14 Amazing Employee Incentive Programs & Ideas

Employee Incentive Programs & Ideas

Every workplace is an ecosystem with a network of different working parts.

Unlike machines, these functional parts are organic. Being organic means that their performance depends on certain factors.

So, you need to formulate a strategy for effectively managing your workers and boosting productivity.

Thankfully, employee incentive programs can change the workplace tangent and bring the best out of people.

What's to come
This article covers 14 different employee incentive programs and ideas. Use them well, and your organization will soar with all its working parts.

INFOGRAPHIC: Employee Incentive


1. Recognize and Appreciate Good Work

There is nothing more refreshing to an employee than heartfelt gratitude from their superior. This gesture communicates appreciation for a work well done and recognizes employee value. Let them know how much you appreciate them, and they are less likely to leave your organization out to dry.

Appreciation tip
Normalize saying “Thank you!” and “Good job!” when people do well. This is one of the best ways to improve and maintain employee motivation and loyalty.

Show Appreciation Privately and Publicly

According to a Harvard Business Review study, appreciation letters positively impacted social workers’ motivation and well-being. Also, make it a point to recognize the performance publicly. Social media is a good platform for this. Posting how well an employee is doing their work on LinkedIn, for example, will energize them to do even better.

2. Give Bonuses

A Payscale survey reported that 65% of employees prefer receiving bonuses for their performance. Indeed, such an incentive works like magic.

The effects of a bonus are immediate because monetary incentives have a way of spurring actions. You could even call it the best instrument for recognizing excellent employees and getting them to do better.

Choose the Right Bonus for Your Company

Many studies differentiate between bonuses and other kinds of incentives. Some recommend big bonuses rather than small bonuses, or vice versa. However, there is likely no credible study that recommends doing away with them altogether.

Nevertheless, there is a correct way to use bonuses to motivate your employees. The method that will work for you depends on your organization. What you do, how you do it, and what your employees think about your plans also matter. This is another reason to know your workforce better. It is also enough motivation to educate them on the objectives and value structure of the organization.

Note that when employees understand their jobs’ importance, their response to bonuses will improve, even if they only get a Christmas or end-of-the-year bonus.

3. Occasionally Give Employees Holidays

Vacations are a great way to rest. According to David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, time off from work is essential for helping employees recover from stress.

For managers, taking a break from work is an agreeable experience. Moreover, such holidays have a way of limbering up physical and psychological muscles.

There is no reason to think that employees enjoy vacations less than these managers. Once any worker returns from vacation to work, there’s a noticeable improvement.

Occasional Holidays Can Boost Employee Motivation

No matter how committed your employees are to their work, the occasional vacation can affect outstanding commitment, and it’s easy to understand why.

Give them holidays
Granting holidays to employees from time to time tells them that you care for their well-being. It also shows you have been paying attention to their performance.

This sense of protection from management can fire up an employee’s devotion. So, the holidays don’t just improve focus and state of mind but also boost employee commitment. Moreover, uninterrupted workdays and workweeks are just excuses for employee incentive programs. Such ‘incentives’ were effective back when people had no option.

However, things are now different. Good employees can change organizations as quickly as they change clothes. So, you have to work at keeping them. This is why making your employees go on holidays as a gesture of recognition and care is of utmost importance.

4. Workplace Retreats

You should also consider workplace retreats or teambuilding experiences for all employees. Hotels and recreational campsites are great options. The point of this exercise is to ensure people are in a safe zone where interactions can be informal, relaxed, and free of all workplace friction.

Managers don’t even have to go with the employees. A special guide from the recreational center can handle tours and lead the different exercises. Let them bring their families if they want to, assuming the company can afford it. Otherwise, give them options to contribute to the cause.

Make Workplace Retreats a Tradition

Teambuilding exercises are fun and effective. For instance, a 2006 study from Harvard discovered that cardiac surgeons performed better when they worked with a team that they’re familiar with. So, make workplace retreats a tradition for your company if you want to.

This will make your workplace space for rewarding employee engagement, purpose-driven teamwork, shared leadership, and so on.

5. Step-Up Getaways

According to the 2019 AGCS Trend Compass, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. Now, PWC research says that excellent training and development programs are among the top company offers that attract millennials. As such, you should also invest in step-up getaways.

These holidays are similar to retreats, but they give the added advantage of training your employees to be better versions of themselves. As a result, they improve workers’ expertise and efficiency.

Create a Balance Between Relaxation and Learning

When you organize holidays for your employees and go further to make it a workplace tradition, you risk turning them into comfort-seekers. Conversely, working your employees all year long without the occasional vacation makes work tiresome. Both of these approaches lead to little productivity. So, setting up step-up getaways is how you create a balance between the two.

The ‘step-up’ in this incentivizing idea refers to the immediate purpose of the exercise: getting your employees to learn something and improve. Of course, you can decide to train them on the dynamics of your organization, making them into a better workforce. However, it would be too apparent to your employees that you only want to use them for yourself.

Think up better ideas for improving your employees. For example, get them into a one-week conference to learn about packages not directly related to your organization. These could be programming and coding; Zoom and project management tools; and personal and household finance. Then, you can sprinkle more direct programs related to your organization into these conferences as time goes on.

What you want to do is encourage your employees by boosting their potential. Keep this in mind, and you will keep these employees in your organization with higher performance ratings.

6. Get Personal with Employees

There are clear benefits to workplaces that run on the everyone-for-themselves mentality. However, this mentality could hurt your organization. It creates the risk of people working in silos, killing teamwork spirit as a result.

So, it would be best to focus on bridging the gap between your employees and management. And there are hundreds of ways to accomplish this.

Get to Know Workers on a Personal Level

The easiest way to connect with employees is to get personal with them. Ask them questions about work and life. Find out about their likes and dislikes. Set up a small committee dedicated to learning new things about your workers if you can.

The majority of people enjoy talking about themselves. But, all of us wants to be known and understood. Thus, we feel better around people who genuinely want to understand us. You should have this in mind when setting up your committee. Choose individuals who are passionate about knowing the workforce.

When done right, employee engagement will improve, and you’ll notice a higher level of commitment. It’s also one of the best ways to fix a toxic workplace environment. Moreover, you get to know your employees and manage them without boring them stiffly or disgusting them. So, all the points are in your favor.

7. Cover the Costs of Continuing Education

You should consider finding out whether your employees are interested in advancing their education. You’ll be keeping with the suggestion of getting personal with them by doing that. If some of your better-performing employees are already doing this, you can pay for their tuition. How much you want to shell out is up to you, but be considerate.

This idea is similar to the incentive of actively improving the potential of your employees. This is not as direct, but it is equally effective. Continuing education is likely part of your workers’ professional development goals. So, lending your employees a hand is a significant motivation to reciprocate the gesture with better work.

Better work for your employees is a gesture of gratitude. On your end, it is evidence of brilliant management. For your organization, it translates to higher performance and productivity ratings. So, there’s no downside with this incentive. Instead, everybody wins.

8. Organize or Pay for Fitness Classes

There are easier ways to say this, but none is as succinct: all work and no play makes employees dumb. And you should know better than anyone that a dumb employee can add no value to your organization.

So, to trim the excesses of too much work, introduce your employees to fitness lessons in the workplace.

This is an interesting idea and one of the more exciting incentives for employees in upper-scale organizations. You may not consider this a brilliant idea to get your employees more involved but think about it from their perspective.

With the emphasis on health and fitness, hiring trainers to get people into healthier physical shapes and states of mind is expensive. So, when you arrange for your employees to benefit from such training sessions, they consider it a kind gesture on your part. As with all good incentives, the benefits are up there with injecting your employees with the mythical Velocity 9 serum for super speed.

The Relationship Between Exercising and Productivity

Research has shown numerous exercising benefits associated with employee productivity. For example, a Briston University study evaluated 20 employees from three companies. The results showed that participants recorded higher concentration, motivation, and efficiency scores after working out.

Meanwhile, a Stockholm University study surveyed workers in six offices and concluded that 30 minutes of daily exercise increased productivity.

If your budget can’t accommodate this, you can get recorded fitness sessions and plan a session with your staff. Since this is a cheaper option, the effects might be limited. However, your employees are likely to be more relaxed and build out-of-office relationships with one another.

9. Volunteering

SHRM’s 2019 Employee Benefits survey revealed that 26% of companies offer paid vacation days for volunteering. To encourage your employees to volunteer in your resident community, you can let them take time off without the loss of pay. This is both a sound organizational policy and good PR.

Creating Humane Employees Through Volunteer Work

The workplace is often likened to a jungle where only the strong survive. The strong in this context are employees willing to do whatever it takes to build their careers. So, to them, sacrificing corporate time for volunteering ventures may be a lame move. However, this is far from the truth.

Volunteering has a way of softening people. It generally helps us become more accommodating of one another’s faults and open to enduring these inadequacies. It also equips us with the vision to offer relatable solutions to otherwise obscure or seemingly impossible problems.

Of course, volunteering also helps your employees bridge interpersonal gaps. This is a prerequisite for organic employee engagement in the workplace.

10. Give Employees Options

The workplace is not a redo of the Matrix world. It is also not a feudal kingdom under your management. It is a free space with thinking individuals who live outside of work. The workspace is constraining as it is. So, this means your employees are unlikely to be genuinely comfortable until they feel somewhat at home.

There are many ways to get your employees into this comfort zone. However, none is as effective as handing them a ‘branch of freedom.’ In simple words, give them room to make decisions. For instance, you can give your employees a chance to vote and nominate the annual glass awards to the employees who had the most successful journey. In this way, they will feel more appreciated and free to make choices.

Reasonably Provide Autonomy to Your Employees

The typical mid-range or top-tier organization employee is essentially a drone with invisible wires attached to their skulls. They don’t make any decisions, so they never initiate what you could call the ‘mind in the machine.’ This is all kinds of bad for the sustainable growth of companies.

It would be best if your workers had minds of their own. You get such workers by giving them a reasonable breadth of freedom to make choices. Let them know your expectations, but let them work out the process. Then, if you must, train them.

This takes us back to the benefits of having employees that are eager to improve. The more choices you give your employees, the better they feel about working for you.

According to a 2020 study published on Frontiers in Psychology, job autonomy increases productivity and improves mood.

11. Suggestion Boxes

Following the more-choices-in-the-workplace incentive, you can provide your employees with suggestion boxes. Many organizations have this feature on the lower floors of their establishments. It can be a vital instrument to encourage participation and commitment to company values and structure.

It’s likely that the bottom-rung employee cannot walk up to the Big Boss to make suggestions. If they could, the organization would be a ‘warmer’ and more intimate place. However, too much of this warmth is bad. So, suggestion boxes make up for the excesses of this up-and-down-the-ladder idea exchange.

Also, don’t just pound suggestion boxes to the organization’s walls and forget them. Instead, make sure to check inside for sound propositions on employee operations. You can even initiate a committee that looks into these propositions as frequently as necessary. They should debate the highest mentions and make recommendations to the board.

Again, moderation is the key to success for this incentive.

12. Make Workplace Family-Friendly

Why is the family the bedrock of society? Why is it not the workplace? This is easy: the ties that bind family members cannot be put on the backburner. You will reap untold benefits if you can make your organization into something resembling this family structure.

UNICEF’s report titled, “Redesigning the Workplace to Be Family-Friendly: What Governments and Businesses Can Do,” lists the benefits of a family-friendly workspace. These include increased odds of employee career advancement, higher employee engagement, healthier workplace competitions, improved brand image, and more.

Make an Effort to Improve Workplace Environment

There are easy ways to make the workplace as familial as productive possible. We have listed some of these: getting personal with employees is one, and paying for their continuing education is another. You can also organize indoor games for all employees or encourage gift-sharing among them—whatever gets them talking about something other than work.

Take note that there is a possibility of this incentive falling through. After all, if family structures can frazzle and become inept, so can workplace structures. As such, know when to pull your employees by their straps and know when to spoil them. However, unique occasion gifts will always increase their motivation, and they will feel valued. Therefore you can go for it when there are occasions.

13. Bring Someone or Something to Work

Bringing someone or something to work is likely the most popular motivational instrument. Yet, among all the employee incentive programs examples known to productivity experts, this is also the most abused.

The secret to achieving the goal of incentivizing your employees using this method is via specification. Be specific about who your employees are bringing to work. Otherwise, you might find that the workplace is a riot of crayons, loud music, and feline furs.

In addition, don’t forget the overall objective: to improve the relations among employees. So, if you set up family picnics and see employees refusing to interrelate, you should know that the policy has failed. Therefore, guide the process as organically as you can. Make it fun too.

14. Innovative Lunch Packages

Food is important, and so is eating within a community of similarly-driven people. If you can provide free food in your organization, you are sure to retain the majority of your employees. Furthermore, if you can make this a sustainable activity or workplace culture, your employees will likely straighten up and get super productive.

This idea can go both ways: you can end up with dedicated or lazy employees. So, you need a supportive idea to make this work—an idea like Mason Wartman’s.

The story of Wartman was inspiring when it was published a few years ago, and it is still inspiring. Wartman left his job on Wall Street so that he could make pizzas. However, this is not what made the story inspiring.

From how The Philadelphia Inquirer told it, Wartman used a pay-it-forward method so that homeless people could always come into the pizzeria and get something to eat. You can employ this method to stimulate employees without making them sluggish.

Again, make stipulations so that the aim of the process is achieved. Pay forward for the best-performing employees and not for everybody. You can also get employees to pay ahead of meals for themselves. The former suggestion gives them a reason to compete while the latter invites them to get familiar with one another.

The Importance of Employee Incentive Programs

There is no debating the value of workplace incentives. Harold Stolovich’s well-cited study, “Incentives, Motivation and Workplace Performance: Research and Best Practices,” concluded that “… properly constructed incentive programs can increase performance by as much as 44 percent.”

This is only the icing on the cake. Incentives have been recognized to boost employee morale, promote teamwork, manage the talent pool, and increase productivity. However, as Forbes reported, it is not all sunshine and roses with workplace incentives. Getting it wrong might trigger a Titanic-esque crash. On the other hand, getting it right leads to fascinating results, as you will soon find out.


These are 14 brilliant ways to motivate your team and push them towards better performance. Keep in mind that these employee incentive programs and ideas can be abused or bring about contrary results. However, when you do them just right, your organization will soar.

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