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reward employees

Ways to Reward Employees for Free

Staff members (“employees”) deserved to be recognized for doing outstanding work, being a team player, meeting deadlines, or other positive behaviors. There are many ways to reward our employees that can boost their productivity.

Rewards are an undeniably great way to build morale and confidence, provide incentives for continued good work, and grow company loyalty. Sometimes, though, the budget is tight.

Free or Low-Cost Ways to Reward Employees

Consider these no-cost or low-cost ways to reward employees for their contributions to your success:

Recognition email.

Send out a communication to the recipient outlining the employee’s outstanding effort; cc all other staff. It doesn’t have to be flowery or long.

I wanted to express my thanks for your hard work during the XYZ project. You completed all your assigned deliverables on time. Your contributions enabled the team to hit their milestones and to finish this project as planned. Thanks for all you do.

You could also give them a shout-out at a team meeting.

Time off.

Allow an employee to take one or two paid hours off at their discretion: leave early, come in late, long lunch. Naturally, an employee should provide notice when they plan to take this time off.

A small gift.

Buy a coffee mug, mouse pad, or colorful post-its to acknowledge good work. Leave a candy bar or cupcake on their desk with a short note. If available, gift them with company merchandise like a shirt or hat.

Certificate of appreciation.

It may only take you a few minutes to type it up, but a one-page printed certificate is a simple way to acknowledge good work. Here are some categories which you may use:

  • Teamwork
  • Great Customer Service
  • Outstanding Performance
  • Superior Effort
  • Perfect Attendance
  • Work Excellence

Designated parking spot.

The recipient is allowed to use the parking spot designated for the Employee of the Month. Involves a one-time purchase of the EOTM signpost. If the budget is really tight, you can paint the parking spot or just print an EOTM sign to post at their desk.

Team contest.

Set up a friendly contest between departments or project teams to see who hits their goals first. The goals could involve the amount of sales, customers served, phone calls handled, etc. The winner gets a team lunch or other incentive.

Get Out of Jail Free card.

Gives the staff member an opportunity to get a “pass” on minor behavior like being a few minutes late or other small infractions. Could allow an employee to dress in casual apparel for a day.

Additional responsibility.

It may sound counterintuitive, but giving an employee a chance to take on a higher-functioning duty is a reward. Let them lead a meeting, act as co-leader on a new project, or mentor a new hire. May require some coaching along the way, but it’s a show of your confidence in their abilities.

Thank you note.

A handwritten card from management goes a long way in an employee feeling appreciated. It’s personal and takes some thought.

Inexpensive gift cards.

Hand out $5 or $10 gift cards to show your thanks – lower denomination cards work for stores that sell coffee, ice cream, donuts, and even gas. It really is the thought that counts.  

Work at home.

Let employee work at home on Fridays for a month. If working remotely doesn’t work for whatever reason, let them work instead in a dedicated conference room.

Lunch date.

Have a manager or even the owner take the employee out to lunch. Let them pick the restaurant.

Wall of Praise.

Hang a bulletin board in a break room or hallway to post certificates of appreciation, customer letters, thank-you notes, recognition emails, and other acknowledgments or achievements.

Monopoly money.

Create a program where good works are rewarded with $5, $10, $20, or $50 in play money. Staff can use the phony bills for company merchandise, to leave early, or take a long lunch. In any given period of time, the first to reach a certain amount are rewarded with real cash. Employees can be given play money to reward each other. 

Wearable buttons.

Have some pinback buttons (like politicians use when campaigning) made. Phrases might be:

  • You’re awesome
  • Great employee
  • I deliver the goods
  • Fantastic customer service
  • Salesman of the month
  • My boss appreciates me

Say it in person.

Walk up to the employee and tell them “thanks” to their face.


I remember the times when my manager gave me a gas card or a thank you in a team meeting. It’s not like getting a gold watch, but I felt appreciated and remember it to this day. 


small business coach