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15 Innovative Ways Small Businesses Can Reward Top Performers

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

Rewarding top-performing employees can benefit both your employees and your bottom line. Learn 15 ways you can reward your staff.

Rewarding employees is often misinterpreted as dishing out financial incentives, but solely looking at it this way can result in shrinking bottom lines. That's why an effective employee rewards strategy looks beyond financial barriers. Employee recognition is an art, and the best form of recognition is to make your team feel valued, respected and appreciated. There are several ways to recognize a job well done.

Importance of employee rewards

Recognizing and rewarding employees for a job well done is not only beneficial to your staff, but it can also benefit your bottom line. When employees feel like their hard work is recognized, it encourages them to work even harder. Showing your appreciation by rewarding employees can also increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and reduce employee turnover. [Read related article: 12 Reasons Employees Quit (and How to Prevent It)]

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15 ways to award top performers

A few words of appreciation given at the right moment, or a thank-you card conveying your gratitude, can help keep your workforce in high spirits. Here are 15 innovative ideas to reward your top performers without burning a hole in your pocket.

1. Offer flexible hours.

Reward your top performers by allowing them freedom to come to the office at any time for a week or two. Allowing employees to self-manage their work schedule is a testimony of your confidence in their abilities. Rest assured, flexibility in working hours is one reward that anyone would accept with a smile.

2. Award plum assignments.

"Plum assignment" translates to a desirable role or coveted responsibility. It's a great idea to honor top performers by offering them the privilege to choose their next project. It would not only make the employees feel valued, but also bring the best out of their caliber.

3. Allow an extra day off.

All working professionals love holidays, especially after working tirelessly for a few consecutive days to meet strict project deadlines. So, announce an additional day off for your best performers as a reward for their vigorous efforts. No doubt, an unexpected holiday during the middle of a busy week will come as a pleasant surprise.

4. Offer a paid vacation.

Perhaps an innovative idea proposed by an employee streamlined a process. Imagine it not only saved a considerable amount of manual effort, but reduced operational costs. You are not keen to introduce the culture of financial incentives, but consider the achievement to be exceptional. What could be the ideal reward to compliment such an amazing achievement?

Exceptional performances deserve superior rewards. Reward your exceptional performers with a paid trip to a location of their choice. Yes, it can be a little expensive, but you should treat this as an investment rather than expenditure. It would send the right message to your employees and inspire them to work harder.

Did you know?Did you know? When considering situations like these, you should write them into your companywide PTO policy so it is clear days like these won't be deducted from your employees' accrued time off.

5. Offer breakfast with the boss.

The main idea of rewarding employees is to make them feel special. Personally invite your special talent for a one-on-one breakfast. To make the occasion stand out, you can designate yourself as the waiter, serving their favorite dishes. It might feel a little awkward at first, but the onus is on you to handle the situation with grace and humor.

6. Gift tickets for a sports event.

Who doesn't love to watch a competitive sports event live? It's a bonus if the game involves a team or a player you admire. It's even better when someone else is paying for your tickets. So, reward your star performers with tickets to a sporting event of their choice.

What if they are not particularly interested in sports? In that case, you can offer tickets for a concert, movie or art exhibition. Just make sure that the reward is suited to the taste of your employee.

7. Make them CEO for a day.

Swap desks with your employee for a day as a reward for their outstanding contribution. Take your seat in the employee's cubicle, while letting your star performer work from the comfort of the boss's cabin. Of course, that doesn't mean interchanging of tasks and responsibilities, but it gives your employee a chance to get the taste of what it feels like at the top.

8. Create a thank-you video.

It can be one of the most thoughtful rewards to honor your special talent. Create a video to congratulate your star performer and upload it on your official website. Make sure to include congratulatory notes and appreciations from the company director, CEO or MD.

TipTip: Create a thank-you video and post it on YouTube so that the employee can share it with their family and friends.

9. Write a LinkedIn recommendation.

A LinkedIn recommendation can be an awesome idea to reward your top performer publicly. Let the company leadership write a few lines of appreciation on the employee's LinkedIn profile while highlighting their achievements. It's a great way to express your gratitude while promoting your employee's career at the same time.

10. Get featured in the news.

Run a press release in your local newspaper to spread the news about your employee's success. The press release should cover finer details about your star performer's achievements along with a nice photograph. Don't let anyone know about your plan until the paper gets published. Once the paper is printed, grab a copy and paste it on top of your notice board. Better yet, frame the newspaper clipping and present it to your employee by the end of the day.

11. Give them a thoughtful gift.

If you want to tailor the reward to the individual, you can give your star performer a thoughtful gift that matches their interests or desires. Find out what their hobbies or interests are and choose a gift that reflects them. For example, you might buy a temperature-controlled smart mug for a coffee lover, or a box of pet accessories and treats for the one who can't stop talking about Fido.

12. Donate to their nonprofit of choice.

Make a donation to an employee's nonprofit of choice as a way to reward their hard work. This is an excellent reward option, especially for the socially conscious employees. You can choose a dollar amount that fits within your budget, and let the employee choose the nonprofit or charity. This is also a good way to demonstrate your company's dedication to corporate social responsibility.

13. Write a handwritten note of appreciation.

This may seem simple and unassuming, but composing a handwritten note of appreciation for your employees can go a long way. Be thoughtful in your words and cater the note to the employee's specific achievements.

FYIFYI: If you decide to write a handwritten note of appreciation, you should make sure not to write a generic, cookie-cutter note, as this will come across as insincere.

14. Add them to a wall of fame.

Create a wall of fame to recognize your top performers. This type of reward is similar to an "employee of the month" achievement, although you can award it at any cadence you want (e.g., monthly, quarterly or annually). The wall of fame should be reserved for only your best performers as a way to memorialize their achievements.

15. Host an offsite event.

An offsite event is a great way to reward multiple employees or teams at once. Consider using this reward in addition to others, and host offsite events when teams or departments meet important goals. This can also be a great way to promote team bonding. However, be sure to ask your employees what type of event interests them so they don't feel forced into something they don't want to do.

Final words

Employee rewards are a way to set your top performers apart from the rest. This lets your workforce know that their hard work is being recognized. Above all, it acts as a catalyst to improve motivation and inspires your employees to achieve greater success in their professional lives.

If you partner with a top professional employer organization (PEO), be sure to inquire about its employee benefits and rewards programs, as it might already have ideas on what you can offer. Most PEOs can help you develop employee goals and rewards programs.

Jack Dsons contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
business.com Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.