Employee incentive programs are the most direct methods of attracting and retaining professional talent. More creative and competitive employee incentives yield better bottom lines and greater business growth over time.
If you’re looking for creative ways to engage employees, look no further than our complete list of the 23 best employee incentive programs.
Continue reading to learn more about the importance of employee incentives, or jump straight to the list.
Employee Incentive Programs in 2020
Today’s employee incentive programs have to consider the wants and needs of the modern worker. Items such as paid transport, gyms and free coffee/tea may not be as viable as before, since almost every company offers them.
However, with employees becoming increasingly aware of the number of options available to them (in terms of job opportunities), companies are having to compete harder than ever to attract the best talent available.
To stand out, employers and managers need to modernize their approach to employee incentives, and think outside the box when creating employee incentive programs.
Do Employee Incentive Programs Work?
According to the statistics:
- 90% of the highest performing companies use incentives and rewards to retain and encourage employees.
- 99% of employees have unique reward preferences, which makes incentives a good alternative to a traditional reward system.
- 80% of employees prefer strong incentives over a bigger paycheck.
- 78% of employees are willing to remain with their current company due to the competitive perks and incentives it offers.
In addition to these stats, here is a table that simplifies the difference between companies that offer incentives, and those that don’t.
|OFFER INCENTIVES||DON'T OFFER INCENTIVES|
|Attract talented and self-aware professionals||Attract substandard, disengaged talent|
|Experience greater business growth in shorter times||Growth becomes stagnant and then nonexistent over time|
|Retain top talent due to employee loyalty||Experience poor retention rates and lack of employee loyalty|
|Become sustainable and self-reliant sooner||Often struggle with bottom lines, even after years in operation|
With better-incentivized employees, you can expect better engagement and superb retention in the long run.
Any modern enterprise can expect to face the current talent-attraction-and-retention challenges. This calls for unique employee incentive ideas that will appeal to any and all of your employees.
Here is a list of the top employee incentive programs that have the potential to stand the test of time.
1) Customized Paid Vacation
Paid-time off isn’t something new – the idea here is to provide your employees with a paid vacation to a location of their choice.
To do this, consider:
- Rotating a survey to find out employees’ preferred vacation spots and activities.
- Creating a customized itinerary based on each employee’s preferences.
- Allocating a dedicated (yearly) vacation budget to better manage finances in the long term.
By giving your employees a vacation of their choice, with their choice of activities included, you are making sure they stay with the company, hopeful for the next trip.
And the next spot to visit on their bucket list.
2) Green Transport Service
According to a relatively recent study, 76% of Millennials would prefer working for a company that was socially responsible – with a substantial amount even willing to take a pay cut to do so.
To go “green,” consider:
- Assembling a fleet of eco-friendly vehicles (hybrid/electric cars and buses, scooters etc.).
- Outsourcing your shuttle services to companies that use hybrid/electric buses.
- Creating awareness inside your company regarding the benefits of eco-friendly transport.
- Gradually transitioning to the use of solar energy.
A fleet of environment-friendly vehicles, dedicated to employee commuting services will portray your company as socially conscious.
As a result, it will help attract and keep ecologically responsible talent.
3) On-site Entertainment
One incentive that flies under the radar is a perfect environment.
Sure, a workplace usually comes equipped with all the necessities, but factors such as great ambience, or a place to unwind after working hard, are great incentives.
To add a productive dose of fun into the mix, consider:
- Compiling a list of entertainment choices (video games, board games, Netflix, company movie nights, etc.).
- Conducting a company-wide survey to gather a popular vote on the choices.
- Allocating an entertainment room with a separate section dedicated to each activity or game.
On-site entertainment will also prevent employees from losing focus while at their stations.
You can also advertise the entertainment center to attract further talent.
4) Unlimited Sick Leaves
At times, regardless of how dedicated an employee is, they may have to miss a few days, or even weeks, due to medical concerns.
A company that truly understands this, and implements proper measures to ensure the message, is bound to have higher employee retention.
To better accommodate employees, consider:
- Amending the current leaves program to cover an unlimited number of sick days off.
- Creating a work-management plan to manage the responsibilities of an employee taking consecutive days off. You could divide the on-leave employee’s tasks among fellow team members, or hire a freelancer to cover for the required number of days.
- Bonus: Providing a ‘back-to-work’ adjustment period of 2-3 days, during which an employee is delegated half their usual amount of work.
Offering unlimited sick leaves can compensate for lost time and effort, by inspiring employees to put in extra effort as a token of gratitude for the company.
It can also create an impression of humanitarian care on someone who is looking to join, but has a chronic health condition.
5) Free Online Skill Development Courses
Part of being a great manager or employer is recognizing great potential.
To help employees expand their skill sets and reach higher levels of professionalism, companies have to do more than encourage employees to learn.
They also have to provide employees with the means and resources to do so.
To help cultivate a culture of growth, consider:
- Subscribing to eLearning services that offer courses which can improve your employees’ existing skill sets.
- Setting course completion deadlines for each employee.
- Creating a secondary incentive by rewarding the employee for completing their courses. This could be done through an upgraded salary package, or a bonus amount, with the coinciding month’s check.
- Requesting employees to complete courses in areas related to their line of work.
Investing in online courses for employee skill development can increase the professional value of your employees.
You can have a skilled workforce while providing employees with free training that they would otherwise pay for.
6) Free eLearning Program
Expanding on the previous incentive idea, it can be extremely motivating for an employee to also receive access to educational material on their hobbies or passions.
Consider the following actions to provide employees with another route to personal growth:
- Subscribe to an open eLearning service (Udemy, Skillshare, etc.) or educational streaming service (Masterclass, CuriosityStream, etc.) for employees.
- Encourage them to take courses alongside their daily tasks, to expand their skills and knowledge in their areas of interest.
- Bonus: Allow employees some time during the day just to progress in their online courses.
Courses for subjects such as music, media production, languages, and even astronomy are often more affordable when purchased as a batch subscription.
Provide employees with the option to take any of the available courses, whenever they want.
7) One-on-One Mentorship
To deal with disengaged employees and develop healthy relationships, employers must establish individual connections with employees, rather than as departments or groups.
To do this, consider:
- Introducing one-on-one mentorship as part of an employee skill development plan.
- Hiring an industry leader or subject matter expert to provide valuable insights in one-on-one sessions.
- Developing a performance management program to provide employee feedback and guidance on how they can improve.
- Bonus: You, too, can fill this role if you have considerable experience in areas where employees may need mentoring.
Above all, one-on-one sessions instill confidence and a sense of individuality in employees, who will feel cared for and valued.
8) Fast Food Catering on Specific Weekdays
In our list of employee incentive programs so far, you begin to notice a trend: options.
Providing employees with customized options, and the consistent ability to influence how or what the company does in a given situation, will help boost employee morale and team chemistry.
This can be done on a major level all the way down to something simple – such as, food:
- Run a survey to find out which fast food spots employees usually visit, and shortlist the restaurants that offer catering for corporate events.
- Communicate with said restaurants and work out arrangements for catering services on particular work days.
- Rotate among the selected restaurants to maintain a variety.
Employees are bound to feel more comfort and familiarity with the workplace itself with this incentive in place.
NOTE: Free food in the workplace may prove expensive, depending on the number of employees. To circumvent cost-related issues, you can rotate fast-food-days between departments. For example, the Sales team could have their fast-food-day on the first Wednesday of the month, whereas the Marketing team could have theirs on the second Wednesday, and so on and so forth.
9) Free Healthy Snacks
Healthy snacks are gradually becoming more of a necessity than an incentive, but you can find a way to put your own twist on things.
For example, you could always introduce snacks, such as, mini yogurt bowls, fruit, seasonal smoothies etc.
Or, you could go one step further and have an expert prepare specific snacks tailored to your employees’ taste buds:
- Conduct a survey to determine employee preferences.
- Create a list of healthy snacks to be provided on a daily basis.
- Appoint a health-food expert cook to prepare said snacks, or purchase them pre-made.
- Create a new list every few weeks or months to maintain variety and keep employees from going back to junk food.
Additionally, this particular incentive can be used to project a more health and wellness-conscious image of the company to potential employees.
10) Stationery and Equipment Personalization
Work space personalization is a common trait among Millennials.
Along with allowing them to decorate their work space, you could also offer them options from custom designs to create their own printed stationery.
To accomplish this, you could:
- Hire a design studio or online design service to create custom stationary design options.
- Allow employees to create their own stationary designs using the aforementioned options.
- Get employees’ chosen designs printed on their stationary.
Extend personalization options to laptop skins, mugs, mouse pads, and other desk fixtures for an even better employee incentive.
11) Health and Wellness Programs
One way for an employer to show they care – is to show they care.
As a manager/employer, an employee’s health is a valuable asset to you. Investing in health and wellness programs will make sure that asset is well taken care of in the long term.
This can be done by:
- Creating a health program dedicated to holistic health practices and general employee wellness.
- Hiring a wellness expert to conduct group health sessions on a weekly basis.
- Working with the wellness expert to create customized fitness goals for each employee.
- Bonus: Introducing this program along with the healthy snacks idea for a more complete, health-based incentive package.
With such a program in place, employees will be more confident, sharper, and more active at tackling work-related challenges.
12) Club and Society Membership
A great way to foster employee engagement is to contribute towards balancing their work and personal lives.
This can be done through helping improve the quality of their time spent away from work – rather than just while at it.
To do this, consider:
- Purchasing corporate memberships in sports and entertainment clubs for monthly visits. Make sure membership packages include a variety of gaming and entertainment offerings.
- Enrolling employees in exclusive book clubs, gaming societies, or other specific groups related to their hobbies or interests.
- Providing company-maintained gym, yoga, or spa memberships.
Additionally, you can also create clubs and groups within the company by surveying common interests.
This will allow employees to enjoy activities they wouldn’t usually have access to on a daily basis.
13) Rest and Relaxation Rooms
The Japanese were the first to introduce the concept of ‘Inemuri’, or taking naps while at work.
Google made the practice more mainstream with its futuristic ‘sleep pods’.
These sleep pods provided a number of relaxing stimuli to help employees re-energize themselves during long shifts.
While such investments may not be an option for every employer, there are ways to capture the same benefits:
- Designate a room or section of the office dedicated to resting/napping.
- Encourage employees to take short, scheduled naps during work.
- If office space is limited, allow employees to nap comfortably at their stations.
Besides increasing the overall performance of employees, allowing short nap breaks may shorten brainstorming and decision-making periods – leading to more efficient operations.
14) Streaming Service Subscriptions
While this may not be a ground breaking incentive program for employees – it is one less thing an employee has to worry about maintaining.
Any factor that helps take financial strain off an employee, regardless of how big or small, is icing on the cake.
Especially in this case, where it also provides them with a source of entertainment.
To implement this, consider:
- Allocating a section of the incentive budget to streaming service subscriptions.
- Creating a list of service options for employees to choose from, such as Netflix, HBO, Crunchyroll, etc.
- Providing them with a free subscription of the service of their choice for their entire tenure.
This can build a company culture around being informed about various media channels, and encourage discussions regarding favorite movies/TV shows, which fosters effective communication between employees.
You can also use this incentive to generate interest towards documentaries or informative content that provide skill development or personal growth.
15) Department/Team Activities
Focusing on improving team chemistry can help boost employee engagement, and ultimately, improve employee retention.
Consider the following to create an environment that encourages teamwork:
- Each month, dedicate one day to various group sports/games, and team-building activities.
- Arrange team-based activities and games as a permanent part of the team culture.
- Include such activities in the overall employee engagement plan.
- Encourage employees to discuss their projects and tasks with one another, and seek each other’s input.
These activities can be scaled up to include departments, and even branches of a business (if applicable).
16) Gamification of Tasks
‘Gamification’ is more than a buzzword these days.
When it comes to internal operations, it is quickly evolving into the modus operandi of many companies around the world.
To catch up with the trend, consider the following:
- Turn either a certain part of a product life cycle, or the entire time spent in the office, into a game-like process.
- Light gamification can include a point system for completing tasks and rewards for quicker completion, etc.
- Deeper gamification can include actual video game references (quests, checkpoints, power-ups and progressively more complex tasks).
You can choose the depth of the gamification you implement, which will usually depend on the general age demographic of the office (i.e., younger employees benefiting more from deeper gamification).
17) Profit Sharing Among Employees
A ‘profit-sharing’ model is different from a commission-based one, in that, all net profits are shared equally among employees.
Furthermore, such models can help boost efficiency, dedication to task completion, and encourage employees to seek out more responsibilities.
To implement profit-sharing model, consider:
- Working with the finance department to determine an appropriate shareable percentage of incoming profits.
- Setting a company-wide percentage standard that increases on an annual/bi-annual basis.
- Encouraging better performance among employees with the prospect of bigger payouts as a result of the profit sharing model.
IMPORTANT: This model is better for small to medium-sized enterprises, as the shared sums grow larger with increasing employee numbers.
18) Working Remotely, Whenever
One of the best ways to retain employees is to eliminate inconvenience.
Whether an employee is sick, having car trouble, or is just having one of those days and would rather work from bed – create an unlimited work-from-home policy to accommodate.
To do this, consider:
- Providing laptops, iPads, and other portable devices to help employees efficiently work from home.
- Investing in online conferencing software such as Zoom, RingCentral Meetings, etc., to compensate for employees working remotely.
- Working with remote employees to create weekly plans to ensure the efficient execution of their tasks.
This will allow employees to take initiative, while also allowing employers to demonstrate their trust.
Unrestricted telecommuting (work-from-home) will also attract top talent that may be located in a different city or country.
IMPORTANT: Treat remote employees the same as in-person ones, as distance already creates a barrier between collaboration and team-based exercises – and you don’t want to further distance the former from the company.
19) Elimination of Degree Requirements
More and more companies are beginning to overlook the educational history of a prospect or employee, and placing emphasis on skills, experience, and ultimately, what they can do for the company.
To expand the pool of potential employees, consider:
- Removing the college degree requirement from job ads and prospectus.
- Introducing a talent-based job admittance system, where prospects are tested on their problem-solving and organizational skills.
- Creating greater acceptance for non-conventional study backgrounds and vocational diplomas.
In the long run, it can be fruitful to emphasize applicable talent instead of degrees and similar qualifications.
You can always develop, or perfect, skills on the job through training, mentorship, and hands-on experience.
21) Unlimited Medical Insurance Coverage
This is a prime incentive program for employees to develop confidence in you as an employer/manager.
It will also make employees feel protected while employed to your company, thereby retaining them for longer.
To provide unlimited medical insurance coverage to employees, consider:
- Creating an in-house (employee-owned) insurance offering that covers EVERY mild to serious illness and/or condition.
- Providing coverage for pre-existing conditions.
- Extending the insurance to cover the family members of employees, if financially possible.
Providing employees incentives that cover all aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle will establish a team of focused, energetic, and driven professionals.
21) Vehicle Financing Assistance
Another effective financial incentive – vehicular financing assistance should allow employees to attain their vehicle of choice, with the company serving as a reliable co-payer.
To assist employees with vehicle financing, consider:
- Setting up an automobile financing assistance plan that covers a percentage of the required payments.
- Including the co-payment amount in the employees’ salary.
- BONUS: Approaching a number of automobile dealerships with custom plans to collaborate on financing services.
- Selecting the dealership(s) that offers the most affordable payment plans.
IMPORTANT: The amount the company provides as co-payment should not be deducted from an employee’s salary, since that would defeat the purpose of the incentive. If a deduction has to be made, it should be minor, so as to still provide some advantage.
22) Consumer Goods Financing Assistance
Employee incentive programs that offer financial assistance can help boost company appreciation, and help retain employees in the long run.
To offer a more complete financial assistance program, employers can diversify their portfolio by including consumer goods with vehicles and healthcare.
To do this, consider:
- Creating a custom financing, in-house plan, for gadgets and appliances, such as cameras, phones, computers, etc.
Talented workers may join the company just to receive these flexible benefits plans, and stay for other potential incentives.
23) Student Loan Debt Assistance
Helping employees relieve themselves of such a financial burden will not only help them become more dedicated to the company, but also improve the overall quality of their lives.
To help employees free themselves of student loan debt, consider:
- Creating a monthly or annual student debt relief plan for all employees, regardless of the amount owed.
- Tying the repayment assistance program with their regular salary, or provide a monthly/annual amount for the same purpose.
- Taking advantage of third-party repayment assistance services to make processing, and documentation, easier.
Companies such as FutureFuel provide top-notch repayment support – streamlining the assistance program and making it hassle-free.
With 60% of all students and fresh graduates owing some amount in student loans, the need for repayment assistance is dire.
Perhaps the most important draw for younger workers, student loan repayment assistance is a creative employee incentive idea and retention method.
Employee incentive programs in 2019 have to be creative, as well as, sustainable in the long term, with plenty of room for modification according to changing employee demands.
Considering this, managers, business owners, and HR staff have to prioritize retention-related strategies, of which incentives form a major part.
To that end, employee incentive programs should cover medical insurance and expenses, the creation of an ideal work environment, genuine action towards achieving work-life balance, and all-around assistance with personal and professional growth.