Blog / Employee recognition

11 ideas for employee rewards & recognition

By Kim Rohrer|6 min read|Updated May 16, 2024

An illustration of a gold trophy.

Thoughtful employee rewards contribute to a healthy company culture. And a little acknowledgment goes a long way: giving employees between $50-$200 as part of an employee rewards and recognition program can reduce turnover by 43%

While monetary employee rewards are an excellent tool for improving morale, there are several ways to reward good performance, new skill development, and company loyalty. 

Below are 10 ideas for rewarding employees for their dedication and hard work. Exercising some combination of monetary and non-monetary incentives at regular intervals can help reduce attrition, saving your company hundreds of thousands in losses per year. 

What is an employee recognition reward? 

An employee recognition reward shows appreciation for employees’ contributions to the business. It can take many forms, from promotions and compensation increases to shoutouts on Slack and bespoke gifts. 

Our own research shows that most employees prefer monetary rewards, but there are lots of ways you can and should show your employees that their work matters.

Verbal recognition, professional development opportunities, and sabbaticals are just a few examples of non-cash incentives that make employees feel valued. 

Whatever method you choose, the most important things to keep in mind are consistency and equitability. It’s key to ensure all teams have access to appropriate budgets, and that they receive an employee recognition prize at a similar frequency throughout the year. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; instead, look to your company’s cultural norms and employee demographics to decide what makes the most sense for your employee population.

11 employee recognition ideas

Depending on the situation, some tactics for rewarding employees may be more fitting than others. For example, if an employee goes above and beyond to get a specific project over the finish line, it may make sense to give them a shout-out in a public Slack channel thanking them for their dedication. 

On the other hand, if the sales team crushes their quota for the quarter, it would be reasonable to give every contributor a small sum to celebrate their persistent hard work. 

Offering a variety of recognition rewards for different kinds of achievements can keep employees engaged without breaking the bank. 

1. Verbal (or written) recognition

Personal communication is a simple, powerful way to show appreciation. Whether you’re privately acknowledging an employee’s achievements in a Slack DM, or publicly praising them on LinkedIn, this type of employee recognition serves as a light-touch reminder that you value their hard work. 

2. Performance bonuses

Sometimes an employee goes above and beyond, and it’s a fantastic gesture (if your budget allows for it) to recognize this effort with a one-time financial reward. Whether someone worked extra hours on a project, lent a hand to a team outside their regular scope of work, or came up with an idea that pushed a project over the finish line, excellent work deserves additional compensation. 

Create a clear standard for distributing performance-based rewards to reduce the risk of bias, ensuring everyone is operating on the same measurement standards. To be effective, performance bonuses must be equitable and based on individual contributions. 

This particular employee recognition incentive isn’t just helpful for reducing turnover: offering additional performance-related pay can even increase innovation at small companies (Salimini and della Torre). 

3. Professional development opportunities

Investing in your employees' growth demonstrates a commitment to their success. If you don’t have the budget to spend on conferences and seminars, there are many free or low-cost options. 

Offering time off for professional development is a great way to invest in continuing education, even when budgets don’t allow for big spending. Create standards for professional development that fall outside of any learning and development budgets you’ve set for the company. 

4. Gifts

Intuitively, it may seem like customized gifts with a touch of personal flair would be the best option for employee rewards. But our research shows the opposite is true: the vast majority (65%) of employees just want money. While a mug emblazoned with an inside joke may be thoughtful, it’s not exactly practical. Employees want something they’ll actually use, and most people already have enough mugs.You know what’s always useful? Money.

Explore options like Tremendous rewards (ok, we may be biased) and Visa prepaid cards to provide flexibility and choice. We offer catalogue of more than 2,000 redemption options, so you set the budget and recipients choose the gift that suits them best.

Gift cards

Gift cards are easy to send and easy to spend, especially if you opt to send employees virtual gift cards rather than physical ones. However, there is an important caveat: most employees prefer to have the option to choose their own gift card, rather than simply being saddled with one for a retailer they may or may not frequent.

If you're going to opt to send employees gift cards as a reward, make sure to give them the option to choose what they want.

With a rewards platform (like Tremendous), employees can choose their favorite from a list of thousands, including Amazon, Doordash, Starbucks, Airbnb, and many, many more.


The majority of (65%) employees would prefer to receive money over all other kinds of employee rewards. It doesn't have be much: 67% of employees would be satisfied with between $50 -$100.

Whether it's money added to the employee's paycheck, a PayPal transfer, a direct deposit, or a Venmo payout, most employees would prefer to receive a reward they can spend on anything they want.

You can't beat the flexibility and freedom of cash. And while some employers may worry that cash is too impersonal, employees in our 2023 gifting study made it clear personalization isn't nearly as important as receiving a gift they actually want.

Prepaid cards

Prepaid cards are a perfect option for companies who want to send employees money, but don't want to deal with the fees associated or hassle involved in tacking money onto an employee's paycheck or sending funds via PayPal.

In our survey, we found employees view Visa prepaid cards as nearly as valuable as cash transfers.

Prepaid cards give employees plenty of flexibility in how they spend their reward and ensure they aren't tied to a specific retailer. Plus, they're easy to send fee-free.

5. Experiential employee rewards

Whether it’s a fancy team dinner or a hike in the mountains, rewarding a team with the chance to spend time together outside their day-to-day is a great way to combine recognition and team building. For the individual who values experiences over things, this is a great way to celebrate them in a way that they’ll truly appreciate.

While some employees love experiential employee recognition, bear in mind that for others, a night out with coworkers can feel like yet another obligation. So if you’re going to offer employees a team excursion, consider pairing it with additional time off, a small monetary reward, or another individual incentive to ensure those who dislike team-building activities receive something they actually want. 

6. Additional time off

Rewarding team members with additional time off signifies a long-term investment in their personal success; you value their efforts, but you also value them as a whole person with a busy life outside of work. 

In our survey of 1,500 employees across 10 industries, we found additional paid time off was the second-most favored gift behind money. Consider giving employees Fridays off in the summer, or closing up shop for a week during the holiday season. 

7. Team-specific rewards

Receiving recognition from your immediate team (both peers and managers) often feels more specific and personal than general recognition. Realizing that your immediate coworkers see your work and recognize your value can provide a sense of security that cash just can’t deliver. 

Align rewards to company values and key goals or metrics. Utilize smaller, more frequent, and flexible rewards to give teams control over the kinds of recognition they offer (again, as long as they’re being deployed equitably company-wide).

Team-based recognition, including group bonuses and profit-sharing, is especially impactful for lower-skilled employees. Conversely, highly skilled employees tend to be more motivated by commissions and individual bonuses. 

8. Employee appreciation events

If the company has had a particularly stellar year, consider throwing a party as a workplace recognition idea. You can hold company-wide celebrations virtually or in person, depending on whether you’re a remote organization, or whether you have the budget to physically bring people together. 

If you’re a remote organization without the budget to bring the team together onsite,  invite leaders to record videos and stitch them together into one appreciation message. Ask employees to submit their favorite stories from a tough product launch and share those companywide. Or, take the day off for an all-company IRL or virtual retreat to celebrate wins and the people responsible for them.

If you’ve got the budget, consider hosting company offsites once or twice a year. These events can range from a day of team-building activities to a weeklong retreat. At Tremendous, we hold company-wide offsites twice a year. They’ve helped us achieve an extremely high employee retention rate and revenue-per-employee ratio.

9. Promotions

Pair promotions with a clear explanation of why the person was promoted, and what support you’ll be offering to help them fill any remaining skill gaps. Celebrate promotions internally and externally, and encourage employees to share as well by updating their title on LinkedIn. 

Done right, promotions can also create an inclusive culture around career growth: if employees see their peers being promoted in a fair and equitable way, they’ll be inspired to pursue their own advancement.

10. Sabbaticals

When an employee has been with a company for a long period of time (say, 5-7 years), recognizing them with a paid sabbatical is a great way to acknowledge their continuous engagement and long-term commitment. After all, there are only so many PTO days in a year (even with uncapped PTO, most employees don’t take more than a few weeks).

Taking a few months off to explore a passion, travel the world, or just rest and recharge can have massive benefits for your company - employees often return energized and full of new creativity. 

One study found professionals who took sabbaticals experienced a decline in stress levels, an increase in psychological resources, and a boost in overall well-being compared to colleagues who didn’t. Importantly, this study only included university professors, who are, to date, the cohort most commonly associated with sabbaticals. 

However, sabbaticals have become increasingly common as a benefit for office workers in recent years. And they can be an invaluable tool for combatting burnout.

11. Charity donations

Charitable donations are a great way to show employees they're valued, while also demonstrating your own company commitment to community and social issues.

Offer to make a donation in an employee's name, or given them the choice of which charity they'd like to contribute to on the company dime.

This employee reward is especially appropriate as a way to recognize employees for community service, or outstanding commitment to the company mission.

Why you should reward employees

Incorporating a mix of praise, rewards, and opportunities for growth can help companies create a workplace where employees feel valued and motivated. 

  • Effective employee recognition rewards can reduce employee turnover by 43%

  • Consistent employee recognition rewards delivered at regular intervals are more effective than one-time bonuses

  • Individual incentives are more effective for highly-skilled employees, while team-based incentives are best for low-skilled employees

  • Employees prefer money over custom, personalized gifts

  • Explore diverse employee reward ideas, from verbal praise to sabbaticals, implementing the tactics that are most aligned with your company’s values

  • Tailor recognition strategies to individual preferences with flexible rewards and gifts

Remember to take the time to understand your team's preferences for the best employee rewards and tailor your program to meet the needs of your employee base, and you’ll have a winning strategy.

And if you're looking to send employees the reward they really want (hint: it's money), sign up for Tremendous today and send your first reward in minutes. Or, chat with our sales team.

Published January 10, 2024

Updated May 16, 2024

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