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How To Reward Employees Without Spending Money (2023 Guide)

By May 9, 2023October 17th, 2023No Comments

Between employee salaries, operational costs, and business expenses, your employee reward budget can easily fall victim to financial cutbacks.

If that is the case, don’t panic! There are plenty of ways to recognize and reward your employees without spending a ton of money. If employee recognition and rewards aren’t a cornerstone of your company culture, they absolutely should be.

There are massive benefits to employee recognition including improving employee engagement, retention, and productivity.

How To Reward Employees Without Spending Money

While we all know why employee engagement is important, it can be challenging to find ways to boost engagement through recognition with minimal budget.

However, it’s so crucial to show your employees how appreciated they are and how valuable they are to the overall company success.

“Feeling gratitude, and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward

It’s one thing to feel gratitude towards your employees, it’s an entirely separate action to actually show that gratitude.

The good news is that there are some awesome ways to recognize and appreciate your employees without breaking the bank.

Keep reading to learn more about employee recognition best practices and some amazing no-cost or low-cost ways to reward your employees!

14 Ways to Reward Employees Without Spending Money


1) Verbal recognition

Whether in a one-on-one setting or in a group setting, providing your employees with verbal recognition is an awesome no-cost way to show employee appreciation and reward strong performance.

Perhaps you have an employee who knocked a presentation out of the park or a team who completed a project ahead of schedule. Whatever the accomplishment may be, take a few minutes to verbally recognize the win and congratulate your employees.

How this recognizes employees without money: One of the best parts about verbal recognition is that it costs absolutely nothing to provide, but can go a long way in making your employees feel appreciated and valued. It’s no surprise that verbal recognition is a staple on any employee engagement action plan.

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2) Ask them how they like to be recognized

When it comes to employee rewards, taking a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t quite cut it. Every employee is different and therefore will prefer certain types or methods or recognition over others.

For example, do your employees prefer private or public recognition? How about peer to peer recognition or top-down recognition? Consider sending out an employee recognition preferences questionnaire or a personality assessment to help craft personalized rewards & recognition opportunities that reflect your team’s unique tastes.

How this recognizes employees without money: There are a ton of free templates and resources available online to help you create the ideal employee recognition questionnaire for your company. This is a great, no-cost way to empower your employees and give them a voice when it comes to effective employee recognition.


3) Handwritten note

In this technology driven world we currently live in, writing a heartfelt note or letter is almost a lost art.

Keep it alive and consider converting your email draft into a physical, handwritten note instead! It doesn’t have to be super lengthy, but it does have to be sincere and clearly state the reason you’re taking the time to recognize this particular employee & their contributions. If you do happen to have a recognition budget, consider pairing your handwritten note with an employee care package for an extra surprise & delight moment.

How this recognizes employees without money: Your employees are bombarded with hundreds of work emails every day, so sending a message of appreciation via email may get lost in the shuffle. Sending a handwritten appreciation note adds an extra touch of personalization and shows your employees that you took extra time out of your day to praise their hard work.


4) Virtual eCard

Regardless of what type of employee milestone or accomplishment you’re celebrating, a virtual ecard is a simple, yet impactful way to show recognition & appreciation.

Some example recognition moments to send a virtual ecard include birthdays, work anniversaries, and promotions or job title changes. You can also send virtual ecards to welcome new hires to your team as well.

How this recognizes employees without money: Check out Caroo care cards for a free and easy-to-use virtual ecard experience! You can easily collect & add images and collaborate with co-workers to create a fun word cloud showing just how much everyone appreciates the employee you’re celebrating.


5) Throw a small party in the office lounge

Throwing a small party in the office is an awesome way to both celebrate your employees and simultaneously provide a team building opportunity!

While this option will obviously incur some costs, you can find ways to keep costs within your allocated budget yet still ensure your employees have a great time. If the party’s a hit, consider making recognition parties a regular occurrence in the office so you can periodically recognize, reward, and celebrate both top performers and team accomplishments.

How this recognizes employees without money: Even if you don’t have an extensive party budget, you can still create a fun experience for your team at a low cost. For example, set up an area where your employees can jot down notes of appreciation for the employee you’re recognizing or find some free online games to play together during the party.


6) Give them the afternoon off

Your employees work hard to not only meet but exceed expectations. Reward the individuals going above and beyond with a much deserved time off work.

Chat with them to identify an afternoon that works well and align on coverage if needed so your employee isn’t stressed or checking their emails despite an afternoon “off”.

How this recognizes employees without money: Giving your employees the opportunity to unwind and unplug, even for an afternoon, can go a long way in making your employees feel appreciated and energize them to take on the next challenge or project on their to-do list.


7) Let them take a long lunch

If you’re a bit hesitant to give an employee an entire afternoon off, take a baby step and allow employees to take a nice, leisurely lunch instead.

This perk is a great spur of the moment reward to keep in your back pocket during one on one meetings or team meetings that occur in the mornings. If you know workload is a bit lighter or there aren’t any critical afternoon meetings on the calendar, reward your employee or team with some extra time on their lunch break and if you do have some discretionary reward budget available offer to foot the lunch bill every once in a while.

How this recognizes employees without money: Encouraging your employee or team to take a longer lunch shows your employees that you value their hard work and also trust them enough to not micromanage their schedules.


8) Award them a personalized certificate

Awarding your employees with a personalized certificate is a fun recognition method that you can get a little creative with!

Depending on budget, you can either send a digital certificate or print, frame, and send a physical certificate. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what you want to recognize on the certificate. A few certificate examples include employee of the month, most improved contributor, most innovative team member, unsung hero.

How this recognizes employees without money: A personalized certificate celebrating your employee’s accomplishments, individual improvements, or talents costs very little, if anything, to send but can truly make an employee’s day, week, or even month! If you do have an available budget to allocate to this form of recognition, consider pairing their certificate with a digital gift card.


9) Send a team-wide email

It can be far too easy to get bogged down in our day-to-day tasks, so it’s important to take a step back and recognize your employees for their accomplishments. Sending a team-wide email is a great way to do just that! A good rule of thumb to keep in mind here is to send these recognition emails in a timely manner so the kudos feels relevant.

You don’t want to send a recognition email weeks after your employee made an awesome contribution. In addition to your team members, consider copying company leadership on these types of emails as well! It’s a great exposure opportunity for your top performers to get in front of the C-suite.

How this recognizes employees without money: Sending a team-wide email recognizing an employee or that full team is a great way to boost their confidence at no cost to you, other than a few minutes of your time. These recognition moments may be exactly what your employees need after wrapping up a tough or significant project.


10) Post their “win” to your office recognition wall

Having a recognition wall in the office, or even virtually, is another great low-cost or no-cost way to show employee appreciation.

Did someone go above and beyond their core responsibilities to complete an important task? Or maybe a team member was recently promoted for their amazing work? Put a shout out for them on the recognition board! Tip: Make sure your recognition wall is in a prominent, high-trafficked area in the office like the break room so everyone can check it out.

How this recognizes employees without money: A recognition wall celebrates your employees for their wins by highlighting them in a very visual and public way. It not only motivates that employee to continue succeeding in their role, but also serves as a motivator for other employees to get their accomplishments up on the recognition wall as well!


11)  Decorate their workspace

Remember in high school when you would decorate your best friend’s locker for their birthday and their look of excitement when they saw it? Decorating an employee’s workspace is essentially the grown-up version of that. Whether for a birthday, work anniversary, or key accomplishment, decorating an employee’s workspace is a great way to celebrate those major milestones or wins.

It’s not only thoughtful, but it’s a fun way to surprise and delight your employees in the workplace.

How this recognizes employees without money: Decorating someone’s workspace doesn’t need to be super elaborate or costly. A few items such as a poster, streamers, or balloons can transform a bland workspace into a fun recognition moment that will bring a smile to your employee’s face.

12) Growth & learning opportunities

Another fantastic way to recognize your employees is to reward them with growth and learning opportunities to further expand their skills and professional network.

If your company doesn’t already have a mentor program, consider creating one and having your employees apply to be a mentor or mentee. Another great option is offering LinkedIn learning courses as an added benefit for those employees interested in learning new skills.

How this recognizes employees without money: Rewarding your employees with growth and learning opportunities shows that you believe in them and envision long-term career growth for them at the company. It’s a great way to invest in your top talent and encourage your employees to nurture their sense of curiosity.


13) Share wins via social media

If your company has social accounts such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram, posting your team or individual wins on these platforms is a stellar way to recognize your employees. For example, you could shout out a particular department and their leader for hitting a major revenue goal in record time. Or you can shout out an individual contributor who has made a significant impact on a critical company-wide KPI.

Your employees can then repost the shout out on their socials and show just how happy they are to work for an employer who recognizes & celebrates their wins!

How this recognizes employees without money: This type of very public recognition is great exposure for your employees and shows that you take great pride in them being an employee at your company.


14) Say Thank You!

Last, but certainly not least on our list, is a simple “Thank you!”. We often underestimate the impact of a simple thank you note.

If your employees aren’t feeling appreciated or motivated, chances are they haven’t been thanked for their good work in quite some time. Thank you messages should be a regular part of recognizing your employees. It takes just a few minutes to type or to say, but can have a lasting positive effect.

How this recognizes employees without money: Expressing thanks to your employees costs absolutely nothing and should be given openly and frequently.

How To Reward Employees Without Money: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a unique way to reward your team without spending money?

A: A unique way to reward your team without spending money is by sending a customized virtual ecard or a handwritten congratulatory note. You can get really creative with both of these options and bring in other colleagues to include their words of appreciation as well.

Q: Are there rewards you can give employees with no budget?

A: Yes, there are rewards you can give employees with no budget including awarding a personalized certificate, posting their accomplishment on your office recognition board, and rewarding them with an afternoon off work.

Q: How do I find low cost ideas to recognize employees for their hard work?

A: To find low cost ideas to recognize employees for their hard work, check out our extensive list of low budget options above which include throwing a small party in the office or decorating an employee’s workspace. A common employee recognition mistake or assumption is that employee recognition always has a high price tag, but it can be done well on a minimal budget as well!

Q: How do you keep employees happy without money?

A: You can keep employees happy without money by showing frequent employee appreciation through non-monetary recognition and rewards. In this era of employee care we’re in, it’s more important than ever to keep your employees happy, feeling appreciated, and motivated to do their best.

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