15 Reward and Recognition Ideas (that won't cost the earth)

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Having a small budget shouldn't stop you from implementing your employee recognition ideas. There are many free and cost-effective options, but not knowing where to start can seem challenging.

Ovation Incentives have 20 years of implementing and running employee rewards and recognition programs for companies with big and small budgets. We've gained lots of knowledge and expertise along the way. To help get you started, we've put together a list of our top, budget-friendly reward and recognition ideas for employees.

Why Employee Recognition is Important?

Fundamentally we all need to feel valued. No one likes working on thankless tasks or feeling like their efforts have gone unnoticed. This becomes demoralising for the employee, and you certainly won't get the best from them. A lack of recognition is also one of the main reasons people leave their jobs. This study shows that 66% of employees say they would "likely leave their job if they didn't feel appreciated", and this sentiment is rising amongst millennials.

Fortunately, employee rewards and recognition can help get the best from your team and reduce staff turnover. Showing recognition and rewarding your employees' efforts consistently make your staff feel happier, appreciated, motivated and engaged. As a result, organisations with excellent recognition programs are more likely to gain vital business outcomes. These can include higher productivity, increased customer satisfaction, and revenue gain. A successful recognition program can also help create a great company culture with a positive work environment, especially with a peer-to-peer recognition scheme. These allow workers to recognise each other and encourage collaboration throughout your organisation. A successful recognition program will make your organisation more attractive to employee candidates.

Types of Good Employee Recognition

There are many types of recognition, and choosing the right one for you can be tricky. To help your employees and your organisation reach their goals, you can use three different types of recognition: day-to-day, informal, and formal.


Day-to-day recognition is excellent because it provides immediate feedback and gives your staff a quick morale boost. When recognition becomes a daily practice, it helps to build an internal culture of positivity and appreciation. 

These can be as simple as:

  • A verbal 'thank you' from a supervisor, manager or colleague
  • A written personal note
  • A handshake or a pat on the back


Give informal recognition when an employee meets a target or milestone. They can be effective in the middle of a project or when your employee is going above and beyond. 

Some examples include:

  • Thank you cards
  • Team lunches
  • Or a special mention in company communications (Email, Slack, etc.)


Formal recognitions are a bit more complex however can yield more significant results. They are based on a reward and recognition program that should suit the needs and goals of your company and its employees. This often includes a defined policy and are part of a more comprehensive strategy. Some companies have a nomination and approval process and official events to celebrate their staff and their achievements.

Some examples include:

  • Work anniversaries / Years of service milestones
  • Work performance awards 
  • Specific achievements and unique contributions.

Staff Rewards and Recognition Ideas - Low Cost

Even with a small budget, it's possible to implement valuable staff rewards and recognition programs that work for you. To help you launch your successful reward and recognition program, we've compiled 15 of our favourite budget-friendly reward and recognition ideas.

Verbal Recognition

Kind words cost nothing and are a great way to show your appreciation to your staff. Some high-praise from senior management can really make someone's day. It can act as a short-term morale boost and therefore should become a regular practice, especially when you are trying to make recognition part of your company culture. It would be best if you aimed for this positive culture of recognition to be adopted amongst your employees, recognising each other regularly to make the workplace more enjoyable for everyone.

Personal Recognition Notes

It may seem like a small gesture, but recognition in writing can also be very effective. This doesn't have to be an official company letter. A simple email from a supervisor or a manager will have the desired effect. This small gesture acknowledges and demonstrates you value your staff and their contributions to the company. To make this part of your culture, encourage your team to praise others, whether that's via email or with post-it notes on someone's desk. 

Thank You Cards

Another form of written recognition is a thank you card. This has the benefit of many personally written notes together from a team of people as well as seniors. This is a low-cost method that can have a significant impact. More so than an email or a verbal recognition, it really shows you've gone out of your way to make an effort to recognise your colleague.

Wall of Fame Acknowledgement

If you're in an office together, spare a wall or a whiteboard to create a wall of fame with photos of your colleagues who do truly exceptional work. This doesn't have to be a physical wall. With more of us working remotely, this can be a newsletter, social media group or a low-cost recognition platform that acts as a reminder that your staff are appreciated by senior management and the rest of the team.

Milestone Recognition

Celebrate the critical milestones of your staff, such as birthdays, years of service, promotions, educational achievements and professional awards. These are good for morale, easy to implement and show you care about what's going on in their lives. 

Stickers, Badges and Trophies

Stickers and badges are a cheap and fun way to get your team recognising each other. They can be stuck on work folders, put on desks and attached to your clothing or lanyard. Trophies can also be relatively low cost and can be a great fun way to recognise your team for an outstanding effort. 

Free Lunch

Well, free for your employee at least! If you can stretch to paying for your employee or team, it can be a more enjoyable way to recognise them. After all, you get to eat too. Just make sure that it's your team or employee who gets to pick their favourite place to eat. A free lunch can be great, especially for those who aren't as comfortable with public recognition. It provides you with a quiet space to share how much you appreciate them and what they do for the company. 


Vouchers and gift cards are a hugely flexible option as they come in a wide range of budgets and availability for different cultures and interests. From popular retail brands to travel and food, there's bound to be something suitable. Giving a voucher your employee will love can really show you understand them, but you'll need to be careful here. Giving someone on a diet fast food vouchers or pub vouchers to someone who's teetotal won't go down well. If in doubt, then let your employee choose from a vast selection of vouchers with a reward code.

Event Tickets

Give tickets to your employees' favourite sports, music or theatre event as a way to say thank you. This is an excellent personalised recognition that demonstrates you've acknowledged their interests. Event tickets can also be great for team building.

Movie Night

As mentioned in the vouchers section above, there is a whole range of things you can offer. Cinema vouchers are a great option as they often come with extras included, such as popcorn. Treat your employee and their friend or partner to a night out at the silver screen.  


There's a wide range of fun and low-cost classes and activities out there, such as pottery, cocktail making and art classes. You could also offer the trendy employee wellness day. Yoga, pilates, massages and fitness classes can leave your employees feeling refreshed, invigorated, relaxed and recharged for when they come back to work.

Time Off

A very popular option right now is to offer your employees an unexpected day off as a thank you for their hard work. Your employees will be delighted to have an impromptu day off to enjoy time with family or friends, spending time on their hobbies or relaxing.

Bottle of Booze

A bottle of wine or champagne may be a welcome gift for some but keep in mind this might not be suitable for many people. We'd also avoid anything stronger as you certainly don't want to promote any unhealthy habits.

Edible Treats

Who doesn't love the occasional snack? This could be a box of chocolates, pizza or an assorted basket or hamper. If you want to make it more personal, bring in a homemade cake or baked treat. This will be extra meaningful due to the effort and thought put into it. If it can be easily shared, even better.

Company swag

This may not be an obvious one, but many employees love a company-branded mug, set of pens, notebook or t-shirt. Not only are these useful, but they are a great way to show off where you work, especially on social media.

Recognition is a habit

Recognising your staff on a regular basis can change how your employees feel about working at your company. The critical thing to do is build recognition as a habit and be committed to implementing a positive change in your organisation. Build a daily, weekly or monthly plan and stick to it. Your employees' will notice if you suddenly stop recognising them or your initial enthusiasm wanes over time. Rewards and recognition don't have to cost the earth, and there are a plethora of options to choose from. Consider what is suitable for your employees carefully to make sure they have the maximum impact.

If you'd like to find out how we can help you with your employee recognition program, feel free to book a demo or if you have any questions, please get in touch with one of our experts.