7 Low-Cost Ways to Offer Employee Recognition

Man pats a worker on the back

As the end of the year approaches, 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.

Help keep your team motivated and committed to the company by offering alternative forms of employee recognition. Consider these seven low-cost options to say “thank you” for a job well done:

1. A heartfelt 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.

2. Public pat on the back

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

3. 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, no matter the monetary value.

Here are some of the popular employee appreciation gifts that businesses may want to consider.

4. Office celebrations

Whether it’s an office lunch, a Secret Santa 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.

5. 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. 

6. Additional vacation time

Offering additional time off 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 a couple of hours or half a day off.

7. 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 employee retention tips for end-of-year acknowledgments, incorporating low-cost employee perks can create a win-win for everyone in your organization.

Looking for more help with managing and retaining good employees? Check out our free resources.

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Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.