Everyone wants to know they are appreciated. A simple “thank you” or “great job” is the first step to expressing appreciation, but showing how you feel often holds more weight than saying how you feel. Many employers look to monetary rewards to show appreciation, but research says that’s not always the best approach.

Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School found that people are driven by different motivators known as the Four-Drive Theory. These motivators are acquire, bond, defend, and create. Simply put, money isn’t the ultimate motivator and money doesn’t motivate everyone. A successful recognition strategy will employ all 4 motivators, not just acquire.

Often, these motivators are met by non-monetary rewards. But everyone loves gift cards, you say? There is some truth to that, but recognition should always be three things: timely, relevant and memorable. Gift cards are either far too broad (big box retailers, online retailers, big restaurant groups) or far too specific (specific to a brand, special interest store, or regionally specific). Think back to the last time someone gave you a gift card to a big box retailer. Do you remember what you spent it on? And everyone has received a gift card to a store or restaurant they don’t typically go to or even have in their area. Did it end up in a drawer or given away? The truth is, though they are simple and easy, gift cards don’t make the most memorable gifts.

When it comes to non-monetary rewards, we need to be sure we’re not confusing them with free acts of appreciation. Non-monetary refers to recognitions that do not contain a cash or gift card component. That doesn’t mean the recognition doesn’t have a cost associated with it. Service anniversary programs are a shining example of non-monetary appreciation, with an employee often receiving a decorated desk with balloons, a cake, trophy or some sort of office-wide recognition at a milestone year with the company. While an employee may not be given cash, there are expenses associated with the act of appreciation.

Finally, not all actions are worthy of a cash award. Maybe you aren’t celebrating an employee’s 10-year anniversary, but instead you want to thank someone for picking up slack while you were out on vacation or going above-and-beyond what was expected of them in a client meeting. Showing consistent appreciation of an employee so they feel valued is important. But how do you show continuous appreciation without just handing out wads of cash? Here are some proven ways to show appreciation to your employees or clients that don’t involve cash or gift cards.

1. Food. Everyone loves donuts in the breakroom or a free lunch!
2. Time off, because after working so hard everyone needs a break.
3. Public Recognition, like employee of the month.
4. Special privileges, like a special parking space or access to company perks.

These are just a few ideas to get you started, consider what would be unique and personal to your employees and your business for a successful recognition strategy that employs all 4 motivators of the Four-Drive Theory.

Questions on how to build a team culture with motivated and happy employees? We’d love to hear from you!

Kaile Daffron
Kaile believes in a multi-faceted approach to problem solving, seeking solutions from multiple disciplines. Kaile has had a diverse career across multiple industries including military contracting, event planning, medical and legal office management, and higher education.