The Rewards Genius Employee Rewards Handbook

An overview of modern employee rewards, recognition, and engagement programs.

Why do companies reward employees? Reasons run the gamut from employee recognition and appreciation to referrals and wellness. No matter the reason, the underlying motive is to keep employees happy, healthy, productive, and engaged because that’s what it takes to keep a company moving forward.

This Employee Rewards Handbook covers the why, when, what, and how of successful employee rewards—and how you can ensure yours is one of them. We suggest bookmarking this page, so that you’ll be able to access it directly for future visits.


Why Employee Reward Programs Work

To understand why employee reward programs work, it’s important to recognize the core concept of any successful employee reward program: employee engagement.

It might seem like increased productivity is the true goal of any rewards program, but by focusing on overall engagement through safety, wellness, and recognition programs, you’ll be on track to improve employee safety and turnover as well as productivity. That’s why a rewards program that focuses on overall employee engagement does more than simply boost productivity.

You’ll also experience the real-world feeling of having happy, healthy, engaged people around you at work—which makes for a more enjoyable work day for everyone.



Reward associates who identify a problem with a current process and offer a solution.



Motivate behavior by rewarding employees for completing wellness tasks and making healthier choices.



Recognize employees going above and beyond their role and surpassing goals.



Incentivize employees to refer qualified candidates for available job openings.

Reward Types


Items such as t-shirts, mugs, and sunglasses can be easily custom branded with your company logo and handed out to employees. Swag is a great way to build company morale while also increasing brand awareness.

Some great brands we’ve worked with include:

CustomInk—CustomInk has provided us with basic branded t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other apparel. They do a great job, have great apparel options, and offer some of the best prices.

RainCity Promotions—RainCity is local to Seattle and has an extensive product catalog from which to choose.

4Imprint—This company has been in the swag and promotional product game for a long time. We love working with them.

Vacation Time

Paid time off is a great reward option for today’s overstimulated employees who are often working from the moment they wake up to the minute they fall asleep. Technology makes it hard for people to disconnect and power down, which makes vacation time a great way to treat employees and incentivize them to hit the snooze button.



Team Lunch and Happy Hour

Team and cross-departmental collaboration is important no matter what function an employee plays. Show appreciation for a job well done with a company-sponsored lunch or happy hour at a local spot where employees can mingle and decompress with each other.

Digital Gift Cards

Digital gift cards are our favorite employee reward. By giving employees the option to pick their own reward, you’re giving them the chance to treat themselves or their loved ones to a special experience, coveted gift, or nonprofit donation they’ll remember. Check out our catalog of e-gift cards—we guarantee there’s something in it for everyone.


Three Steps to Implement an Employee Reward Program

✓ Decide why and when rewards are given

Giving a reward is a great way to reinforce positive or helpful behaviors, and doing so at the right time maximizes the impact of those rewards. Here are some common situations in which people give rewards:

  • Spot Awards—These are generally small rewards between $5 and $25 that applaud people for doing a good job. Most people respond well to the recognition alone, but adding a tangible reward reinforces the recognition.
  • Challenge Completion—Whether it is for safety, wellness, sales, or completing a project, a reward is a great way to say thanks for an employee’s hard work and diligence.
  • Event Participation—Team events come in many shapes. Leveraging a time when everyone is together to announce a reward for a stand-out individual or for a team accomplishment is a great way create a motivating moment.
  • Incentivize Participation—Do you need your employees’ or colleagues’ help to complete a project? Offer them a small incentive to eliminate the need for that third follow-up email.

✓ Determine who does the rewarding and who gets rewarded

How do you want to structure your program? Figuring out whether you want to allow manager-to-peer, peer-to-peer, or open-ended rewards is key to determining how to set up budgets and choose available rewards. You can always use a mix of these three—whatever best suits your company and program’s needs!

✓ Pick the right employee reward options

Choosing rewards that are meaningful and deliver real value to your employees is paramount to effectively motivating employees and making them feel good. When choosing what works best for your company, keep in mind the feasibility and cost of sourcing and delivering rewards for an ongoing program.

We’ve outlined several reward types in the section above because we believe incorporating company-specific or employee-requested rewards should always happen when appropriate. However, our go-to is always the e-gift card—specifically the Reward Link—because it allows employees to choose their own reward! Plus, they’re cost effective, customizable, and quick to send.

Why Digital Gift Cards Make Great Employee Rewards

There’s no question rewarding employees is a great way to drive results. But how can you make sure you’re offering the right rewards when they aren’t one size fits all? Employ engagement strategies focused on personal instead of universal motivations.

Increased Flexibility

Did you know gift cards have been the #1 wished-for holiday gift 12 years in a row? E-gift cards help take the question mark out of your engagement strategy by providing the flexibility of choice. More options equal a better reward experience because what motivates one employee may not resonate with another.

Let employees select their own reward through either the Reward Link—a choice card with over 100 gift card options—or direct brands ranging from spa and travel experiences to their favorite online retailer or restaurant. Regardless of the option, an e-gift card ensures the choice is theirs.

Instant Rewards

Employees must obtain their rewards quickly enough for them to remember how they were earned in the first place; this makes timing an important piece of any employee-engagement program. Luckily, e-gift cards can be delivered immediately to an employee’s email address, which in turn results in instant gratification and satisfaction. Whatever the employee did to receive the reward will trigger a shot of dopamine in the brain, which bonds a happy memory to the behavior that resulted in the reward.
E-gift cards keep timing in mind with instant email delivery to an employee’s inbox. With a few easy clicks, employees can redeem the reward of their choice and start shopping—instantly.


Expert Testimonials

Dr. Bob Nelson is known as one of the world’s leading experts on employee motivation, performance, engagement, recognition, and rewards. In his book, Recognizing & Engaging Employees for Dummies, Dr. Bob outlines the importance of employee engagement and recognition in the workplace: By being proactive, positive, focused, and forward looking, managers can engage and inspire employees—and employees can inspire and engage themselves and their coworkers—in practical ways that yield real results and allow their companies to become stronger, more profitable, and more competitive in even the most difficult marketplace.

Dr. Bob makes a clear connection between the benefits of employee engagement for employees and companies. Adding rewards to your engagement program helps drive important business initiatives, changes behavior, and creates a positive work culture.

You can learn more about Dr. Bob and his knowledge of employee engagement and motivation here.


Employee Rewards FAQs

A: We’ve found that employees respond well to rewards for a variety of reasons. From recognition for hitting a certain milestone to saying “thank you” for going above and beyond on a certain project, it’s important to take the time to reward them for something positive. You can read more about why rewarding employees is beneficial here.

A: One of our customers rewards employees for making healthy choices, which then keeps health costs down. Speaking of, did you know 2.2 trillion dollars are spent annually on unhealthy workers in the United States? Another customer uses employee rewards to incentivize safety awareness in a predominantly factory-based workplace where accidents happen but can be avoided with new procedures. Check out our Use Case page for more examples.

A: The answer to this one is easy—it’s up to you! If you choose to reward employees with gift cards, we suggest attaching a higher value to bigger tasks—a $50 reward for creating and implementing a new operation procedure, for example—and a lower value for smaller tasks—such as $5 for staying late to meet a deadline.

Digital gift cards range from brand name retailers to groceries, gas, restaurants, spa treatments, hotels, airlines, and more. We also offer non-profit donation options if you prefer a more philanthropy-focused approach to your reward program. If you’re not sure what kind of rewards to send, we’re here to help.

A: With Rewards Genius, you’re able to resend rewards if something happens. Simply log into your account to resend the gift card to the employee. We also have a customer-support team that can be reached Monday–Friday from 7:30am–5:00pm PST via email at or by telephone (877)558-2646.

A: We’re glad you asked! You can either sign up for free here to get started quickly or email us at to have someone on our team get in touch with you.