10 Ways to Reward Employees Without Spending Money

February 4, 2019
By Rebecca Ferlotti

In an ideal world, your company would have unlimited funds for raises, parties, and paid time off…but as an HR professional, you know that’s rarely the case. When your budget is low, but you want to keep morale high, how can you find ways to reward employees?


While there are plenty of low-cost ideas to implement, from bringing in bagels for breakfast to birthday parties to giving all your employees a well-deserved car wash, in no time at all, you’re suddenly out of an employee appreciation budget with several months left in the year. Here are some employee rewards that don’t cost any money and ways to enhance your paid employee incentives.


In addition to writing a note to show your appreciation, use supplies you already have around the office to:

  • Create an appreciation wall where people can write notes about their co-workers, either straight on the wall or with sticky notes.

  • Make a game out of employee appreciation by posting positive anonymous notes. One employee writes an anonymous note to another employee and sticks it on their desk; when that person receives the note, they write a note of appreciation to someone else and stick it on their desk, and so on. You can have a hard cut-off to end the game or simply let the game run its course.

  • Write detailed letters after major accomplishments to keep in employees’ files. When it comes time for a discussion about a salary raise, you’ll both have all the information you need to assess the situation fairly.

In addition to paid professional development opportunities:

  • Host a cross-teaching lunch hour. Employees prepare a presentation about a topic about which they’re passionate or a topic on which they’re an expert. You can have them talk for the whole lunch hour or pack a few presentations in with 15- to 20-minute mini-lessons.

  • Start a mentorship program in your office, and have mentors and mentees meet weekly or biweekly. All employees, even the CEO, can benefit from honing their coaching skills. Give entry-level employees the responsibility to mentor interns. This helps your company in the long-run, by keeping everyone’s skills sharp.

Find free personality tests for your employees. Understand their love language, their personality type, and more, and talk through their results with them. This helps you understand them on a whole new level and reveals how you can use those qualities or preferences best in an office environment so they can thrive.


In addition to offering work-from-home opportunities or flex time:

  1. Rearrange an unused office space or area to create a calming environment where employees can go to escape. You don’t have to buy new furniture; it could even be an empty room with extra chairs and a window. This room could be used for meditation; an urgent, personal phone call; or a place for co-workers to brainstorm blog ideas.

  2. Create a sign-up sheet in the summer for employees to bring their pets to work. This cuts down on employees worrying about their pets at home and can boost morale. Make sure you learn of any allergies in your office before implementing this incentive.

  3. Gamify earning flex time. When employees do something exceptional, give them digital tokens to spend on flex time. This could be as simple as keeping a tally on your computer of how many “tokens” employees have earned. Employees can use their tokens for taking a longer lunch, running errands, or coming into work a little later than usual.

  4. Let them use the CEO’s office for a day. Or, if that’s not an option, offer up the office of a supervisor or another person in a position of leadership. You can even offer employees that front parking space to match (with the CEO’s permission, of course). When employees are just starting out with a company, they want to know they have a place there long-term. Show them they’re valuable by giving them an office upgrade for the day as a reward for exceptional performance.

As an HR professional, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what your employees want just from reading best practices. In addition to using ideas from this list, make sure you have conversations with your employees and ask them how you can make their time at the office just a little more pleasant on a day-to-day basis.

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