travel enthusiasts to music fans and Netflix bingers. It’s likely your team has diverse hobbies too, and you can throw in some low-cost goodies to make them extra happy.

Here are our top picks:

  • Spotify or Apple Music subscriptions for music lovers
  • Netflix/HBO/Hulu/Amazon Prime subscriptions for TV and movie watchers
  • A paid subscription to a plant caretaking app like Planta
  • Book of The Month subscription for bookworms

Coffee memberships

As coffee is an essential ingredient of every workday at Gable, we dedicate a special paragraph to it here. Almost all of us are heavy coffee ☕️ drinkers, so we can definitely get behind a coffee membership.

Receiving a coffee box every month with different bean profiles and flavors to try out is a dream come true and a killer idea for companies to engage their top talent... and caffeine levels!

Book clubs 🚫💰

If your team has more than a few book lovers on board, consider creating an informal company-wide book club. The club can host monthly meetups to discuss assigned reads, and you can rotate the meeting leaders and title proposers every month.

This is a free activity that helps employees build relationships with coworkers who may not necessarily be on their team and thus increase the social fabric of your workplace. Also, feel free to extend this idea to any other activity that could benefit from a club 😉

Spa day

The mere thought of a spa day and an accompanying massage has us closing our eyes and instantly de-stressing! Don’t hesitate to reward project finalizations, milestones, and achieved goals with a spa day and some well-deserved relaxation!

Charitable programs

For the philanthropists on your team, offer to donate in their name or match the amount they donate to a charity of their choice. Giving back to the community and helping those in need will benefit everyone involved

Gift cards

If you run out of ideas (which we doubt will happen after this article), survey your employees and list their favorite companies and retailers. A gift card may seem small, but it can be a thoughtful and welcome gift on many occasions, whether it’s a restaurant voucher, their favorite electronics store, or a coffee place around the corner.

Monetary rewards for employees

Now, if you really want to motivate your team, you can also try monetary incentive ideas, which we’ve listed below

Profit sharing

Profit sharing is a great way to incentivize your employees — you give them a target, and once they surpass it, they can participate in profit-sharing agreements. Additionally, you can provide employees with stock options to sweeten the deal

Bonuses

When we talk about monetary incentives, sometimes it’s best to choose the good old bonus to reward employees. It’s one of the most typical incentives out there, but if you set clear metrics and goals for employees to achieve, bonuses can be pretty engaging

Referral programs

Do you have an employee referral program in your company? If not, you definitely should! Encourage your team to recommend high-quality candidates for open job positions and compensate them if their candidate gets hired. It’s always a good idea to source great talent through the network of your existing employees.

Professional development incentives

For the knowledge workers of today, compensation and culture play significant roles in how they perceive a company. But development opportunities and career progression are just as crucial for many, especially when deciding whether to switch jobs.

Mentorship programs 🚫💰

If there is a way to provide a mentorship program to employees inside a company, do it! The opportunities for learning and networking from experienced leaders mentoring younger employees can help with retention and creating connections with the company.

Conferences and events

Paying for employees to attend conferences and industry events don’t only provide networking opportunities. It’s also great for attracting talent, promoting your company and brand, and helping employees gain new skills and stay up to date with trends.

Tuition reimbursement

Nowadays, there’s an abundance of formal and informal courses employees can take to hone their skill sets, specialize in their area of expertise, or gain entirely new knowledge. If you have the means, set a yearly budget for your team to spend on skills and certifications and reimburse them for the expense.

Company-wide L&D programs

Learning and development programs are one of the best ways to engage employees and help them grow their capabilities. With company-developed L&D programs, you can offer industry-specific courses, training on soft skills and relationship-building, and educating employees on how best to work remotely.

Resource Library 🚫💰

Even if employees don't attend an official L&D program, they should still have access to in-house educational materials, books, and other resources that help them improve communication, job-related skills, and workplace capabilities.

Resources related to workplace communications, diversity and inclusion, and relationship building should always be available to every employee in the company.

FAQ: Employee Incentive Programs

What are employee incentives?

Employee incentives are programs used by companies (and often designed by human resources departments) that aim to increase employee performance and retention and attract top talent. Companies that offer incentives to employees see increased employee engagement, lower attrition, and, subsequently, a better bottom line.

How can I use incentives to engage employees?

If engagement is your primary objective, try designing your employee incentive program with activities that center engagement. The same goes for retention and any other goal — focusing your incentive strategy on one or two key target areas helps you achieve those results faster instead of going too broad with your offerings.

What are the benefits of employee incentives?

Depending on the type of incentives you choose and their goals, a good incentive program can help you:

  • Lower turnover rates
  • Increase productivity
  • Increase employee engagement and happiness
  • Create better workplace relationships and connection
  • Improve employee wellbeing

What should a good incentive program include?

A great employee incentive program has these essential elements:

  • A key objective you want to achieve (e.g., increased employee engagement)
  • The behaviors you want to incentivize
  • A list of incentives you want to provide to employees
  • The process employees must fulfill to obtain the incentive
  • Metrics to track the success of your incentive program

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Andrea Rajic