I like to think of myself as a student of employee engagement.
At SnackNation, the company I co-founded and where I serve as CEO, employee engagement is something we think about everyday. That’s because while we might technically sell snacks, we’re really in the business of creating more engaged teams and more awesome offices. One of the things we’ve learned is that recognition is a crucial part of creating an engaged team.
Something as simple as rewarding individuals for a job well done creates a sense of belonging and boosts their self-esteem, and creates a strong emotional connection between the employee and the company.
But not all rewards are created equal. The more creative, unique, and personalized the reward, the greater the impact on both the individual and the culture.
So here’s a list of my 35 favorite rewards you can offer your employees for under $35 – because you don’t need to spend a lot to make a big difference.
1. Handwritten Note
This is a personal favorite of mine. It’s so simple, yet so effective. There’s just something about the personal touch of a note written in your own hand that really shows you care. Bust out the HWN for birthdays, yearly anniversaries, or for significant performance milestones.
You can never underestimate the power of seeing a handwritten note arrive in your mailbox!
Cost: Practically free!
2. Charitable Donation
The key here is to personalize it by choosing a cause close to the recipient’s heart. Get to know your employees, and align your donation with their passions.
Does your Sales Rep love dogs? Donate to a local no-kill animal shelter.
Is your Head of Operations nuts about the environment? Find a suitable environmental cause.
You’ll demonstrate that you’ve been paying attention, and your employees will feel cared for and appreciated.
Cost: Up to $35
3. The Five Minute Journal
This is a favorite of the team at SnackNation, where we really emphasize personal growth and development. The Five Minute Journal concept comes from the realm of positive psychology. The idea is to set aside just five minutes each day to help you focus on the good in life. It helps make affirmation and gratitude an automatic part of your day, and results in happier, more productive lives.
4. Lunch or Dinner on the Boss
This simple gesture is a great opportunity to learn more about what makes your employees tick. The more you get to know them as people, the more you can help them succeed.
Cost : up to $35
5. Carwash at Work
We all know our most valuable commodity is the one we can never get back – our time. Help employees maximize their free time by gifting them an on-demand car wash at work. Apps like Washos offer just such services.
6. Thank You Video
Think of this as a handwritten note on steroids. It’s a personal way to voice your appreciation. Get the whole team in on the action to show your employee how much her contributions matter.
You don’t need to be a professional videographer to make a compelling thank you video. In fact, apps like iMovie for iOs or Powerdirector for Android enable you to shoot and edit the entire thing on your phone.
Cost : Free
7. Custom Coffee Mug
Sites like Vistaprint allow you to create custom mugs for about the same price as a trip to Starbucks. Treat your employee to a one of a kind gift that he or she will appreciate for a lifetime.
8. Custom Phone Case
Coffee mugs aren’t your style? Try creating a custom phone case .
Every phone needs a case. Why not reward team members with a case that let’s them know you care.
Cost : $34.99
9. Mandatory Day Off
Reward stellar performers by forcing them to take a day off.
Why mandatory? Because, most likely, your star achievers are going to be the hardest ones to pry away from their work. To make sure that the day off is truly rejuvenating, institute a hard and fast rule – no email or phone check-ins.
10. Monday Night Football Party
At the risk of stating the obvious, Mondays aren’t always everyone’s favorite day. Give your team something to look forward to by throwing the most epic office Monday Night Football party they’ve ever experienced.
Once a year, when there’s a particularly good matchup, we project the game on a massive screen, provide pizza, beer, and healthy snacks . We even hold a spirit contest during the day where we encourage employees to represent their favorite teams (of any sport). Winner gets bragging rights and a gift card.
Pro-tip: Pork rinds are a staple snack for watching, but aren’t the healthiest of grid-iron treats. Try Pork Clouds instead. These fluffy pork skins are hand cooked in 100% GMO-free olive oil, and are just 110 calories per bag. Plus they come in off-the-wall flavors like rosemary and sea salt, habanero, and cinnamon Ceylon.
Cost: around $35
11. Front Row Parking
Reserve a prime parking spot for the month’s top performer. To make it extra special, make a custom parking sign .
Cost: Free ($28.95 for custom sign)
12. Custom Fathead
Fatheads are sure to be a crowd favorite. Surprise your employee with an oversize custom wall hanging… of their face.
Cost : $29.99 – $34.99
13. Bring Your Dog to Work Day
If your office space can handle it, allow your employee to bring their doggos in for the day. Nothing elevates the office mood quite like man’s best friend.
Plus, office pets have been proven to reduce stress and help foster relationships between coworkers .
Cost : Free
14. One-on-one mentoring
More likely than not, your employees crave mentorship – they just might not know how to ask for it.
Make it easy for them by rewarding the org with a mentorship program. Find volunteers among leadership, and pair mentors and mentees based on their interests, goals, and desired career paths.
Cost : Free
15. S’well Water Bottle
Why do we like this? Because this is something your employees will use everyday. Every time they do, they’ll make an unconscious, positive association with their workplace.
Besides, with their sleek design and eco-friendly impact, S’well bottles are just freaking sweet.
Cost : $25
16. Swap jobs for a day
Sometimes all you need is to switch things up to get your employees to think creatively and come up with new innovations. Allow them to choose a job they want to learn more about, and swap jobs with their colleague.
Bonus – this practice will give your team a new appreciation for other departments, and give them a new perspective to take on the challenges within their own role.
Cost : Free
17. Life Size Cutout
In the same vein as the Fathead, reward your employee for a job well done with a cardboard doppelganger .
18. CEO for a Day
This strategy works best at bigger companies, where the CEO can’t be 100% accessible.
Have the employee shadow the CEO… and weigh in on important decisions, especially ones that relate to the team. They’ll come away with a new, holistic perspective on the business, and feel like they have a say in some of the high-level decisions.
Cost : Free
19. Food Trucks
Food at work always brings up the mood. That’s probably why it’s the second most requested perk in the office. Food trucks are a convenient, easy way to deliver gourmet food straight to your employees.
And since food trucks are always on the lookout for hungry lunchtime patrons, you can often negotiate a discounted rate or free item the first time a new truck visits your area.
Cost : Free
20. Championship Belt
It’s all about bragging rights with this bad boy. A sweet looking, wrestling style championship belt will only set you back about $15, but will help capture the power of friendly competition in the office.
To make it even more fun, bestow special privileges with the belt, like priority music selection.
21. Casual Dress
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
Instituting a casual dress code signals to your employees that you care about their comfort and their ability to express themselves as individuals. Casual dress is also consistent with a results-oriented culture. Like unlimited vacation, it shows that you’re more interested in the work they produce than forcing your employees to conform to cultural norms.
In some industries, like law or finance, casual attire might not seem like an option. But increasingly, companies in these fields are choosing to adopt a flexible dress code, allowing employees to dress casually on most days, but requiring more formal attire for certain situations, like client meetings.
Bonus idea: at SnackNation, Friday is the day we let the dress code get a little weird. We’ve had Aloha Fridays, Football Fridays, Flannel Fridays (when the weather permits), and most recently Flashback Fridays, when our team members dress in 80s or 90s era apparel.
Cost : Free
Legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson is famous for giving his players and coaching staff books as holiday gifts. They are thoughtfully considered, and tailored to the player.
For instance: in 2010, he gave Spanish power forward (and deep thinker) Pau Gasol a copy of 2666 , the posthumous masterpiece by Spanish writer Roberto Bolaño. More recently, he gave George Mumford’s The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance to the Knicks’ young 7-footer, Kristaps Porzingis.
This gesture supports a culture of perpetual growth and development, and will demonstrate an interest in the individual recipient that goes above and beyond.
My personal favorite book to gift is Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s provided such value and insight that I feel I almost have a responsibility to pay it forward.
23. Laundry services via Washio
Just like car wash services, laundry apps like Washio give your employees some of their time back.
Besides, does anyone actually like doing laundry?
Cost: Up to $35
24. Micro Bonuses with Bonus.ly
Bonus.ly is an online platform that enables your employees to reward each other with “micro-bonuses” for a job well done. Companies like ZipRecruiter are already using Bonus.ly to create an environment of recognition.
Cost : Free – $5/user
25. Summer Hours
A staple of East Coast offices in industries like tech, media, and fashion, many employees let their employees leave at 2 pm on Fridays during the summer – as long as they can wrap up their work, of course.
Employees appreciate the opportunity to start their weekends early and enjoy some extra time in the summer sun. Plus, the 2 p.m. light at the end of the tunnel motivates most employees to come in a bit earlier and maximize their time in the office. In fact, more often than not, your employees will be more productive with a shortened Friday schedule.
26. Uber Eats Gift Card
Meal planning is difficult to maintain throughout the week, and if you don’t have an onsite restaurant or good food nearby, getting lunch can be a major hassle and interruption.
Uber Eats solves this problem by delivering great local food at Uber speed.
Cost: Up to $35
27. Affordable Standing Desk
Sitting all day is hazardous to your health. Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle increases the likelihood of adverse health affects like cardiovascular disease.
Give your employees the option to get out of their seats with a sturdy, affordable standing desk by Oristand .
S.W.A.G. It’s Stuff We All Get. Business leaders tend to underestimate the allure of swag for their employees, and see it as mere marketing collateral, something you give away at a booth at a convention.
But more often than not, employees are dying for some company swag. They want to show off who they work for, and will gladly wear that t-shirt like a badge of honor.
Cost : Varies
29. Custom Stickers
Create a sticker of the employee’s face and pass them out at the next team meeting. The possibilities are endless here.
Stickermule is a super simple and affordable service for making custom stickers.
Cost : Varies
30. Audible Account
Unless you have an entirely remote workforce, I’m guessing your employees have a daily commute.
Make that commute a bit more productive by gifting your employee an Audible.com account. An Audible membership gives you access to their vast library of audio books, which contains fiction, business, and personal development titles.
31. Nerf Guns
Let’s face it, we all fall into a rut every now and again at work. Surprise your team with a cache of Nerf Guns and inject some fun and unpredictability into the office. This old-school classic toy is sure to bust your team members out of any rut.
32. The Prize Wheel
Create a wheel of prizes to reward employees for their performance.
We spin a prize wheel at our weekly all-hands meetings to reward people for things like referral hires and goal completion. Prizes include gift cards, movie tickets, coffees, and other niceties. It’s always a crowd favorite.
Cost : about $35
Nothing breaks up routine like a day spent away from the office.
Offsites don’t have to be expensive. A day at the beach, with fun, low-cost team bonding activities like touch-football or tug of war can do wonders for morale.
Cost : Varies
34. Uber of Lyft Credit Card
Whether it’s for a night on the town, or an airport drop-off, we all need rides from time to time.
Give the gift of convenience with an Uber or Lyft Credit Card.
Cost : Up to $35
35. The Wall of Fame
Reward employees for exemplary contribution with a spot on a wall-of-fame. To make this truly special, limit the number of inductees, and create criteria (like minimum number of years worked at the company). The Wall of Fame should be something employees aspire to, so make it an exclusive honor.
Mimic your favorite sports arena by making mock-jerseys and hanging them from the rafters.
Cost : Varies
As you can see, there are not shortage of affordable rewards that let your team know that you care.
What creative ways does your team recognize stellar performance? Let us know in the comments!