Rewards and Recognition on a Budget

Positive Thoughts

I have worked at organizations at both ends of the spectrum in terms of benefits budgets from local and state public health departments to nonprofit healthcare to global automobile manufacturers. But all employers agree that finding low cost methods to reward and recognize employees is a priority. In these times, the war for talent is great and there are only so many ways to say thank you in a staff meeting.
Some employees like intrinsic motivators and others prefer extrinsic so providing a variety of incentives is the best way to appeal to both. This list is a compilation of best practices I have seen throughout my career.


Casual Days

Most if not all employees who work outside the home have dress codes. Whether it is a healthcare organization providing direct care to patients, a manufacturing facility or a traditional office setting, the idea of a more relaxed dress code is appealing. Depending on your organization, try a jeans day or a sneaker day or even a team spirit day. Some organizations allow employees to dress more casually for a fee that is donated to a local charity.

Half Days on Fridays

I recently talked with an employer who allows their employees to leave work early on Fridays in the summer months. It is a hugely popular benefit. While it would not work for all organizations, it is a great perk for organizations with some workforces. Other interpretations of this include flexible hours, compressed workweek, etc.


At American Axle and Manufacturing, the Human Resources Benefits team has contracted with a local massage organization who brings chairs in monthly and provides chair massages. While the program is only offered at the Headquarters location, it is a greatly appreciated. Employees sign up in advance for 15-minute sessions and it runs very smoothly. If a regular massage program is not a possibility, consider bringing massage therapists in for health fairs or benefits fairs. Managers can also purchase gift certificates at local spas such as This Girl Beauty Spa for employees.

High Fives

High fives are handwritten notes that express gratitude for a job well done. They are effective for expressing thanks for a big project or a small gesture. While it seems obvious, a thoughtful, handwritten note goes a long way. If your budget allows, put a gift card for coffee in the note. Present the note at a staff meeting or a Town Hall meeting.


Meals Delivered to the Office

Almost all the organizations I have worked for bring bagels or doughnuts once per week by either a manager or a rotating group of employee volunteers. Having breakfast or lunch delivered to the office is a great way to celebrate the end of a challenging week or a goal met. It is also a good way to get employees away from their desks to interact and collaborate.

Ice Cream

Almost everyone likes ice cream. Worksite Ice Cream Socials with a variety of toppings contributed by the team and placed in a conference room are effective for rewarding and recognizing a success. Usually a sign-up sheet is circulated or posted prior to the event so that everyone can contribute either paper products or toppings and the leadership team supplies the ice cream. These are inexpensive and impactful.

Community Service

If your organization does not have a formal procedure for volunteering in the community, contact a local organization to see if your team can volunteer. You give back to the community, your team feels good about it and it does not cost you a dime except the time away from work and transportation to the venue. I have participated in decorating the Detroit Zoo for the Zoo Boo, decorating Vista Maria for Christmas, working at Arts and Scraps, volunteering at Gleaners Food Bank, reading to a classroom in Detroit, the list is unlimited. Giving back is rewarding and a nice way to get out of the office and feel good.


Several organizations have mastered the potluck party. While it is not appropriate everywhere, when done right it can be a perfect way to celebrate a wedding, birth, retirement or other special event. Typically, everyone brings a dish or for those who do not cook, paper products or beverages.


At Ford Motor Company, we had a couple of events outdoors with lawn games and they were a lot of fun. Either the organization or a group of employees bring in lawn games such as Frisbees, corn hole, bocce ball, soccer, hula hoops etc. In the morning, the games are left in a designated area and after lunch, everyone meets outside for recess.

Team Offsite

At least once per year, invite the team offsite for the day. There are many ways to do this and I have seen whirly ball, baseball games, bowling, BBQ in a park pavilion, spa days, golf outings  etc. The budget and the workforce will guide the details but think in terms of a fun day out of the office with the goal of team building and rewarding everyone for a job well done.

Tags: Last updated on January 4, 2021

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