HR Management & Compliance

Nonmonetary Forms of Employee Recognition

While we may assume that all employees would appreciate more money, it’s not the only way to provide recognition and thanks for a job well done. In fact, many employees would prefer to have their efforts recognized in other ways. And from a practical standpoint, there often isn’t enough money in the budget to use extra compensation as the primary form of employee recognition. How can an employer continue to motivate top performers when more money isn’t an option?

Nonmonetary Options

Here are some options for employers who are looking for nonmonetary forms of recognition or simply looking for ways to show all employees they are valued and appreciated. Naturally, many of these are not completely free, but they’re ways to show recognition without upping the compensation budget.

  • Provide the option to work flexible hours.
  • Allow telecommuting some or all of the time for roles that will accommodate it.
  • Allow employees to leave early or come in late in a given week.
  • Set up employee development programs and ensure those with high potential know how to take advantage of everything the programs have to offer. Examples include
    • In-house training, including cross-training and mentoring;
    • Tuition reimbursement programs;
    • External certification or other job-related training; and/or
    • Online training, such as interactive videos and seminars.
  • Give verbal recognition in a public way, such as during a team meeting.
  • Train managers and supervisors to be sure they’re giving frequent positive feedback (and not solely negative feedback). Train them to be specific in the feedback as well, to encourage the behaviors to continue.
  • Set aside preferred parking spaces for employees who are being recognized that month.
  • Set aside preferred office spaces for high-performing employees. Alternatively, allow an employee to temporarily swap office space with a higher-level individual (someone with a preferred space) for a week or month.
  • Have days where the company provides lunch or dessert for the whole team. If practical, consider taking the team off-site for lunch.
  • Thank employees with a card or note from the supervisor (or from someone above their immediate supervisor). Increase the value of the gesture by having the note be handwritten.
  • Make a note in the employee’s personnel file that outlines his or her exemplary performance. This can be a record for future supervisors to see.
  • Host activities or events that are just for fun, such as simple games or times for employees to socialize while still in the work setting.
  • Create a mentoring program with other employees in the organization.
  • Celebrate milestone events (both for the company and individual employees) such as birthdays, work anniversaries, and even major project completions.
  • Host teambuilding activities.
  • Publish individual and team accomplishments, either in companywide communications, on the internal website, or in the company newsletter.
  • Give out prizes instead of money. While this does closely correlate to monetary recognition, it’s not the same as increasing pay; it’s a one-time recognition that has a special value, such as dinner at a nice restaurant. This type of recognition can be valued for more than the prize is worth in cash. Besides restaurants, other examples include movie tickets, spa gift certificates, classes, outdoor activities, or concert tickets.
  • Relax the dress code, if appropriate. This can show employees that they’re free to be themselves.
  • Allow individuals to have more input in the projects they work on, either by allowing them to pick their next project or allowing them to hand off their least favorite project.
  • Allow employees to attend industry conferences (paid for by the company), or pay for a membership to a relevant trade or industry association.
  • Give more responsibility. This may seem counterintuitive, but in many cases employees are frustrated if they’re unable to live up to their potential in the workplace—it can be very rewarding to be given more responsibility (within reason, of course!). Doing so can show trust and instill a sense of accomplishment.
  • Reduce supervision. When an employee or team has proven they’re highly capable, sometimes the best reward is to be trusted to continue performing well without as much oversight.
  • Award additional days off, above and beyond the standard number of PTO days. This one is especially useful as recognition when an employee has been working extra hours to complete a project.
  • Designate a formal recognition program of some sort, such as employee of the month. Alternatively, designate a different type of visual recognition, such as a “leader board” (if applicable).
  • Allow high-performing individuals or teams to take paid days to volunteer at some project that is not related to work.

Bear in mind, not all of these items will be applicable for all situations. Many are great forms of recognition for a job well done; others are simply perks that can show employees they’re appreciated and don’t necessarily have to be used for recognition of a specific individual.

What are some of the nonmonetary ways your organization recognizes star employees?

**This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.**


About Bridget Miller:

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.

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