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8 Best Employee Incentive Program Ideas to Inspire Your Teams

September 13, 2022

Employee incentive programs aren't a nice-to-have—they're a need-to-have. 

Let's face it: work is hard. There's no getting around it. Employees show up and put in their time ~260 days a year, and (no matter what kind of job or industry) it eventually starts to take a toll.

Less than 36% of employees report being engaged at work, and it's been that way for decades. With record-low unemployment, getting fired takes hard work. "To hold down a job these days, a worker seemingly needs one essential trait: a pulse," says Callum Borchers, a writer at The Wall Street Journal.

But employees and employers want more than that—you want more than that. While a paycheck and health benefits are top priorities, they're not all that matters. According to Gartner, employees increasingly want to:

  • Feel valued
  • Create an impact
  • Be acknowledged
  • Be empowered
  • Feel trusted
  • Be respected

Fortunately, you have the power to make that happen.

You can take steps to boost engagement and make your work environment a better place. And one way to do that is with employee incentive programs.


What is an Employee Incentive Program?

An employee incentive program is a system designed to motivate and reward employees for meeting business and personal goals. Now, these are extra perks. Employees receive a salary and benefits just for showing up and doing their job—employee incentive programs inspire your workforce to go above and beyond their job descriptions.

There are no one-size-fits-all goals or incentives. The purpose, scope, and rewards will all be specific to your unique industry, situation, and workforce.

For example, your employees might be overworking themselves and neglecting their health, and the sick days could add up and lead to long-term burnout and attrition. A wellness incentive program could inspire your employees to participate in a daily steps or healthy-eating challenge by rewarding them with gym passes, health gadgets, or meal box subscriptions.


Do Employee Incentive Programs Work?

Employee incentive programs can be a powerful culture-building tool. However, they're not a standalone fix-all solution. Incentives won't cover up a toxic work environment or internal problems that need fixing. 

But, used in conjunction with open feedback and communication (and a leadership team that cares), employee incentive programs can provide plenty of benefits:

  • Drive engagement and productivity
  • Boost employee morale and satisfaction
  • Decrease employee turnover
  • Improve health and wellness
  • Build your brand

Employee incentive programs best work when you tie the incentive to the behavior. That's easier said than done, and you'll need to do some work to identify the right program fit.

For example, if your sales team underperformed last quarter, a hiring referral program or wellness initiative wouldn't solve the issue—you'd need to look at a sales incentive program or performance rewards. 


8 Employee Incentive Ideas to Motivate Your Teams

Below, we'll cover our favorite employee incentive ideas. Remember, quality over quantity. You don't need to launch every program at your organization—find the programs that best align with your employees' needs and roll them out one at a time.


1. Create a Sales Incentive Program to Reward Top Performers

If everyone gets compensated equally (regardless of performance), it's hard to inspire your sales representatives to improve their work. However, just a bit of extra compensation and recognition can be all the catalysts your team needs to get deals across the finish line.

Motivate your sales team to do their best work and blow their goals out of the water with a tailor-made sales incentive program. You might:

  • Compensate your top performers with prestigious award packages
  • Reward employees with sales awards when they pass certain milestones
  • Drive short-term wins with redeemable performance points or gift cards
  • Boost your salespeople's commission percentage if they reach a certain number of sales

2. Provide Performance Incentives to Drive Growth

Salespeople aren't the only employees who benefit from performance incentives. Everyone from your engineers to your marketers to your recruiters can use an extra bit of motivation to do their best work.

You might reward developers who deploy a certain number of pull requests, marketers that launch a particular amount of campaigns, and recruiters that bring in high-value new hires. Rewards could be:

  • Bonuses
  • Points to redeem on prizes
  • Custom trophies
  • Paid time off (PTO)

Don't be afraid to ask employees what they want when building out your rewards. Some teams may not care about the compensation—they might just want recognition and branded prizes. Talk to them before you roll out any incentives to find a program that best aligns with their needs.


3. Build a Culture of Safety With a Safety Incentives Program

Don't just reward employees for what they do—reward them for what they don't do. Safety is a top priority at any company, but it often only gets paid lip service. Show your employees what safety means to you with a safety incentive program.

A safety incentive program rewards employees who act to build safe behaviors, reduce accidents, and create a secure working environment. Safer workplaces protect employees, increase productivity, and reduce turnover—employees want to work where they feel safe.

Here are a few indicators you can monitor to reward safe behavior:

  • Safety training competition: Incentivize employees to complete safety trainings.
  • Incident reporting: See something, say something. Reward employees for being honest and reporting issues.
  • Inspection success: Reward teams for proactively making changes and passing the first inspection.
  • Time without incidence: Compensate teams that reach significant milestones for time without incidence.

These rewards pay for themselves. Work accidents are sad and (most of the time) avoidable—not to mention expensive. Proactively rewarding safe behavior will help you create a culture of security and prevent mistakes.

You could also consider rewarding employees that follow cybersecurity best practices. This is especially important if you have a sizable work-from-home workforce that faces the threat of phishing and hacking rather than physical harm.


4. Prioritize Health With Employee Wellness Incentives

Boost your employees' physical, mental, emotional, and even social health with employee wellness incentives. When employees know that their work permits (better yet: encourages) taking time for themselves, they're more likely to take action. 

There's a big difference between a boss who encourages employees to take an exercise break and a boss who pays employees to take one. There's no single best way to launch a wellness program, but here are a few wellness ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Steps challenge: Set goals for employees to walk a certain number of steps every day or week.
  • Yoga sessions: Offer private yoga experiences and reward employees who make the time and show up.
  • Healthy-eating challenge: Educate employees on healthy eating, provide better in-office snacks, and reward workers that take action.

Like safety programs, wellness incentives pay for themselves with an average 150% return on investment. Yes, you'll be giving out prizes and bonus health benefits, but you'll see fewer sick days, lower healthcare costs, higher performance, and greater employee morale.

Incentives could include:

  • Discounts on insurance premiums
  • HSA contributions
  • Extra PTO
  • Gym membership
  • Personal trainer lessons
  • Wellness app subscriptions

Want a unique customized wellness program that's easy to use and simple to manage? Check out Terryberry's employee wellness solutions. Our applications automatically track activity, update leaderboards, and display metrics in a dashboard to make administration downright effortless.


5. Drive Social Engagement With Advocacy Programs

Need help marketing your business but don't have the budget for expensive advertising campaigns? Reward your employees for doing the marketing for you.

Your business can use employee advocacy programs to encourage employees to share content (blog posts, case studies, job openings, company news, and product launches) across their social media followings. Employees share content, earn points, and redeem those points for prizes.

Employee advocacy programs turn every worker into a marketer. If any employee can refer qualified candidates, any employee can generate organic traffic and leads.

It’s a win-win for both you and your employees. You generate curated content for them to share with their networks, and they publish trending news, build their followings, and earn prizes while you gain brand awareness and extended reach. Everyone wins.


6. Acknowledge Publicly With a Recognition Incentive Program

Awards are great, but recognition is sometimes even better. Recognize your employees' milestones, anniversaries, and performance in a public setting—not just with an email or Slack message.

Consider hosting annual awards for top-performing employees, cultural stewards, and collaborative teams. Present these awards in front of the entire company. This helps employees feel acknowledged for going above and beyond and creates a culture of recognition and celebration.

When leadership takes the time to notice contributions (big and small), employees begin doing the same for each other. They celebrate team wins and personal accomplishments. They motivate each other and aspire to do better.

Use Terryberry’s social recognition software to empower your teams to start celebrating each other. Executives, managers, and colleagues can access the social-media-like platform to share stories, highlight wins, and reward top-notch performance.


7. Reward Employees Who Find Candidates With a Referral Program

Finding new hires is hard work, especially with unemployment at an all-time low. Your human resources team is likely doing everything possible to recruit new employees, but sometimes your current staff can dig even deeper. 

Your marketing team probably knows a few other marketers, and your software engineers likely have worked with other experienced talent—tap into those networks to find your next hire. 

It's not easy, and it'll take time, so reward your employees for posting job openings on social media and bringing in qualified candidates. Referral prizes could be compensation, redeemable points, or customized awards.


8. Support Causes Your Employees Care About With Giving Programs

People love helping, especially when it's a good cause. Let your employees have a say in which charities you financially support. They can contribute their own time and resources, and you can do your part with matching incentives or volunteer programs.

Here are a few ideas you can use to launch a giving incentive program:

  • Volunteering: Provide your employees with volunteer time off or dedicated volunteer days.
  • Matching: Launch a program to match a certain percentage of your employees’ donations to a charity or cause they care about.
  • Donating: Reward tenure, performance, and behavior with one-time donations to a charity of the employee's choice.

Build Employee Incentive Programs That Matter

Not every employee incentive program is created equally. Without the right foundation and handholding, incentive programs can fall by the wayside and fail to meet your goals. Do it right from the get-go to ensure efficiency and maximum adoption.

Terryberry will help design and implement your employee incentive program from the ground up. We provide the experience, tools, and know-how you need to reward your top performers and drive better engagement.

Whether you need to build a sales program, wellness incentives, safety awards, or a recognition and feedback system, we can make it happen. Schedule a demo with our team to see firsthand how Terryberry can transform your organization's recognition and employee incentive programs.