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How to Reward Employees for Free

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Every successful manager knows this: employees are the backbone of your organization. As such, preserving an exceptional team should be of utmost importance. One great way to show your appreciation for your top performers is by rewarding them - all without the involvement of money.

Published on:
February 3, 2019
Illustrations by:
Written by:
Eddy Lim

Every successful manager knows this: employees are the backbone of your organization. As such, preserving an exceptional team should be of utmost importance. One great way to show your appreciation for your top performers is by rewarding them - all without the involvement of money.

At its core, this boils down to simple science. Rewarding outstanding employees reinforces the repetition of their positive behavior, increasing their overall productivity while reinforcing your firm’s vision. But at their fullest potential, rewards can offer more than just a fatter cheque in the bank.

Intrinsic motivation

is the key term here. It refers to an individual acting without the influence of extrinsic rewards. Money, arguably the most common extrinsic reward, has always been a good temporary motivator. However, a study by Edward Deci discovered that using money as an incentive eventually resulted in a consistently negative effect on intrinsic motivation – particularly when the tasks were enjoyable and interesting.

Why does this happen?

Once we’re conditioned to receive an extrinsic reward for our efforts, the task we’re doing often feels over-justified, reducing our internal drive to complete similar projects. Gone is our initiative to complete the work we used to enjoy, instead replaced by obligations to pay the bills and worry about the mortgage.

Employers need to invent creative ways to reward their employees with cashless benefits. There are many ways to do this, but we’ve devised a few simple and practical ways to spark your imagination.


Recognition in the workplace is one of the most important methods to reinforce your organization’s values and culture. Here are some of our favorite ways to recognize your top workers.

  • Create a wall of fame in the break room
  • . Give your employees a goal to achieve, and post their photo onto a DIY board when they’ve outdone themselves. It’s a fun and easy project that gives employees something to aim for.
  • Write them a LinkedIn recommendation
  • . Akin to a hand-written note of thanks, a personalized endorsement lets your employees (and their connections) know that you appreciate their efforts.
  • Print a certificate of achievement
  • . Have a “grand” awards ceremony to present certificates to your top performers. The cornier, the better.

Fostering company culture

A vibrant work culture promotes a positive working environment. Having employees who love their job makes the work easier for both management and subordinates.

  • Have a potluck lunch
  • . Get your employees to bring in a dish they’re proud of. The focus of the event is the camaraderie, not so much the food.
  • Choose a team service project
  • . As an organization, have a vote on a community volunteering activity. Spend the entire working day on this project.
  • Exclusive parking spots
  • . An absolutely classic reward, leave the best parking lots as prime real estate for your top performers.

Make work feel like play

Take the time to refresh the working attitudes of your employees – remind them why they love their job in the first place. Time flies when you’re having fun.

  • Gamify your workplace.
  • Gamification is a great hands-on way to get your staff involved. Offer rewards like an extra off day, a longer lunch break, or even a hand-delivered meal from the company president. An engaged employee is a productive employee. At Arcade, it’s our goal to ensure all your hires are performing at their best.
  • Ease up on the dress code
  • . Break down the walls between management and staff by allowing a degree of freedom in their dress.
  • Bring your pet to work day
  • . Everyone loves animals. There’s no better way to brighten up the entire office than bringing in your favorite furry friend.

Nurturing independence

Offering your employees a greater degree of freedom establishes trust between both of you. Building trust lets employees know you have a long-term place for them in your organization.

  • Have flexible work hours
  • . If an employee has circumstances that require their attention, offer a solution that works for both of you.
  • Offer work-from-home days
  • . If an employee performs exceptionally well and isn’t required to be in the office, let them work from the comfort of their home.
  • Let an employee take point on a project
  • . Hand the reins over to a top performer. Doing this boosts their confidence and presents lasting career growth to them.

Bonus: Rewards that cost just a little bit of money

Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Here are a few ideas that won't break the bank.

  • Improve your work environment
  • . Buy better coffee and snacks. Standing desks are a great option for those who prefer an active lifestyle.
  • Offer vouchers or discounts for common creature comforts
  • . Movie tickets, pizza, wine, you name it. The more the merrier.
  • Host a team-building activity
  • . Spend a day go-karting, paintballing or even hiking. Reduce work-related conversation to an absolute minimum.

In summary:

Cash isn’t always king

. There are virtually infinite ways to reward your employees without spending a dime. Even small gestures like a hand-written note can go a long way in making sure your employees feel appreciated and recognized.

A positive, fun-filled working environment can work wonders in increasing employee morale, productivity, and engagement. Engaged employees understand their place in your firm and their future in it. In turn, their commitment will drive your business forward.

Remember: "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."

We’re all about employee engagement at Arcade. We strive to make sure all your team members are constantly performing at their best.

Click here to see how Arcade can enhance your work environment.

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