Employee incentive programs play a crucial role in fostering employee engagement, motivation, and retention. Learn everything you need to know on how to encourage employees to go above and beyond in their performance.

Table of contents
  1. What is an employee incentives program?
  2. Benefits of employee incentive programs
  3. How to Provide Rewards With an Employee Management App
  4. Employee Incentives to Keep Employees Engaged and Motivated 
  5. FAQ: Employee Incentive Programs
  6. The Bottom Line On Employee Incentive Programs

An employee incentives program is an important part of building a positive company culture and making your employees feel valued. Not only does rewarding your workers boost employee engagement and keep them motivated, but it can actually increase your bottom line. 

Pay raises and promotions are not the only tools you can use as employee incentives – think out of the box to truly energize your staff.

Offering incentives play a huge part in attracting and retaining top talent. In this article, we’re going over why they’re so important, how to maximize your incentive program, as well as sharing 23 of the best employee incentive ideas.

screenshot from Connecteam app of both update mentioning the employee of the month and the reward for it

🧠 Did You Know?

The importance of keeping your employees motivated and engaged cannot be understated. In fact, businesses with actively motivated employees see 27% higher profits and 50% increases in sales and customer loyalty.

What is an employee incentives program?

Employee incentives programs are a structured approach to motivating and rewarding employees for their performance and achievements. These programs are designed to recognize and encourage employees by providing them with various incentives, benefits, and rewards. There are lots of benefits to providing incentives for employees, but businesses primarily implement these programs to motivate workers, promote engagement and satisfaction, and ultimately drive organizational success. 

Benefits of employee incentive programs

There are many reasons why employee incentives should be a part of your company culture, including:

  • Increased productivity. When employees feel appreciated, they are more likely to work hard.
  • Better employee engagement and morale. Employee incentives motivate your staff to work hard, increasing overall morale. 
  • Higher rates of employee retention. Incentives are an added employee benefit and can be an important factor in retaining talented workers. 
  • Gives your business a competitive edge. People are more likely to work for a business that treats them well and provides better benefits. 
  • Motivates employees to reach and exceed company goals. An employee incentives program acts as a rewards system. This encourages employees to work harder, which can boost overall company performance.  

When you distribute employee incentives appropriately and regularly, you reward your employees while also contributing to your bottom line.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Read our in-depth guide on why employee engagement matters and how to keep employees engaged.

How to Provide Rewards With an Employee Management App

If you’re using an employee management app, like Connecteam, it’s simple to show recognition and send rewards to your employees in seconds. As part of your employee recognition program, create exciting incentives for team members to supersede their goals. Provide digital tokens that they can redeem for gift cards to their favorite stores and restaurants and use whenever they feel like.

This is a great reward because it allows workers to choose their own gift card from a list of participating stores. They also don’t need to worry about losing any physical paperwork to get their gift card–everything is stored directly in the app.

Screenshot of the Connecteam Updates feature

Or, take advantage of the employee newsfeed to publicly recognize an employee for doing an excellent job. Give them a personal shout-out, provide a customized, digital badge, and let the rest of the team know about their achievements so your employees know you appreciate their hard work. This alone can be a motivating factor to boost productivity. 

Employee Incentives to Keep Employees Engaged and Motivated 

Whether your employees work from your main office or out in the field, an employee incentives program can be highly motivating and rewarding.

Here’s a list of employee incentives to consider:

Lunch or dinner with the boss

Whether you’re a small or large business, employees may not have direct communication with company leaders. So setting up a lunch or dinner with one of them can help increase loyalty and make the employee feel special and recognized. It even allows employees to pitch ideas to the person who makes all the decisions. Plus, it gives the business leader a chance to connect with employees they don’t regularly come in contact with.

Extra break time

Hourly workers usually have set break times, so what better way to reward an employee than with an extended break? Give them the choice of one extra long break or a second shorter break during one of their upcoming shifts. 

Free meals

Free meals are always appreciated and are one of the best employee incentive ideas. Provide a free catered lunch to your team to show your appreciation or reward an employee with a gift card or meal voucher to their favorite restaurant. If you want to reward a worker who likes to cook, consider sending a free meal delivery service box, like Blue Apron, to the employee’s home. That way, they get the added bonus of getting to cook their own meal before enjoying it.

A night in a hotel

Give the gift of luxury with a night in a hotel for two. Let your employee bring a plus one to enjoy an all-inclusive night away right in their hometown. They won’t have to travel anywhere but will still feel like they are getting a vacation.

Free classes or workshops

A great staff incentive is to provide a free class or workshop. You may want to offer a one-time class, or perhaps buy a package of multiple classes of the employee’s choice. Consider exercise classes, cooking workshops, or even music lessons. The key here is to offer your choices so the employee you’re rewarding will be able to select the class that interests them the most.

Choose your own schedule

A great incentive for employees is to allow your employees to choose their schedule for a week. Let them pick the shifts they want to work and schedule them accordingly. Just be sure the days and shifts they choose don’t interfere with your workflow or employee productivity.

Tuition reimbursement

Did you know that 79% of employees reported that tuition assistance is a key factor when joining a company?

Incentivize your employees to learn by providing financial assistance to do so. This encourages professional development and continued learning, helping to create a more educated, well-rounded workforce.

Gift cards

Reward employees with gift cards to stores, restaurants, or online marketplaces like Amazon. Not only does this provide them a choice of where to use their gift, but you can provide them directly in an employee management app, like Connecteam. That way, they don’t have to worry about losing the gift card and stores all the information directly on their phones.

🧠 Did You Know?

Connecteam lets you gift your employees digital tokens they can exchange for gift cards from many of the most popular vendors, including sportswear, tech giants, and restaurants.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

screenshot with Connecteam's tokens feature

Team outing

If your employees work in the same area, consider giving them a paid day off and take them somewhere fun for a team building day. This gives them the opportunity to get to know each other better and helps build a strong company culture. Some ideas include: escape rooms, wine or beer tastings, comedy shows, scavenger hunts, or a beach or pool day. 

 Day off

A paid day off is always a good idea for an employee incentive. Let your employee choose a day they want to take off and allow them to do so. If rewarding multiple employees this way, you may not want to allow them to take the same day off. That way, your business won’t be affected by a lack of staff.


Nothing says “Great job, thanks for your hard work!” quite like a physical gift. This can be anything from a cooler for hot summer months to high-quality pillows. You can certainly choose the gift yourself, or take advantage of an employee gifting platform, like Snappy or Goody. These websites allow employees to choose their own gift so they can get exactly what they want.

 Free team lunch

Who doesn’t love food? If your employees work in the same location, let each team choose where they will have their free lunch. Rotate the departments, so everyone has a chance to enjoy this employee incentive.

 Movie tickets

As far as incentives for employees go, this one is a no-brainer. Buy some movie ticket coupons and gift them to your staff. They can share the tickets with friends and family and go see the newest movie.

 Lazy Monday start

Choose a Monday (or multiple Mondays) that your employees can start working later than usual. It can help them avoid the morning rush while keeping them happier as they get to sleep in.

 A certificate or plaque

A simple employee incentive can go a long way. One incentive is to gift an employee with a special certificate or plaque. 

It can be a professional plaque for breaking a company record in sales, meeting a tough KPI, etc.

Or it can be a silly certificate like the best mustache, funniest employee, or best coffee drinker.

 Company swag

Tech accessories are a great employee incentive–from headphones to car phone chargers and anything in between. And you can personalize the accessories with the company logo and branding or even an employee’s own name.

 Handwritten note

Sure, this may seem old-fashioned, but it’s effective.

Show your employees you care by taking the time to write them a handwritten note. Thank them for all their hard work, congratulate them on achieving their goals, or even write them a personal note. Personal notes could be congratulating the employee on their engagement or purchase of a house. The note can be about whatever you want; it’s the thought that your employees will appreciate.

 Profit sharing

Profit-sharing isn’t like offering a 401K. With a profit-sharing plan, your employees can receive contributions to their retirement account, like in cash or stock forms, and can even receive direct payments.

Profit shares are a great incentive for employees as it helps to empower your staff as they will be more invested in the business’ success.

 Extra paid time off

Reward a hard working employee by offering extra PTO to allow them to relax, spend time with friends or family, or simply enjoy a few extra days off. This is a great reward for employees who may be struggling with work-life balance. You can even further incentivize your workers by offering an extra day of PTO for meeting a certain goal.

 Health and wellness benefits

Providing this type of employee incentive lets your staff know you care about their physical and mental well-being. Consider fitness classes, yoga retreats, gym memberships, free exercise equipment, massages, or hiking club memberships as ways to reward your employees for their hard work. Not only do these rewards make your staff feel good, but a happy, healthy staff can greatly enhance their performance on the job. 

Raises or bonuses

If you want to provide a monetary reward, a raise or bonus is the way to go. However, keep in mind that to prevent any animosity amongst your employees, you should have clear metrics in place to determine how much of a raise or bonus they’ll get. 

 Social media recognition

Let your employees shine on your company’s social media. Take a nice headshot of the employee you want to highlight and post it on your company’s Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn page. Include a caption about their achievements and perhaps include a few fun facts about your worker. Not only does this make your employee feel valuable, but putting a face to your business personalizes your brand and can make potential customers more inclined to work with you. 

women in the Connecteam app

Bottle of expensive wine or liquor

Spoil a staff member with an expensive bottle of wine or liquor. Of course, make sure the employee is over 21 and drinks alcohol before using this as an employee incentive. 

FAQ: Employee Incentive Programs

What are common best practices for creating an employee incentive program?

There are a few things that you can do to build an effective employee incentive program. To start, write out the details in your employee handbook in case anyone has any questions.

Additional tips include:

  • Make it personal. Let employees choose their reward or incentive when it makes sense. You can also use surveys to find out what kinds of incentives they’re interested in so you know what to offer. 
  • Publicize the program to your staff. Make sure your employees know about the program and what staff incentives you offer. The best way to do this is by sharing updates and announcements on an employee management app so they get the information immediately. 
  • Publicly recognize employee achievements. When an employee does well and earns a reward, share it with the rest of your team on your company newsfeed to encourage everyone to continue working hard.

Are employee incentive programs expensive?

This depends on what kinds of rewards you offer your employees. You can definitely create a company wide employee incentive program that doesn’t cost too much and aligns with your budget. Even small rewards or publically acknowledging an employee for their hard work goes a long way. The more expensive the gifts you offer, the more money you’ll need to invest in your program.

However, keep in mind the benefits of offering employee incentives: a happy and motivated workforce means greater productivity and an increased bottom line.

What are the best employee incentive ideas?

There are many ways to reward your employees for their hard work, and the best employee incentive ideas fit in with your company culture and align with your values. Whether you offer monetary incentives, fun experiences, outings, or physical gifts, your staff will most likely be satisfied as long as they feel acknowledged. 

Read our article on Effective Monetary Incentives and Rewards to Motivate & Reward Employees

The Bottom Line On Employee Incentive Programs

Employee incentive programs provide recognition and motivation to your entire workforce. When done effectively, you can increase employee morale, engagement, productivity, and your bottom line for the long term, without cutting into your budget. 

Rewarding your team for their hard work and dedication is an important and even necessary part of maintaining morale, so don’t overlook its importance. Take advantage of the ideas on this list to lift your employees’ spirits, acknowledge their hard work, and reward them for their dedication.

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