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Can’t Give a Big Raise? Raise the Bar on Incentives.

Hands reaching out for rewards

We get it; money is pretty awesome. And employees generally love it. Yet if you’re a manager, you need to think outside the bank. Because a) sometimes raises aren’t possible for everyone, b) they typically happen once a year, and c) other incentives can keep a team highly motivated outside of the review period.

Here are five creative recognition ideas you can stash in your desk drawer that have nothing to do with a salary increase. Pull one out when a top performer needs a tip of the cap.

Listen for a rewarding experience

Many companies today are looking at compensation through a whole different lens. (Hey, it’s a talent market!) Take PR agency N6A, which developed a system they call Pace Points that allows employees to choose what’s most important to them. Rewards cover categories as varied as travel, health, and quality of life and include rewards like a decked out company-owned house for the weekend, working out with a celebrity trainer, and free groceries for a month.

This kind of customization is important as it lets your team feel heard and be seen and feel heard. In our recent Talent Ignition Report, 48% of the nearly 4,000 creative, marketing, design, and dev folks surveyed cite lack of managerial support as the number one reason they are dissatisfied with their jobs. A rewards system allows you to listen to what’s most important to your team and find a strategy to support them in ways other than a bump in their paycheck.


Give them some space

Another biggie with today’s employees is flexibility, second only to compensation. (We dug into this here.) So, what about offering a work-from-home incentive? Remote work has skyrocketed, with more than 25% of the workforce working at home at least occasionally and 15% working solely at home, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bonus: A new study revealed that people working from home are more productive. In the research, remote workers put in an average of 1.4 days more every month. Not to mention they save more than $4,500 on gas annually and even squeeze in an extra 25 minutes of gym time every week.

Say yes to self-care

Mental health plays a big role in the workplace. When employees feel good, they are more focused, and when they’re more focused, they do a better job. Encourage your gold stars to take a self-care day once in a while. Maybe they’ll get head to the spa, hit the links, meet up with an old friend, read a new book at their local coffee shop, or simply catch up on laundry, bills, organizing the playroom, or other life stuff. Of course, it’s important for employees to take care of themselves while at work too. Try bringing in a masseuse for some shoulder and neck stress relief, or a manicurist, which they might not otherwise have time for. Even having a designated quiet room to decompress or take a cat nap can be huge. (Need more inspiration? Here are some other at-the-office ideas.)

Switch up the day-to-day

Sometimes your staff can get in a rut. We’ve all been there. It can feel like Groundhog Day as you do the same thing, day in and day out. Try serving up different opportunities for top performers. Maybe it’s leading the hot-off-the-presses project, seeing what it’s like to work in a different department, or learning a skill they haven’t mastered before. Graphic designer Helen Vo took advantage of a three-week job swap at her company PaperCut to dip her pixels into the product design world. “Everyone wants to grow and become a better version of themselves”, she says. Also think about a coaching app like Prosper, which offers employees live 30-minute sessions that end with micro-steps of how to learn and grow.

Go big and go away from home

Did you know the World Health Organization has officially recognized corporate burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”? Companies are trying to combat this in different ways, and one of the more effective is ensuring employees get a change of scenery every now and then. Technology company FullContact decided to not only give staff paid vacation days but to actually pay for their vacations too! Every employee is entitled to $7,500 a year toward travel. And yes, there is a catch. You have to completely check out—no email, no Slack, no work for your whole trip. The costs for this reward are, of course, higher, so you might want to think of it as a one-time bonus that scores high on the satisfaction scale of your best and brightest.


As you can tell, if you use your imagination, you can offer your team a lot of different ways to stay in “lIke” with their job and with the team. It seems simple, but trying to understand them as people and providing rewards and incentives that speak to their individual lives can go a long way. Think about what you would value most and go from there. And, of course, ask your staff!

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