Employee reward and recognition ideas - on a budget

12 minute read | Jane McNeill - | Article | Leadership People and culture Retention | Workforce management

Man at desk in work space talking to colleague

When budgets are tight, how can you reward your employees? Consider the many different forms of staff recognition, to reward your top performers. 


Employee recognition: key insights

Offering a programme of rewards and recognition is a proven strategy to motivate employee performance. In doing so, you can enjoy:

  • Employee engagement and retention benefits
  • A positive work environment, wherein employees feel acknowledged
  • Improved results, by celebrating and incentivising successful behaviours

Yet, as budgets come under scrutiny, financial rewards are not always available. Regardless of monetary restraints, consider the following employee recognition examples and ideas:

  • Progression opportunities: from training courses to promotions
  • Flexible working schemes: additional holiday or more flexible hours
  • Public celebrations and congratulations: positive attitudes to demonstrate appreciation

If you’re seeking inspiration for your employee reward and recognition program, explore our attraction and engagement advisory services. Or get in touch with a member of our team. 


Our experience with staff reward programs

We have worked with countless jobseekers who seek a new opportunity with demonstrable staff rewards. Many job seekers feel underappreciated in their current roles. Employee recognition programs can often form the deciding factor for sought-after candidates. 

We’ve also worked with managers facing challenging budget cuts. Unable to offer a bonus or a raise, managers can be left unsure of how to offer suitable recognition to employees. 

For many employees, non-financial benefits are just as important as the monetary component of any staff recognition program. In fact, many employees prefer non-financial forms of recognition.

After all, a little appreciation can go a long way. In our experience, less costly forms of showing employee recognition can be just as effective as financial bonuses. 

Taking the time to acknowledge good performance is likely to result in a more considered and personal approach. As such, some non-financial staff rewards are actually a more effective way of recognising employee achievements.


Nine ways to recognise employees’ top performance when budgets are tight


1. Ask for feedback to personalise your reward scheme

Firstly, it’s important to identify and recognise what motivates each individual member of the team. Good recognition starts with gaining feedback from your employees. 

Not everyone is motivated by the same things. So staff feedback can help to shape an employee rewards package that will motivate your team. Open a dialogue with your employees and invite them to identify which non-financial recognition and rewards they would prefer.

Based on your team’s feedback, personalise the recognition you offer to match the motivations and preferences of each individual employee.


2. Say ‘thank you’

A genuine and heartfelt ‘thank you’ can be highly motivating and increases an employee’s feeling of appreciation. For even this simple form of recognition, tailor your approach for the employee in question:

  • Public thanks: Some employees find it very satisfying to receive formal public recognition. 
  • One-to-one feedback: Other staff prefer a deliberate ‘thank you’ in a smaller team or one-on-one meeting. 
  • A team email or thank you note: Written recognition messages offer other options to acknowledge an employee for their hard work.

In any format, offer words of gratitude to an employee for their efforts. Staff will appreciate your acknowledgement of the value they’ve added to the team or organisation. This example of employee recognition shows you’ve noticed someone’s success and also value their contribution. A simple ‘thank you’ shows that you understand an employee’s effort is worthwhile and important.


3. Recognise employees publicly, on social media

Many modern employee recognition programmes also use internal social media to recognise employees who go the extra mile. You may use recognition-specific tools or apps, or look to public platforms like LinkedIn.

Managers and peers can single out high performance and display results on the staff intranet or organisation’s social channels. This means of recognition allows anyone and everyone to witness your team’s hard work.

Beyond rewarding hard work and success, you may also want to celebrate a work anniversary publicly. Showing appreciation and celebrating long-term achievements can motivate your team and demonstrate a positive company culture.


4. Offer career progression opportunities

For employees who are already highly motivated, consider offering unique professional development opportunities. Help an employee to reach their goals with a personalised progression plan, as a way to recognise outstanding performance. 

Take time to sit with an employee after their annual review to determine how they can prepare for a future promotion. Helping to improve employees’ prospects can be a very meaningful reward idea. 

This employee recognition example demonstrates that you are invested in your team’s future. It also acknowledges your staff’s strong performance in the here and now.


5. Assign more challenging tasks 

Not everyone is motivated by a promotional pathway. Instead, inspire employee engagement and enthusiasm by assigning more challenging or varied work. An opportunity to expand their skills can be a valuable employee reward idea. 

Consider giving your staff the opportunity to lead a project or scope out an opportunity for growth.

6. Consider merit-based promotions

Continue to acknowledge and action merit-based promotions, even when budgets are tight. Even if you cannot offer a pay rise, you should honour any prearranged commitment to promote an employee. It’s important to demonstrate the benefits of meeting the targets and objectives required to qualify for advancement. 

If you fail to recognise agreed achievements, you risk demotivating an employee who has worked hard for a promotion. 

Cutting back on promotions could potentially create an engagement and retention risk. Furthermore, this approach could have wider-reaching effects, harming your employer brand and reputation in your market.


7. Recommend learning and development opportunities

No one wants to feel that their skills are stagnating. Therefore, offering ongoing learning and development opportunities is a popular way of recognizing employees’ great work. Employee recognitions ideas of this ilk include:

  • Coaching
  • Mentorship
  • The chance to sit in on important meetings
  • Cross-collaboration with other departments
  • Stretch opportunities

Invite staff to take on additional responsibilities to aid their longer-term career. Your team can learn new skills, hone others, and gain exposure that will aid their promotional prospects. This approach can also help your staff to do their existing job even better. 

As a bonus, offering staff recognition through training and development can also benefit your company. You can encourage the development of skills that are in short supply within your team. This approach will help you to overcome any skill gaps, which is a win-win for both you and your employee.


8. Reward employees with flexible working options

Flexible working options are very important to today’s skilled professionals. Many people have experienced remote working and have come to see the benefits that it offers.

But flexible working does not only encompass remote working. You could also consider rewarding a top performer with flexible working hours or flexible leave options. Part-time employment and job sharing are other examples of flexible working in action.

Of course, not all workplaces can offer all these strategies. But, for those that can, flexible working is a strong benefit to provide in lieu of financial reward.


9. Encourage a positive work-life balance 

For many people, receiving additional time off can be highly rewarding. After all, if time is money, this alternative employee reward idea could be an ideal compromise when financial rewards are unavailable.

You could offer a top performer the opportunity to take an afternoon off or enjoy a long weekend. Offering an additional day of annual leave each year is another option. 

Such staff rewards help your employees to feel that you recognise their efforts. This approach can also offer an opportunity for staff to rejuvenate. As such, additional leave is a welcome reward for team members who have just completed a complex or all-encompassing project. Allowing an employee time off to spend on social or leisure activities can improve their work ethic upon their return.


Employee recognition: next steps for your business

Final points to keep in mind when shaping your employee reward and recognition programme:

  • When considering how to reward your staff, remember that recognition can come from many people. Combine appreciation from the managing director or department head, peers and even customers.
  • The level of reward you give an employee should correspond to the performance you wish to recognise and encourage. A free coffee can acknowledge a quick win gained by handling a customer inquiry in a particular way. Whereas an afternoon off is more appropriate for a team who worked overtime to meet a set deadline.
  • Be clear about what you are recognising someone for. Acknowledge their results, but also recognise how they went about achieving success. Clarification will reinforce the behaviours that led to the reward-worthy outcome. As a result, you can encourage others to achieve a similar result.
  • Recognition should also be fair. There should be a clear criterion for staff rewards. Employees must understand exactly what is required to qualify for recognition.

To discuss employee reward and recognition programmes in more detail, speak to a member of our local team

Or explore our attraction and engagement advisory services.


About this author

Jane McNeill, Director, Hays Australia, joined Hays in 1987 after graduating with an MA (Hons) in Psychology from Edinburgh University. She spent 11 years recruiting senior permanent professionals for London’s banking and finance sector. Her extensive experience in recruitment led her to learn exactly what sort of recognition employees look for in a job. 

Jane quickly progressed through management roles and, in 1992, she was appointed Director.

Having transferred to Perth in 2001, Jane grew Hays’ business in Western Australia from a team of 15 to nearly 250 staff. She also established and managed Hays’ banking & financial services business.

She was appointed to the Hays Australia & New Zealand management board in 2007. Jane oversees Hays’ operations in both NSW and WA. She is responsible for 400 staff located in two states. At the same time, she retains her keen interest in banking & financial services recruitment. 

articleId- 49508730, groupId- 20151