7 Employee Reward Ideas

This Year, Try These 7 Straightforward Employee Rewards

Posted December 12, 2016 by Caroline Whitney in Benefits and Perks
It's important to reward your employees for their dedication. Here are some ideas that won't break the bank.

It’s the end of a long year of hard work, and your employees are tired and ready for a break. Turn to year-end employee rewards to show your appreciation for all of their efforts.

While it’s a good idea to show employee appreciation all year long, now’s the time to really make your team feel recognized, appreciated, and happy. Doing so will boost morale and make them happy to come back after New Year's Day. And rewards don't only have to be employee bonuses or year-end raises.

Here are seven wonderful ways to reward your employees at the end of the year, whatever your budget!

1. Have an Office Party (that's actually fun)

How better to give your employees a break then to plan a year-end of holiday office party? Just make sure it’s not the same old, stale breakroom party we’ve all grown to dread.  

There are so many creative options for office parties.  Whether it’s a holiday-themed potluck (favorite wintertime dishes?), a gift exchange using innovative sites like Elfster, or going all out at a fancy dining establishment, as long as you put a little thought into it, your employees will appreciate it.

2. Give a Thoughtful Gift at Whatever Budget

Some of us work at companies that can afford Patagonia vests for a holiday gift, and others receive small gift cards to Starbucks. Big or little, all of us appreciate treats around the holidays.

So get creative! You don’t need to shell out the big bucks to show your appreciation for your employees. Just make sure it’s something they’ll actually use.  An Opentable gift card, a gift certificate to a local book store, or — hey — a Fitbit or Lands’ End fleece if you can swing it.

Looking for lots of employee recognition ideas? Download our free guide on 109 Ways to Appreciate Employees on a Budget.

3. Announce a New Flexible Schedule

If at all possible for your type of business, reward your employees with a new option for the new year: having flexible schedules. As we’ve written about before, studies show that breaks throughout the day help to boost employee productivity.  

So, it might be worth seriously considering allowing employees to make their own schedules, as long as they meet their hours and achieve their goals. Your employees will love this new option; and when productivity soars, you’ll love it too.

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4. Give Treats All Month Long

Once upon a time, I worked at a popular startup in NYC that gave us small treats each day in December. They made it special by posting up a big calendar in our warehouse-like workspace and ceremoniously opening the envelope that contained the surprise each afternoon.

Sometimes the surprise would be food: cream cheese-filled bagel balls or a yogurt station.  Other times, the treat was a manicurist, or even a beer cart making the rounds. The month-long event helped us power through the end of a long year.  

A similar reward does take a bit of effort, but you could implement other month-long activities as well. How about a weekly trivia question in the break room, or having a different employee sign up to bring an edible treat to the kitchen each day?  It’s a nice change of pace.

5. Bring in a Special Guest

Bring in a special guest at the end of the year who will make your employees feel fabulous!  Consider a masseuse or two; employees can sign up for 30 minute sessions throughout the day.  A manicurist, as I mentioned, is a luxurious and welcome treat: Manicube was created specifically for the office.  Or, how about a yoga instructor?  

With apps like Priv, fitness comes to you. You don’t have to stick to employee wellness, either. How about bringing in an inspirational speaker or comedian to liven up your cold December afternoon? It’s different, and it’s fun.

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6. Take Them Out

Reward your employees with an afternoon off of work doing something that’s actually fun. The options are endless, especially if you live in a big city. You could take your team to lunch, go ice skating at the local outdoor rink, or even go to a comedy show. Or what about taking them for a stroll around a holiday market, sipping hot cider? Who says you can’t do something totally radical, like Escape the Room, an interactive puzzle in which you actually have to escape a room? Brainstorm different fun ideas — you just might think of a totally unique outing that your team would love.  

7. Let Them Go Home

What says “thank you” to your employees better than giving them a free (and unexpected) afternoon off? Just be sure to give them a little bit of notice — you don’t want to derail any meetings or deadlines.  The day before a holiday — or a holiday eve — is a great time to do this, because business is usually slow (depending on your company).  


Although it's a bit cliche, it has to be said: consider giving your employees an end of year bonus. The holiday season always incurs extra costs and your employees will be grateful you thought of them and shared as generously as you could near the end of the year.

If your company is on a really tight budget and cash gifts don't seem feasible, try to offer something like a gift card to a coffee shop or restaurant, or stock in the company. You could also offer a "Get Out of Jail Free Card" for an extra day of paid vacation whenever your employee chooses. Such gestures will go a long way and act as employee incentives in the long-run.

While these are great ways to reward your employees at year’s end, don’t stop at this list!  Think of your own unique ways to say “thanks” to your hard-working team.


This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.