9 rewards that employees love

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Are you exploring the potential of staff reward schemes and staff reward ideas? Are you wondering how to reward staff without money? At Ovation we have a wealth of experience and expertise in staff reward and recognition. We know exactly how to go about rewarding staff without money successfully. If there’s a staff rewards program on your company radar but you’re not sure where to begin, read on for an expert take on the rewards employees love best.   

Importance of Rewarding Employees

First, why is it important for employers to reward their staff? Isn’t a salary and associated employee benefits enough? The answer’s no. For a start, 49% of Millennials say they’d leave their job within the next two years, given the choice. That’s almost half of an entire vital generational cohort gone within a couple of years, with all the associated time, hassle, costs and inconvenience that a high level of employee churn brings.

With staff retention an increasingly key challenge for many businesses, and the pandemic-led ‘Big Resignation’ phenomenon causing concern amongst employers, staff reward and recognition is bigger news than ever. As a BBC report said back in summer 2021,

“A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year, and a study from HR software company Personio of workers in the UK and Ireland showed 38% of those surveyed planned to quit in the next six months to a year. In the US alone, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs, according to a summary from the Department of Labor – the biggest spike on record.”

There’s more insight to be had into how to reward staff and why it matters. Staff reward schemes are proven to boost people’s morale, giving them something to look forward to and motivating them to greater things. When people feel cared for, the workplace becomes more happy and positive, and we all know positivity has a powerful impact on productivity. Because people are enjoying their time at work they’re more efficient and effective, willing to give more of themselves to their role. Great staff reward ideas that drive innovation and creativity. They encourage teamwork and promote sharing. And because of all this, rewarding people ultimately increases an organisation’s revenue.

So what are the overriding principles for incentives and recognition? It’s vital to design and build a staff rewards program that reflects the reality of the individual jobs and teams the awards are given to. It’s equally important to link the rewards clearly and consistently to people’s performance. And you’ll need to ensure the staff reward schemes themselves, and the way they’re administered, are fair – but more importantly seen as fair.

Next let’s look at a bunch of the most popular ways of rewarding staff without money, categorised for common sense.

Staff Recognition Rewards

Individuals love to be recognised, as you’ll already know if you’ve ever been thanked publicly and warmly for something you’ve achieved. People’s contributions and efforts really matter, and rewards made in this context are powerful stuff. So what are the rewards specifically associated with staff recognition? Some of them are surprisingly simple. A ‘thank you’ can work wonders and mean the world.

You could recognise your people’s achievements with a personal written note praising their dedication and hard work. You could hand out ‘spot bonuses’ for great performance, staff reward vouchers for the things people do above and beyond the call of duty, or for achieving tough pre-set goals. How about a thank-you lunch with the CEO? You could announce individual achievements to the whole company. And you could make your thanks highly visible by  publicising them on the company notice board, intranet, website, magazine and internal or external newsletters.   

Experiences and Team Rewards 

How to reward staff without money? Sometimes teamwork sits right at the heart of the good work your people are doing, which means team-led experiences and team rewards are the most appropriate and work best. ‘Experiences’ come into their own here. It makes sense to let people choose their own reward experiences, with so many cool things to choose from. Here are just a few of them, many of which are perfect for every taste and some of which are targeted to certain types of people. Check out these bright ideas about how to reward staff with experiences and team rewards.

  • Go-karting
  • Paintballing
  • Other kinds of team games
  • Visiting a brewery
  • Wine tasting at a vineyard
  • Escape room experience
  • Key sporting events
  • Theatre shows, opera, ballet, cinema or the circus
  • Music events
  • Festivals
  • Bowling
  • Cookery classes
  • Cocktail making workshops
  • Dance classes
  • Wine appreciation classes
  • Music lessons
  • Pottery classes
  • Golf lessons
  • Gym membership
  • Workout classes
  • Personal trainer vouchers
  • Spa vouchers
  • Wellness, keep fit and yoga experiences

Professional Development Rewards

When motivation is a key aim, go for rewards based around career development. Because they’re work-related they don’t come with quite the same personal component as team rewards and experiences. It’s less a matter of taste, more a matter of choosing the right rewards for the role. Development-focused rewards are very motivating, all about work not play. They help improve job satisfaction as well as enhancing a person’s prospects. Here are some of the most popular professional development rewards.

  • Give people their own professional development budget - to be used for whatever they like
  • Pay for quality, recognised training courses and classes, to be consumed online or offline in real life
  • Provide proven self-paced learning tools and resources
  • Let people attend seminars and conferences
  • Pay for people’s professional organisation memberships
  • Buy books
  • Arrange mentorship with skilled colleagues
  • Consider reverse mentorship, where junior staff mentor senior people
  • Provide opportunities for people to shadow senior staff, for example the CEO
  • Arrange skill sharing and talent swapping sessions
  • Buy handy software and other tools to make employees’ life easier at work 
  • Set aside a regular time, say once a week, for people to focus on personal and professional development, for example half a day per week

Financial Rewards

Money, money, money... cash makes an excellent employee incentive because it’s so flexible. People can use it to buy whatever they want, enhancing their working or personal lives in any way they like. On the other hand ‘pay for performance’ can be tricky, worth approaching with sensitivity. While the benefits include motivation, creating high standards, a clear direction and reduced staff turnover, there are downsides. How do you accurately compare and contrast people’s performance in complex tasks? How can you be certain your value judgments are more objective than subjective, and most of all fair?

Because financial incentives major on rewarding individuals, they don’t work so hard to boost collaboration. In a worst case scenario you can end up with the opposite effect to the impact you intended, with a company of dissatisfied employees who feel hard done by and unfairly treated.

Luckily there are other ways to reward people financially that don’t come with the same risk factor. They include sales commissions and bonuses, pay increases, and time off with pay.

Service Rewards

Many employees really appreciate service based rewards, which they choose themselves. These rewards key directly into something a person genuinely needs, filling a gap with a service they truly value. It could be as simple as a car valet service, car maintenance or cycle maintenance. It could be as personal as a home cleaning service, which could make a massive difference to someone’s life simply by giving them back the time they would otherwise spend on housework.  

A babysitting service might be a godsend for parents who struggle to find support. A garden makeover service can change someone’s life for the better forever, creating a calm and beautiful space to relax in after work. It could be a laundry service. A dog walking and day care service. Or a huge treat in the shape of regular hairdressing or barbering. All these and more are available. It’s a matter of concocting a suitable list for your people to choose from.

Office Based Rewards

When you spend upwards of eight hours a day in the office, it makes sense for the office to be a pleasure to work in. You should always make sure your people have the right equipment they need for comfortable working, of course, but there are all sorts of added extras that make wonderful rewards.

Plants for staff desks cheer the place up, adding oxygen and gently helping to clean the air. Just make sure they’re suitable for the low lighting conditions in an office. Personalised office coffee cups and mugs are great fun – especially when people can choose their own design. Something as simple as thank you notes stuck to computer screens can have a dramatic effect, as you’ll know from the glow you get when someone thanks you for a job well done.

How about creating a colourful office wall of fame where you highlight staff achievements? You could make someone CEO for the day. You might want to let people bring their dog to work for the day, or create a series of popular office trophy awards for both fun and serious things – the most sales on a Tuesday, the best Friday casual day outfit, the happiest customer of the week. Even something as seemingly basic as casual dress in the office can make people feel valued, add vital spice to the workplace, and bring people closer together.

Gifts and Swag

Everybody loves a gift. And simple gifts are often enough to show the kind of appreciation welcomed by staff. So where do you begin with staff reward schemes involving gifts and swag? It’s an enormous list, only limited by the tastes and desires of your workforce.

Think about the latest technology and gadgets, branded with the company logo. Maybe fitbits and other fitness tech? Maybe a VR headset? How about personalised phone cases and laptop cases, or a smart engraved drinks decanter? People love plaques with messages too, something they stick on the wall and read again and again, remembering the occasion every time.

It’s hard to go wrong with cupcakes, cookies and cake gift boxes. Scratch cards and lottery tickets provide people with life-changing potential, always good fun. Subscriptions to services like Netflix and Spotify are also life-enhancing in many ways. And chocolate gift boxes are almost always a success.

If one of your employees is a skilled woodworker in their spare time, you could reward them with tools for the job. They might paint landscapes as a hobby, or be dedicated to working in an animal shelter at weekends. When a reward is directly relevant to someone’s life, it’s even more powerful.


Staff reward vouchers are a handy equivalent to cash, giving people the chance to buy what they genuinely want or need. It’s possible to get vouchers for almost anything, from experiences to vouchers for certain shops, chains and groups of shops, online and offline. 

Powerful employee rewards software you can trust   

There you are – an exciting array of fresh ideas about how to create staff reward schemes with the desired impact on people’s attitude to work. Your next task is to identify an experienced staff reward idea partner with the knowledge and expertise to make it all happen. We’re staff reward and recognition professionals. Can we help you set up an influential program around either rewarding staff without money, a money-led staff rewards program, or an intelligent blend of both? Why not book yourself an exciting demo, or simply contact us to discuss the potential?