By: Mary Provus on November 24th, 2014

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The 30 Best Low-Cost Employee Recognition Ideas

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Companies that have a culture that incorporates gratitude, appreciation, and recognition have more engaged, self-motivated employees. And every client I work with wants that!

So how do we create a culture of recognition and gratitude? 

Well first, it goes beyond performance reviews and salary increases. You can't wait six months to give positive kudos on a job well done. Employee recognition activities need to happen in a timely manner to make them meaningful. 

Sometimes I find that leaders fail to consider that recognition is not a one-size-fits-all exercise, surprisingly. How employees like to be recognized is a personal preference and managers should get to know their employees well enough to know what type of reward will resonate best with them. 

Let me give you an example of what I mean by that.

One employee may get energized and feel great about being brought up in front of their peers and recognized for their accomplishments while another employee may feel embarrassed in the same situation. Do you think the employee that is embarrassed will want to accomplish something again if that is the reward? Everyone is different.

Remember, you get what you reward. If you recognize and reward desired behaviors, you will get more of that behavior.

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Great employee recognition programs can be implemented for businesses of all sizes, small and large. Not all methods have to be expensive; in fact, there are many low-cost and free forms of reward and recognition that employees will value.

I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Bob Nelson at a conference and he gave me a copy of his book, 1501 Ways to Reward Employees which is a very good resource on the importance of rewards and recognition as well as examples of some of the most effective forms of inexpensive recognition.

Can you believe he came up with over 1500 ways to show staff appreciation? Here are the top 30 picks below.

30 Best Low-Cost & Free Ideas for Recognizing Employees

  1. A simple and intentional “thank you”
  2. On-the-spot award – small plaque or certificate
  3. Coffee shop gift card
  4. Reserved parking space for a week
  5. An extra day off or come in late
  6. Movie passes
  7. Personalized company apparel
  8. Breakfast or lunch with the CEO or another executive
  9. Tickets to a sporting event – make sure you find their favorite team or sport first
  10. Lunch or dinner with company executive and employee and their spouse
  11. Article in company newsletter or website
  12. Choice of a project to work on or lead
  13. Massage gift certificate
  14. Letter of thanks sent home to the family praising the employee
  15. Visit corporate headquarters for an off-site employee
  16. Paid day off to volunteer with employee’s choice of charity
  17. Donate to an employee’s charity
  18. House cleaning service for a day
  19. Free car wash and detail
  20. Service award lunch
  21. Night’s stay at a bed and breakfast
  22. Babysitter for a date night
  23. Round of golf
  24. Recognition at corporate meetings/events for those employees who have received kudos from managers and/or customers
  25. Letter from the CEO
  26. Gift card for dinner with their family
  27. Flowers, wine, or their favorite candy 
  28. Shadowing an executive for a day
  29. Picture included on a Wall of Fame
  30. Homemade cookies by the employee’s manager

Whether it's completing a big project, accomplishing a team goal, or celebrating employee birthdays, I hope these simple and easy ideas will come in handy to help you better recognize and reward your staff on an ongoing basis. Don’t forget, recognition should be timely and tailored to the employee!

For more information on employee recognition programs, check out these articles below: