10 Low-Cost Ways to Offer Employee Recognition

By Robert Half on November 15, 2016 at 8:00pm

As various times of the year, managers look for ways to give employee recognition for a job well done — without breaking the bank. Cash bonuses are often the ultimate employee incentive, but they’re not the only way to make employees feel appreciated.

You can keep your team motivated and committed to the company by offering alternative forms of employee recognition. Feeling appreciated, after all, is the top factor driving happiness for people in accounting, according to new research by our company, IT'S TIME WE ALL WORK HAPPY.®

How can you turn a simple “thanks” into something more meaningful? Consider these 10 low-cost options to give employee recognition for a job well done:

1. A hand-written thank you

With electronic communication so prolific in our current office culture, taking the time to write a brief but sincere handwritten “good job” note can go a long way toward making an employee feel valued. Written notes require extra time to craft and deliver, something sure to be recognized and appreciated by recipients.

2. Emails cc'ing the team

Another way to show that someone’s efforts went above and beyond what would normally be expected is to write an email and copy the entire team or other supervisors. This is a way to encourage employees to praise each other.

3. Public pat on the back

You can use the written word for employee recognition in even more public ways, too, such as with a feature in the company newsletter or an article in a trade publication. Being singled out and praised in a public forum can motivate an employee to continue to achieve.

4. Face-to-face time

Even if you’ve sent a note or email, visiting an employee's desk and explaining how much you appreciate his or her work can be extra meaningful. Face time can be particularly valuable for direct reports, who will see you’ve carved out time specifically to acknowledge their work with warmth and gratitude.

5. Gifts of appreciation

Although elaborate or expensive gifts may be out of the question, don’t overlook small tokens, such as gift cards to the local coffee shop or a pair of movie tickets. There’s truth to the cliché that “it's the thought that counts.” Simply making your own effort to recognize your employees’ work is sure to be appreciated and boost morale, no matter the monetary value.

6. Office celebrations

Whether it’s an office lunch, a gift exchange or simply a social hour, most employees appreciate the chance to relax and socialize with their co-workers on company time. At the cost of only a few hours out of the day and minor planning and budgeting on your part, you can provide a relaxing, team-oriented perk your employees will appreciate. Consider hosting a weekly or monthly thank-you lunch for employees, or incorporate good food into a workplace recognition meeting.

7. Special employee perks

Low-cost options for employee perks can include a special Employee of the Month parking spot, an office plaque, or company gear such as T-shirts or coffee mugs. Workspace decorations or flower bouquets are also appropriate tokens of appreciation.

8. Additional time off

Offering additional vacation time as a form of employee recognition is one of the most appreciated perks you can offer — if your company is in a position to do so. You don't have to provide full days off but could do this in a smaller way by giving employees an hour or half a day off. Breaks can increase productivity and help your staff maintain valuable work-life balance.

9. Compensation

We promised low-cost ways to show appreciation, but salary boosts or performance bonuses can go a long way to show employee recognition. Think of it this way: The scope of employees’ duties is outlined in their job descriptions and what they are paid to do. But what if team members go well beyond that scope? Then they’re performing extra services that benefit the organization. And compensation is recognition for that extra effort.

10. Fairness to all

While it’s true most top-performing employees continue to shine throughout their careers, be careful not to shower gifts and perks on only a few of your favorites. If the same employees are regularly singled out, that can breed resentment and jealousy among others. Spread the recognition as equitably as possible.

Getting creative with forms of employee recognition can help your team feel more engaged and, as a result, less likely to look for a new job. Whether you introduce a formal employee recognition program or just use some of these retention tips for end-of-year acknowledgments, incorporating low-cost employee perks can create a win-win for everyone in your organization.

“Thank you!” is a short sentence, but it can have long-term value.

An Honest Thanks Goes a Long Way


Feeling appreciated is the second-biggest driver of happiness in both the United States and Canada. It occupies the top spot for professionals in the legal and accounting sectors.

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