Rewards matter.

Sure, salary and benefits are key factors, too. But for any good employee worth having on your payroll, being recognized for their efforts is as important to them as their paycheck – with the added bonus that a well-planned employee recognition program boosts retention.

Of course, in most places there’s just not a lot of extra money for bonuses, expensive gifts or over-the-top employee recognition celebrations.

Still, you need to do something to keep employees engaged or productivity will eventually slip – and that will affect your organization’s bottom line.

Get Creative

To do an employee rewards and recognition program effectively, the best companies try to get creative.

There are a lot of very effective ways to recognize employees without your CFO blowing a gasket.

It’s not the size or the cost of the gesture that matters. It’s the thought behind it. Employees know the difference, and they’ll feel more valued if the praise is meaningful and truly relates to their day-to-day work, that is, if it relates to what they actually DO.

For example, if they are Employee of the Month because customers won’t stop raving about them, you need to say THAT, and say what the customers said, too!

That kind of recognition is worth its weight in gold.

Are 42% of your employees looking to leave?

Many employees leave their companies not because of small salaries or huge workloads, but because they aren’t recognized or rewarded.

One popular poll on employee recognition found 42% of respondents are actively looking for new jobs, and many of them are leaving because of a lack of recognition.

Out of these dissatisfied workers:

  • Over half (56%) don’t feel appreciated at their current job
  • Nearly three in five (59%) are dissatisfied with the lack of employee recognition at their companies
  • 37% feel that employees at their company aren’t rewarded for job performance, and
  • Close to half (45%) don’t feel their job culture is a positive one.

From this, it’s clear: Recognizing good people is important to employee recruitment and retention.

Yet, in spite of these findings, it’s worth noting that, in the same study, three of four managers erroneously reported back that their workers’ satisfaction was high.

Hmmmmm, swing and a miss.

So, if you are one of those folks who believe employees want to feel valued; that they want their companies to recognize their talent; that management can make the difference when it comes to employee retention; and that you can do a good job of that without breaking the bank, here’s help.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most popular – and unique – ways to recognize employees, along with examples of how those rewards have improved morale and productivity in the workplace.

Everyone loves flexible scheduling

What’s the No. 1 perk that employees say they would love to see at their jobs? A flexible schedule.

In the CareerBuilder survey, nearly 60% of workers said this would convince them to stick around at their jobs. Having a flexible schedule is so important to workers that many would take a pay cut in exchange for one.

Flex scheduling can take many different forms, such as offering later arrival times for parents so they can take their children to school, or earlier departures so they can pick them up in the afternoon. Another option is allowing employees to structure their work week so it can be completed in four days instead of the standard five.

Or, one of the more popular options is allowing employees to work from home on occasion. Employees appreciate this perk because it gives them better work-life balance, which relieves some of their stress. And a less stressed employee is a more productive one.

As long as people can produce good results working from home, this is a great way to reward them for what they do. It’s worked wonders for a lot of companies.

Making flex time work

Flex time is best given to employees who’ve already demonstrated proven results. Managers know these workers don’t need constant supervision to get their work done, so they can trust them not to abuse this privilege.

For the best people, allowing them to work from home occasionally will be appreciated. Many people thrive when working from home, citing fewer distractions and less stress than they experience in an office setting.

Plus, it’s a key factor in achieving work-life balance, which most employees value highly in today’s world.

Besides the obvious reward that comes from flex-time, that is, achieving a better work-life balance, putting this trust in employees is its own reward.

Most rise to the occasion so the trust isn’t broken, and produce better work than they normally would on a typical 9-to-5 schedule.

Allowing employees a flexible work schedule, with the ability to work from home if necessary, is a reward that’ll pay off in dividends.

And having an established protocol for them to follow only makes this easier to stick with.

When considering flex-time arrangements, it’s best to start by phasing the program in gradually, starting with a handful of high-performing employees.

Tip: Managers should keep close tabs on employees’ performance and productivity in the beginning, so they know how well the arrangement works.

Paid Time Off

Providing extra paid days off is another perk that makes a difference in retention and serves as an excellent reward.

This is a particularly great motivator for a job well done. If employees had to work hard to hit a tight deadline, they’ll really be happy for a bonus day of vacation or personal time.

Another option for providing time off: Implement “half-day Fridays” where employees who meet certain performance objectives can get a jump-start on the weekend.

Try giving employees extra time off right before a paid holiday so they’ll be able to extend their time away from the office and indulge in a little more relaxation.

It’s a small token of appreciation that costs nothing – and it’s something employees appreciate and will value.

Unlimited vacation time

Some companies have gone even further in allowing their employees to have as much time off from work as they feel is necessary.


They’ve implemented unlimited vacation policies. These policies are exactly what they sound like: Instead of having a set number of vacation days, workers are given virtually free rein to take as much vacation time as they feel they need.

A policy of this nature is a drastic change from the normal approach toward vacation time and is likely to met by some C-levels folks with a big gulp.

But it could be an effective way to reward people for completion of certain projects or objectives.

Most companies that have implemented the policy have reported little abuse of the system. In fact, it’s been a real motivator for their people.

One example is LRN, a New York-based company that implemented an unlimited vacation policy for three years. When the policy first began, the company was very proactive about informing employees of the change and rolled it out gradually to allow workers to use their accrued vacation time.

Results have been largely positive, with employees actually being more considerate of how their time away from the office will affect the company’s operations.

Vacation abuse is rare; in fact, they average about three weeks a year per employee – the same as they were before the changes were implemented.

The Wall Street Journal offered these three tips for companies that are considering such a vacation policy:

  1. Remove any unnecessary regulations. Before implementing an unlimited vacation policy, cut out any red tape adding an extra bureaucratic level to the process. Make it as simple as possible.
  2. Trust employees. Managers who have faith their workers will make good decisions when planning their vacations tend to have employees who live up to those expectations.
  3. Be clear about expectations. Make sure employees are fully aware that unlimited vacation time doesn’t mean they don’t have to fulfill their work responsibilities before taking time off. Communicate key goals and priorities to them so they know what must be handled before they leave.


Managers that really want to make their incentive programs stand out can go the extra mile and offer top performers the chance to go on a sabbatical.

The difference between a sabbatical and regular time off: Sabbaticals can be used for professional development purposes.

One company in Dallas, The Marketing Arm, has created a unique program for its long-term employees that incorporates sabbaticals as a reward for company loyalty.

An employee who’s worked at the company for seven years gets a seven-day sabbatical, and employees who’ve logged 15 years at the company get 15 days.

Workers get a small stipend for the sabbatical, and they must take all the time off at once. Many have used the time to develop a skill they’ve always wanted to learn more about or help others less fortunate.

Offering this perk has been a real boon for The Marketing Arm: The company’s been able to recruit and retain top talent because of these sabbaticals.

Managers may wish to offer this as a reward for particularly notable high performers, with the inclusion of a stipend being wholly optional.

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