Whether you manage an international corporation or a small family business, your employees are your company's lifeline. Providing incentives for employees can boost productivity and confidence in the workplace, especially in a poor economy, writes Sharon McLoone in The Washington Post. Create an incentive program that offers thoughtful rewards for employee contributions and achievements.

Gift Basket


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An incentive program can reward employees who exceed sales goals or have outstanding accomplishments. Put a gift basket together and fill it with popcorn, candy and a gift certificate to the movies. Or, place an inexpensive bottle of wine into a gift basket with a gift card to a local restaurant. You can also consider giving gift baskets filled with candy and lottery tickets to employees for birthdays, including a voucher to leave work two hours early one day that month.

Gym Membership


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Provide your employees with a discount--or even free--membership to a local gym. Encouraging physical activity habits can help employees stay healthy and motivated. Employees who spend eight hours a day sitting at a desk could use the gym membership to maintain an active lifestyle. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, a study performed by the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center showed that a dollar spent yearly on employee health programs saved companies three dollars due to decreased employee sick days and health care costs.

Thank You Jars

You can place a clear Mason jar on every employee’s desk or workspace and let them decorate the jars. Managers can drop anonymous thank-you notes in the jars to reward a job well done. Also, employees can leave notes to thank someone else for helping them accomplish a task, assist a customer or even troubleshoot a computer problem. This type of incentive provides a more personal reward that can inspire employees to help each other and recognize the importance of working together as a team.

Free Vacation


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In tough economic times, it may be hard for employers to offer continual raises to every employee. Instead, consider holding a contest for employees where the winner receives a free vacation. Consult a travel agency ahead of time to find good deals on plane tickets and hotels. The incentive to win the contest will increase employee productivity, which provides a return on your investment in the prize. A 2009 study by Oxford Economics found that incentive vacations are more affordable than cash incentives and have a positive influence on employee satisfaction and efficiency.

VIP Parking


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Create a simple and free employee incentive by designating a VIP parking space in the parking lot of your company. Choose a spot close to the building’s entrance and label the spot as reserved. You can assign a different employee to this reserved parking spot each month on a rotating basis. Besides being of no cost to you, this type of incentive rewards every employee, not just the overachievers. The VIP parking space assures every employee that they are valuable to the company and makes sure nobody gets overlooked.