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7 Unique Employee Rewards to Boost Team Morale

July 20, 2021

rewards

One important factor that distinguishes the best employee rewards programs from the rest is the originality and cultural fit of the unique rewards featured in them. 

These kinds of programs can be powerful tools for reinforcing company culture, and picking rewards that resonate with your company specifically is a key step towards success.

Offering employees rewards is, in and of its own right, not a groundbreaking concept. Even a century ago, it was standard for companies to recognize major milestones like work anniversaries and big professional wins with plaques, engraved jewelry, and other conventional tokens of company appreciation. At this point, it’s almost something employees have come to expect.

If you want to create an employee rewards and recognition program strong enough to be a cultural differentiator. And you should – strong company culture affects everything from recruitment and retention to engagement and profitability. You’ll need to include an assortment of thoughtful, unique rewards. They should be varied enough that every individual in your company will be able to find something personally meaningful to them, but curated enough the catalog feels cohesive and culturally relevant.

We’ll share seven unique reward ideas that you can use as inspiration when building your program. Consider how these ideas might fit into a broader employee rewards and recognition strategy, and whether implementing them could provide an opportunity to strengthen your company culture.

What is an employee rewards program?

Before delving into our discussion of unique reward ideas, it’s important to lay the groundwork by discussing how they fit into a broader employee rewards and recognition strategy. Today, most established companies practice recognition in at least some capacity.

Programs can be as casual as a birthday card signed by the whole team, or as strategic as a formalized social feed intentionally designed to reinforce company core values. It all depends on the size of investment your company is willing to make in the program, the level of buy-in you’re able to get from senior leadership, and other cultural factors that affect participation and engagement.  

Speaking broadly, most employee recognition programs center around a set of occasions that program administrators have deemed worthy of praise and celebration. Those might be company core values, major team-wide objectives, or otherwise desirable behaviors that leaders would like to see occur with more frequency.

Program participants are encouraged to send recognition anytime they see someone living up to these ideals. In some cases, that recognition will be accompanied by a reward and in others, the message stands alone.

It’s not essential, but pairing recognition with a reward is a great way to level-up the impact of the exchange. It doesn’t have to cost much, but even a small token of appreciation can do a lot to reinforce the message that whoever you’re recognizing is valued and important.

If you do decide to incorporate rewards with recognition, it’s important you pick unique rewards that make sense for your specific company culture. For example, if you’re a health and wellness company whose rewards catalog is composed primarily of gift cards to fast food restaurants, there’s a dissonance in your program that will severely diminish its ability to make an impact. Similarly, if your catalog is too generic – think one-size-fits-all gifts without enough flavor to speak to anyone’s personal tastes – your program will feel watered down and untethered from the company culture it was originally intended to reinforce.

Thus, it’s critical you curate a rewards catalog with unique options that build up your program rather than restrict its impact. With this in mind, we present seven unique rewards that can help you create a standout program.

7 employee reward ideas to bring to your company 

The ideas featured below take rewards a couple steps further from the typical tokens of appreciation that companies use to let employees know they’re valued (think plaques, engraved jewelry, etc.). Each can be tailored to speak to your company culture specifically so you can create a rewards catalog designed for your team and your team alone.

Charitable donations 

Sometimes, one of the most meaningful gifts you can give is one that’s not a gift at all. Incorporating charitable donations in your catalog offers employees a unique reward that allows them to easily give back to their communities with funds provided by the company.

You can incorporate giving options across a variety of causes ranging from racial injustice to environmental issues to medical research so everyone has the chance to donate to a cause aligned with their personal values. Having these options directly in your employee rewards catalog creates a seamless giving process that’s likely to encourage high participation.

Especially as Millennials and Gen Z grow to represent an increasingly large share of the modern workforce, appeasing their philanthropic tendencies is key. 

51%

of Millennials won't work for a company that isn't committed to environmental and social consciousness like to kick their legs to the moon.

Source: The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Additionally, an estimated 60% picked their current role because they thought it would contribute to a sense of personal purpose. Though new to the workforce, Gen-Z is already beginning to show similar priorities.

If you do choose to include philanthropic rewards in your catalog, keep a tally of how many points employees donate over time. That way, at the end of the year, you can add up the cumulative impact of individual employee giving to see the size of contribution everyone was able to make as a team.

Mystery packages 

This unique reward idea is perfect for employees that love a good surprise. You can offer your team a custom mystery rewards package, redeemable for a fixed amount of points, to add an element of excitement and uncertainty to your program. 

The mystery box could contain anything from an assortment of treats to unreleased company merchandise, or anything else you can dream up. It might have the same contents across every order, or you may choose to mix it up each time. Ultimately, it’s up to your program manager to decide, but the more creative and original the contents the better.

The best part of the mystery gift box idea is that there’s plenty of room to customize the contents and ensure the reward feels relevant in the present moment. During the holidays, maybe the box contains cookies and cocoa mugs whereas a summer iteration might have a branded beach towel and sunglasses. Or perhaps a more work-centric option makes sense for your company – things like notebooks, pens, laptop accessories, and other office supplies also make great practical options for a mystery package.

At the end of the day, you know your employees better than anyone else and are best equipped to anticipate what rewards they’ll be delighted by.

Company swag 

If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that company culture exists far beyond the walls of the office. As many companies move to make remote or hybrid work the permanent norm, finding ways to bring company culture to your people, wherever they may be, is key. 

Of course, company culture is largely dictated by employee behavior – it’s driven by the way colleagues operate and interact, and it needs to be supported through high-level strategies like core value reinforcement and regular team building exercises. But in addition to that, tangible symbols of culture can also play a role in reminding your people they’re part of a larger team.

When building your company’s catalog, you can add branded merchandise as a unique reward that employees only have access to via your rewards program. Items could be as trivial as t-shirts and keychains, as quirky as balloons and kazoos, or as high-value as electronics and engraved jewelry. 

Whatever the reward may be, when you mark items with your company’s brand you give employees a way to show their team spirit both in and outside the office. Plus, these rewards would be difficult if not impossible to come by anywhere outside your program, which adds an element of exclusivity that can lead to them becoming some of the most coveted offerings in your catalog.

C-suite lunch 

For employees focused on career development, lunch with a senior company executive can be one of the most meaningful rewards in your entire catalog. It’s an invaluable networking opportunity that gives them a chance to talk face-to-face with leaders they may otherwise minimally interact with. In many cases, that single event sparks more visibility into the employee’s career trajectory at the company, or inspires a new mentor-mentee relationship sprouted from shared interests and goals.

One great bonus of incorporating this particular reward in your catalog is that, aside from the cost of the lunch itself, this is a high-value, unique reward that doesn’t cost your company anything. The resources to make it happen – that is, senior leadership employees are vying for facetime with – already exist within your company. This reward just gives you an opportunity to make the most of them.

If you do decide to incorporate this reward in your catalog, be sure to touch base with the senior executives you’re thinking of involving ahead of time to ensure they’re up for participating, and to see how much room they have in their schedule for lunch with junior employees. Taking the time to communicate about this upfront ensures the experience is positive for all.

Wellness rewards 

Incorporating wellness-related rewards in your catalog is a simple, streamlined way to offer employees some of today’s most sought after rewards and benefits. The modern workforce has a relatively evolved understanding of the need for a healthy balance between work and other parts of life, and they tend to show a healthy interest in taking care of themselves both in and outside the office. Unsurprisingly, they also tend to prioritize working at companies that enable them to do so. 

As an employer, one of the best ways to support employee wellness is by incorporating wellness-related rewards in your existing catalog. Don’t forget that wellness-related rewards include more than just things related to nutrition and physical fitness. Healthy meal delivery services, gym memberships, group fitness classes, and exercise equipment all certainly have a role to play, but should be accompanied by things like access to guided meditation, online counseling services, and other rewards that support holistic wellbeing.

If you want to take this unique reward idea a step further, you can also leverage your employee recognition program to create and execute wellness challenges in which employees are rewarded for hitting certain milestones (e.g. a certain number of steps a day, a certain number of glasses of water each week) via points that can be redeemed directly within your program. This creates a way for employees to actively engage with wellness-related rewards, but it doesn’t add extra managerial burden for your HR team because the entire thing is managed directly within your existing program.

Lastly, don’t forget that having wellness-related rewards benefits your company almost as much as it benefits your employees. SHRM reports that a well-executed wellness program can reduce health care costs, augment productivity, and increase employee retention – all of which are of big benefit to your company’s overall performance.

Corporate discounts 

Corporate discounts are the employee reward that keeps on giving—in fact, employees actually don’t need to earn any points at all to cash in on the benefit. Select employee reward providers give you the option to incorporate exclusive discounts directly in your employee rewards catalog so you can let your team know that you have their best interest in mind, always.

Discounts can span a variety of categories ranging from gym memberships, continued education courses, hotel rentals, popular retailers, and everything in between. As with most of the other rewards suggested in this article, the selection of discounts included in your catalog should be tailored to match your unique company culture. 

A word of advice if you do choose to incorporate discounts in your employee rewards program – your HR department will save a lot of time and resources if you opt to work with a third-party employee discount provider rather than tasking your team with negotiating these discounts themselves. Not only will you get a greater breadth of options to consider adding to your catalog, the negotiating power of a third party typically means you’ll also be able to offer your team deeper discounts.

Time off 

One final reward known to be highly popular with employees is extra time off that can be purchased with points earned through your rewards program. In fact, of all the unique rewards shared in this article this might be the most highly desired, at least from an employee perspective. One study conducted by Glassdoor found that vacation and paid time off is the second most important benefit employers can provide. It’s preceded only by healthcare which is, of course, a practical necessity.

Paid time off rewards can also pair nicely with other offerings in your rewards catalog. For example, perhaps you follow the advice shared in the previous point and decide to incorporate discounts and branded company merchandise as part of your rewards program.

Employees might use their earned time off to take a vacation, pack for it in a company-branded suitcase they purchased as a reward a while back, and use company discounts to save on hotels and rental cars. When all these things come together, it sends the message that your company is really taking care of its people, and values their experience both in and outside the office.

One important note if you do decide to incorporate time off in your employee rewards package – be sure you let employees actually unplug while they’re away so that they have the opportunity to fully recharge. They deserve to indulge in a day or two away from the office and when they come back, you can rest assured they’ll be ready to bring their A-game.

Depending on your unique company culture and the goals of your rewards program, some or all of these ideas might make sense to incorporate with your team. Consider which will be the best fit for you specifically and if you don’t know, don’t hesitate to solicit feedback. Building a catalog of unique rewards will inspire employees to be highly motivated to do the work it takes to earn them. 

Did you know?: Some companies offer sabbatical opportunities to employees who've hit the five or more year mark. Learn more about this offering and how to make it a reality for your team. 

Give rewards a "why" 

We’ll leave you with one closing thought: rewards mean infinitely more when they’re accompanied by a “why”.

As you build your program, it’s important you not lose sight of the fact that rewards are actually only a supplementary component of a broader employee rewards and recognition strategy. The key element of the program, the essential thing that you absolutely can’t go without, is the recognition. Happily, this component of employee rewards doesn’t cost a thing.  

Make it a habit to always let rewards recipients know exactly what positive behavior inspired them being rewarded in the first place. It can usually be summed up in as little as one short sentence, but rewards are (unsurprisingly) so much more impactful when the recipient knows why they’re being rewarded. It ties the good feeling of receiving a reward to a specific behavior, and consequently increases the likelihood employees will demonstrate that same behavior again in the future.

A strong rewards catalog accompanied by a pervasive culture of thoughtful recognition is sure to strengthen your company culture in a way that will benefit your team and your company.

_Track-How G2 Track Collaboration_1
You better recognize...

...how well your employees are doing, and how much they deserve from your team. Use employee recognition software to make sure team members' needs are always met.

_Track-How G2 Track Collaboration_1
You better recognize...

...how well your employees are doing, and how much they deserve from your team. Use employee recognition software to make sure team members' needs are always met.

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