Amanda Cross

Amanda Cross is a content marketing writer. She's had the pleasure of working with a variety of companies who are changing the HR landscape through the use of technology. When she's not writing in the HR industry, you can find her running her lifestyle blog and producing a podcast for freelancers.

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For many companies, the annual year-end holiday party is their biggest chance to recognize and celebrate their employees.

As companies across the globe have adapted to remote work, you may be stuck on how to create a festive environment for your virtual company holiday party this year!

With increasing economic uncertainty and the ever-persistent Great Resignation, it’s important to show how much you appreciate your employees. It might be—dare we say it?—more important than ever. We’ve all been through a lot these last several years, but showing your appreciation doesn’t have to cost much money or include mailing out mini ice sculptures. 😉

But first, some general tips

Let’s go over some general tips to help you host the best remote holiday party. Or you can jump straight to our 17 remote holiday ideas!! 🎉🎄🎁

Use Zoom rooms to recreate small group and one-on-one interactions

One of the best parts about company holiday parties is the one-on-one and group interactions you can have with colleagues. Thanks to Zoom breakout rooms, you can recreate that feeling. Throughout the gathering, break your employees into small groups and provide an ice breaker to get the conversation started. Using Zoom rooms is especially important if you have a large number of employees on your roster.

Spotlight employees throughout the night

A remote party is different from a party you host in person. Make sure to plan and brainstorm conversation topics, and organize activities!

Plus, to keep everyone’s attention, try dispersing employee awards throughout the night instead of having a big award ceremony at the end.

Make it fun for families, too

Since the party is taking place on the computer, your employees probably aren’t getting a babysitter for the night like they usually would. Your employees’ families will probably be around in the background, so you might as well try your best to accommodate them when picking activities.

For example, you could try:

  • A speed “get to know you” round
  • Having kiddos introduce their grown-ups
  • A pet parade!
  • Mix and match break-out rooms—try specific rooms for spouses and kids!

Be considerate of time zones

Your employees aren’t flying from all over the country to be in the main office. If you have a party at 7 pm in California, it’ll be 10 pm. in New York. Your best bet is to have your party during working hours. 🕟

If you have coworkers in other countries, time zones get even more complicated. You may have to accept that some people can’t come to the company holiday party, or they can only stay for a little while.

If you’d like everyone to see the party in its entirety, you can consider recording it and sharing the recording with the team.

Hashtags and Zoom backgrounds can add a fun cultural element to the night

Social media is a great way to get out the word about your company and the culture you’re building. You can do this even with a remote holiday party. Consider commissioning some unique Zoom backgrounds from a graphic designer or creating a special hashtag for the event.

Encourage your employees to use the hashtag and custom Zoom backgrounds to highlight the fun, make memories, and build some employer branding while you’re at it.

Looking for some fun holiday gift ideas for employees? Download our free list of 40 unique ideas that fit any budget!

17 ideas for a remote holiday party

Excited yet? Good. Let’s talk about ideas.

1. Have a karaoke or lip sync battle

Everyone loves karaoke. Use Zoom to have everyone on your team do karaoke or lip-sync to their favorite tracks. Bonus points if your team sings holiday songs. 🎤

2. Make fancy cocktails

Sometimes, the best part about corporate parties is the open bar. 🍸 For remote-friendly options, you could work with a local bartender or use a kit to teach your employees how to make a drink or two at home. Your employees will have fun learning a new skill and chatting with their coworkers. You can also compete to see who makes the prettiest drink at the end of the night!

If you'd rather keep it simple, consider using an alcohol delivery service to deliver beverages straight to your team's doorstep! 


3. Get crafty

It’s always fun to learn something new together, and there are tons of classes your team can attend together (virtually!). For a fun holiday touch, why not try making a wreath?

Chat on Zoom as you complete the craft together. Your employees and their families will walk away with an item they can cherish for many holidays to come!

4. Decorate holiday cookies

Everyone loves holiday cookies. Send your team a recipe for making cookies (or let them purchase premade cookie dough), so you can all decorate the cookies together. Send a kit with various sprinkles, frosting, and other goodies to make the cookie decorating contest even sweeter.

You can also involve family members by creating a few age brackets (best cookie decorated by a kid, best cookie decorated by a teenager, etc).

5. Send a special holiday package

It’s always fun to receive packages in the mail! We’ve been sending surprise thank-you packages to our team members lately, and they’re always a hit. For your holiday party, why not ship your employees a fun holiday gift box? Make your employees wait to open them until the actual remote party to build anticipation and excitement!

For more holiday gift ideas for your employees, download our free PDF list for inspiration!

6. Host an ugly sweater party

We’re only putting effort into our looks from the waist-up, anyway. 😄

Get everyone to buy or craft the perfect ugly holiday sweater. From there, you can give awards for the most creative, ugly, or funny designs of the night.


7. Have a paint-and-sip party

Paint-and-sip parties are the best because you always have something fun to remember the night by—your painting! Reach out to your local paint party company and see if they’d do a virtual event for your employees. Send employees all the supplies they need to paint, along with a bottle of wine, and start painting!

If you can’t reach out to a paint party company, send everyone a paint-by-number kit. These kits usually come with all the supplies your team needs, and it’s hard to mess them up as long as you follow the numbers.

8. Play games

We all love a good party game! Use Zoom rooms to play games that you can easily access online, like Pictionary, Charades, or Bingo. There are also plenty of sites that let you play with others, even if you are in different locations.

9. Solve a murder mystery

Murder mysteries are fun to solve. Let your team get their detective hats out to solve a company murder mystery! Hosting a murder mystery takes some upfront planning, but with a little planning (or outsourcing!), you can create a mysterious night your employees will talk about for years to come.

10. Present a talent show

Showcase the talents of your employees. You never know what kind of talent you might discover with your employees! Encourage your talented employees to sign up for time slots throughout the night. Your employees can show their talent for singing, playing instruments, poetry—any number of creative endeavors. At the end of the night, you can crown a talent show winner, or you can just be blown away by the talent on your team.

11. Watch your favorite holiday movie

Having a remote movie night with your employees is easier than you think. Set up a time to watch and get on Zoom to react together.

Here are some holiday movie ideas:

  • The Polar Express
  • Home Alone
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Elf
  • The Santa Clause
  • Love Actually

12. Organize a virtual Secret Santa

The miles between you and your coworkers shouldn’t stop you from having a gift exchange. Draw names, set a budget, and send gifts to each other—remember to account for shipping times! To cut down on admin time, try a tool like Elfster!

A fun way to mix up Secret Santa this year is by giving prompts for recipients to answer. Then, it’s up to the gift giver to “interpret” those responses with a perfect care package!

Finding the perfect holiday gifts for colleagues can be tough. To save time, download our free PDF list for unique and fun ideas! 

13. Host a virtual fundraiser for a charity of your employees’ choice


Volunteering is a great tradition during the holiday season. Here are a few ideas:

  • Arrange drop-off locations for a holiday food drive or for donating warm-weather clothing
  • Host a virtual fundraiser and raffle off prizes 
  • Volunteer at a food pantry by packing, organizing, or giving out food
  • Deliver groceries or meals to seniors

14. Reflect and reminisce

It has been another wild year—but hey—it’s almost over! 😄

Take the time to reflect on the year—highs, lows, notable moments, everything! Write it all down. This year may have felt like multiple years in one, so a quick timeline of your company’s accomplishments over the year can be impactful to see.

It can also be cathartic to write down the lows of the year to rip up with your colleagues. 🙃 We’re also big fans of writing haikus to commemorate the year!

Here are a few popular ones from Bonuslians:

I'm quiet quitting
The belief that meetings are
Usually worth it
–Laura Saracho, Content Marketing Manager


Can you see my slides?
Speaker notes should be hidden
I am bad at Zoom 
–João Campos, Sales Operations Manager




Cheers to '22
We laughed, emailed, and Slacked too
'23 be true
-Vanessa Kahn, Marketing Lead

Oops, sorry it’s loud
Can my dog join our meeting
Likes to bark on calls
-Mariness Didulo, Senior Product Marketing Manager


15. Support local restaurants


If you can’t eat together this year, you can still support local restaurants. Give everyone a budget to purchase from a local restaurant they love. Have everyone go around on Zoom and talk about why they chose the restaurant they did (or do this in a Zoom room if you have a large organization). You may not be able to support your favorite caterer this year, but you can make an impact on many local restaurants with a virtual potluck.

16. Leave it to the professionals

Hey, you deserve some surprises, too! Remote team building is top of mind for many companies, so there’s no surprise that there are organizations dedicated to showing your employees a virtual good time.

The Vendry and Marco are both great options for exploring virtual group experiences. From magic shows to mixology classes to ramen making, there are tons of great virtual events to have fun with!

17. Give recognition year-round

As grand as a holiday party is, we need to give employees recognition year-round. Your employees need to hear about the fantastic work they do more often than at the end of the year or with an employee nomination program. Some of the benefits of effective employee recognition include increased engagement and retention, improved productivity, stronger team connections, and more.

One of the easiest ways to give recognition year-round is a peer-to-peer recognition program like Bonusly. Bonusly allows everyone to get involved in the recognition process. From entry-level employees to the C-Suite, everyone can recognize employees for a job well done. Bonusly is cost-effective, optimized for remote teams, and allows your employees to see their value more often than once a year.

Conclusion: You can host a fun, remote holiday party!

Company holiday parties aren’t defunct now that remote work is a big part of our day-to-day lives. You can still celebrate with your employees, even if you are coming together over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Hopefully, these ideas will help you host a party that brings your team together for a night to celebrate the end of the year while getting excited for the year ahead!


Employee experience matters. We focus so much of our attention on business outcomes and customers that often our employee experience is lacking without us realizing it.

Which is a big problem. 😔

One way to create an excellent employee experience is to pay attention to the benefits and perks we give our employees. Are we providing the benefits and perks that matter to them?

Looking to build stronger, more engaged teams in 2023?

-> Download the Free Guide: 3 Steps to Building Engaged, Resilient Teams

Providing benefits and perks that improve the quality of your employees’ lives is crucial for a positive employee experience, can help improve employee motivation, and can be a key competitive differentiator in a crowded space. Nearly every company offers benefits (and is often required to), but perks can make or break a promising candidate’s decision to work at your company.

“Companies that invest in employee experience are four times more profitable than those that don’t.”
–Blake Morgan,

Benefits vs. perks

Before we dive into today's topic, let's take a look at the difference between benefits and perks. The benefits and perks you offer your team say a lot about your company culture and the employee experience you want to promote. It's essential to look outside the box and provide employee benefits and perks that speak to your company’s values.

Here’s how we think about it:

Employees need benefits.
Employees want perks.

As you’re deciding how to invest in your employees, you’ll likely want to focus on benefits first. Benefits are typically the most necessary and valuable to your employees and are likely to be more of a financial investment for your company. On the other hand, perks tend to be less costly, but can still have an outsized impact on employee engagement and company culture.

Oftentimes, employees expect you to offer certain benefits—like healthcare or time off—while perks are an opportunity to set your company apart with unique, fun offerings—like on-site fitness classes or a pet-friendly office.

5 benefits you should invest in

Let’s start with the four best company benefits that will help your employees feel appreciated and more focused at work.

1. Health insurance


If you’re based in the United States, navigating healthcare costs can be a nightmare. If you’re an uninsured American, you could be paying thousands of dollars for just a ride in an ambulance. Makes you want to seek help, doesn’t it? 🤦‍♀️

This financial burden can make it challenging for American workers to get the care they need. But according to Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs, our physical needs are essential. To do fantastic work and continue to grow, we need to be healthy, have food and water, and feel safe—pretty standard stuff!

hierarchy of needs

If you want your employees to feel comfortable at work, they can't do so while struggling with their health—including their mental health.

Providing healthcare coverage for your employees if they don't have access to a plan can be a literal lifesaver. Plus, it’s required for companies with more than 50 employees!

If you live outside of the United States, you may not need to worry about healthcare coverage due to universal health coverage or some other form of healthcare, but it may still be worth it to look into how you can support your employees through preventative healthcare and wellness programs.

Consider the various types of health insurance you can offer your employees. Providing health, dental, vision insurance, or even health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) will ensure your employees are covered and able to take care of a wide range of health problems.

2. Life insurance


Life insurance is another great benefit that secures an employee’s family’s future in unfortunate situations. If a family loses one source of income, they could end up in a dire financial position. Life insurance protects your employees' families in case something horrible happens.

Offering life insurance will give every employee and their family peace of mind. You should also educate your employees on the benefits of purchasing their own plans as well. Many employees are underprepared and underinsured when it comes to life insurance.

3. Paid time off—that actually gets taken


We need time away from work to recharge, but there’s an issue: employees aren’t using vacation time as much as they should be. Paid time off can boost employee productivity when implemented effectively, giving your employees time to rediscover their love for your company and battle burnout.

It's not enough to give paid time off—your employees need to feel comfortable taking it. How does your current company culture treat vacations? Are people proud of the time they spend traveling, or are they scared to request a day off? And when they’re on vacation, are they still responding to emails? Make it part of your culture to really unplug on vacations.

Offering paid sick days is also critical. Sick employees coming into the office because they don’t want to lose a day of income or don’t have enough vacation days doesn’t help your bottom line. The employees aren't as productive as they could be, and they’re spreading germs! 😷

4. Family leave


The arrival of a new family member is an exhilarating—and exhausting—time, and having to go back to work immediately can be challenging for your employees. Offering leave—for both parents—makes a massive difference in your employees’ personal lives and ensures that when they come back, they’re ready to be back and engaged with their work.

Even with a great leave policy, company culture needs to support it. With this bonus, a longtime Bonusly employee publicly recognized our CEO for taking his parental leave and living our company’s core values:

While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) lets employees take unpaid leave for certain life events, your company can get ahead of the curve by offering paid parental leave. It’ll help you stand out as an employer and communicate that you fully support your employees’ personal lives! 🍼

5. 401(k) and retirement planning


As much as you don't want to see your employees leave, retirement is a part of the employee lifecycle. It's hard for anyone to retire when they don’t have enough saved for retirement.

Thoughtful employers make sure their employees are informed about retirement savings and help them by matching their contributions. According to Fidelity, the average 401(k) match is around 4.7%. Many people are underprepared for retirement, so giving your employees advice on retirement savings will help them be better prepared for life after your company.

Resilient, engaged teams have a competitive edge during uncertain times. Learn more:

-> Download the Free Guide: 3 Steps to Building Engaged, Resilient Teams

8 perks your employees will love

Next, let’s move on to the eight perks you can offer your employees in addition to your benefits. These perks are what can truly set your company apart from the rest and can incentive top talent to stay.

1. Student loan assistance


Student loan debt has reached over $1.7 trillion in the United States. Many of your employees are likely dealing with student loan debt. If your employees’ monthly payments are high, this is likely stopping them from giving you their best work due to stress, or even because they have to work multiple jobs to pay off their debt. Both public and private companies are beginning to offer student loan assistance as a perk to lift some of the weight off their loyal employees.

Many employees want student loan assistance, as much as they want 401(k) matching. By helping your employees pay off their student loan debt faster, they have more money to reinvest into their retirement savings. Offering both student loan assistance and 401(k) matching would be ideal to help your employees find their financial footing, and set them up for success in the future!

2. Flexible scheduling and remote work

While working in an office environment can be great for bringing your employees together face-to-face, many employees want flexible scheduling or work-from-home opportunities. You might find that many employees are much more productive on their own schedule, rather than the traditional 9-5!

This is something you can ease into. Giving employees the ability to work from home a few times a week—or even every workday—can help promote flexibility and demonstrate your trust in your employees.

3. Career development


Your employees want to learn how to do their job more effectively—and they want to know they have advancement and career growth opportunities. Are you afraid of training your employees because they might leave with your training? This typically only happens when you train employees, but don’t give them a path for upward mobility in your company.

91% of Highly Engaged employees are satisfied with their professional development opportunities compared to only 28% of Actively Disengaged employees.
Bonusly State of Employee Engagement 2019

Professional development, along with the ability to make more income and take on additional responsibility within the company, has a huge impact on employee experience. Large or small, offering continuing education or training opportunities like these can really make a difference:

  • Paying for or keeping a library of professional development books
  • Tuition reimbursement for continuing education
  • Conference tickets
  • Professional organization dues (For example, SHRM dues)
  • Coaching or mentoring programs
  • Sending newly promoted employees to trainings
  • Engaging external speakers to host learning for your team or company

4. Childcare

If you want to amplify the parental leave benefit, you could also offer child care as a perk for working parents. Some companies provide childcare stipends or even create on-site daycare centers for their employees.

When your working parents spend less time stressing out about child care, they can focus on being engaged with their work.

5. Work/life balance

On average, American workers stay late 2.5 days a week, whether in their homes or company offices. Most of the time, workers stay late because they feel pressured to do so. While this time may add to some extra money in your pocket, it makes you lose out on family time, sleep, and time to create healthy meals. Working late is an intense strain on work/life balance.

Creating a balance between work and life is the best way for your employees to come to work each day feeling refreshed. Try to keep an eye on employees who are continuously burning the midnight oil, instill out-of-office policies, and work with your employees to understand how you can create a healthier work/life balance for them.

Remember to encourage turning on that Do Not Disturb before and after working hours! 🚫

6. Lunch stipend or team lunch


This is a perk everyone loves! The simple act of eating lunch together can go a long way in building stronger teams. It’s more than just eating together—it’s the concept of putting aside time during a busy day to take a break with your colleagues.

Many companies are investing in providing lunch for their employees, and it’s often tax-deductible! That includes Bonusly! Before the pandemic, our company provided Wednesday team lunches, which were a big highlight. Now, every employee receives a lunch stipend for food delivery to their home.

Creating an experience around food is one of the easiest things a company can do to increase employee morale and overall company culture. –Christine Marcus, founder and CEO of Alchemista, a corporate catering service.

7. Wellness programs

Just as health insurance is an excellent employee benefit, you can increase the value of health insurance by investing in an employee wellness program. Wellness programs promote an active lifestyle and fill in the gaps not covered by health insurance. Your wellness program might include things like providing healthy snacks at work, subsidizing a gym membership, offering standing desks, and more.

Make sure that your employee wellness program is inclusive and can address the full spectrum of healthy lifestyles. Health and wellness look different for all employees, and your program should reflect that variety.

8. Employee recognition and reward programs


Last but not least, a fantastic perk is creating an employee recognition and reward program for your team. Your employees do great work every day, and they deserve to be recognized for it. Employee rewards can be as simple as saying thank you or providing branded swag, or you can reward your employees with things like basketball tickets, hotels, laptops, and more. Dedicated employee recognition programs can also make celebrating employee birthdays or work anniversaries a breeze.

If you are looking for an easy-to-implement system, Bonusly is a stellar recognition and rewards platform. Your employees are each given a monthly allowance they can spend on giving small bonuses to their team members. Your team can give recognition based on your company’s core values, and they also get a chance to write why they are giving the bonus, add GIFs, and personalize the bonus. Once your team members accumulate enough points, they can redeem them for a wide variety of donations and gift cards.

How to know if your benefits and perks are working

While benefits and perks look good on paper, it can be hard to understand whether your employees appreciate or even make use of them. For the highest ROI, always assess your employees’ needs before and after you start offering a new benefit or perk with a survey or by running the data. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your employees:

  • Do employees know that this benefit or perk exists?
  • Are employees taking advantage of this benefit or perk long-term? (did employees use perks once and then never again, or is it a staple in their lives?)
  • What do they think about the perk in general?
  • Would they prefer a different benefit or perk over an existing one?

You must give company benefits and perks time to be adopted. Are you giving your benefits and perks a fair shot by making sure your employees know where to find them and how to use them? Are you using the right benefits administration software?

Communication is key so your employees can take advantage of the offerings you spend money on.

A great way to gather opinions is by using pulse surveys to check in on your employees and how they feel about your current menu of perks and benefits.

The takeaway

Employee benefits and perks are an integral part of your employee experience. Creating the right package takes time and experimentation, but comes with significant competitive advantages.

Keep in mind that your employees’ needs and wants will change over time. As your business grows and your employees move into different life stages, they may require different things from your company. To stay ahead of the curve, it's crucial that you survey your employees about their benefits and perks preferences, and keep an eye out for new ways to reward and engage your team.

Check out the latest research and statistics on employee resilience and engagement 👇

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Originally published on November 02, 2022 → Last updated February 6, 2023

There’s always that one person on your holiday gift list who’s like, “Honestly, just some gift cards would be great.”

I mean, agreed. ✋

Instead of receiving a cool but not-exactly-your-style gift, what if you could have the choice to pick out whatever you want? I would prefer that any day.

When we think about perks and rewards in the workplace, gift cards for employees are a no-brainer. As the most prevalent award type, the gift card industry is booming, with U.S. companies spending $24 billion annually on gift cards.

But why? 🤔

This article will cover why, exactly, so many companies use gift cards, or “non-tangible cash rewards,” to engage, motivate, and recognize their employees, and why those companies are making a great choice.

For more of the latest employee rewards research, check out this video.

Understanding the two types of gift cards

Before we dive deep into gift card talk, it's crucial to establish that there are actually two types of gift cards. 💡

Each type of gift card, as it turns out, evokes a different psychological response in its recipients.


An example of open-loop gift cards would be something like a VISA prepaid card. These gift cards are basically considered cash, and are thought of as “open-loop” because theoretically, you can redeem them for anything you want.


In contrast to open-loop gift cards, closed-loop gift cards are gift cards meant to be redeemed at a specific store or experience. Amazon or Target gift cards can be considered retail closed loop, whereas gift cards to Airbnb or Southwest Airlines can be considered a more experiential closed loop.

Bonusly recently partnered with the Incentive Research Foundation on their Industry Outlook for 2021: Merchandise and Gift Cards report. That research found the average value of a closed-loop gift card given to an employee was $120, and the most common gift cards were from online retailers like Amazon, followed by coffee shops like Starbucks. Discover the hundreds of gift card options in Bonusly's catalog.

employee gift card prevalence

Source: IRF Industry Outlook for 2021: Merchandise and Gift Cards


Why you shouldn’t focus on open-loop gift cards

Cash and open-loop gift cards aren’t as memorable or exciting

The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) found that the preference for cash (including open-loop gift cards) and reward earner salary are negatively correlated. A negative correlation means that the more money an employee makes, the less likely a cash gift would be considered impactful for them.


The IRF calls this psychology, “mental accounting,” and explains:

Cash rewards are known to trigger a process of mental accounting in recipients, in which the reward earner classifies cash rewards with salary... Subconsciously, people blend the cash reward with pay and use it for the same every day purposes—for example, paying the utilities, buying groceries and making car and mortgage payments. As previously alluded to, people tend to make utilitarian purchases when given a cash reward, and consequently derive very little meaning or appreciation from the latter.

–Incentive Research Foundation, Award Program Value & Evidence

The same psychology goes into receiving open-loop gift cards. Since you can redeem them for anything, recipients are more likely to spend them on “chore” purchases, like gas or bills.

However, with closed-loop gift cards to specific retailers or experiences, recipients are much more likely to find meaning and value. For the rest of this article, we’ll focus on closed-loop gift cards.

Why gift cards work

Gift cards are flexible enough for every budget

Gift cards can grow with your rewards budget and come at varying price points.

As it turns out, giving away a $5 Starbucks gift card to someone on your team for doing a great job sparks the same psychology of appreciation as buying them a latte! ☕

It's incredible what the right framing and specificity can do for a reward.

According to Incentive Magazine, gift cards “can be doled out across a spectrum of denominations for both big and small rewards.” No matter your budget, there are a plethora of gift cards you can buy to connect with your employees and have them feel appreciated without spending a ton of money.

Gift cards can easily scale with your budget, and they’re offered in both physical and digital forms.

Employees can treat themselves


Gift cards can allow your employees to really treat themselves!

Think about it—when you get a cash bonus, you’d probably spend it on something responsible, like sticking it into your savings account or paying back student loan debt. While this is definitely beneficial, treating yourself with things or experiences you enjoy is also important!

Often when an employee receives cash, it simply goes into the large “hole” of day-to-day costs like mortgage repayments, loans or energy bills. Gift cards can allow for guilt-free spending to buy something tangible that they may have been wanting to purchase for some time such as new golf clubs or running shoes.

Ovation Incentives

Gift a closed-loop gift card to allow your employee to purchase something for themselves! You can also combine gift cards with monetary bonuses, which will allow your employees to splurge on themselves while not feeling bad about it.

Gift cards have the same psychological impact as experiences

Experiential gifts have gotten a lot of hype recently, for good reason! Experiences are certainly much more memorable than things.

But did you know that closed-loop gift card rewards, also known as tangible non-cash rewards, are just as motivational as experiential gifts? Yep. Especially when you combine it with meaningful recognition and appreciation!

Experience and gift cards are fun, but the real power of rewards lies in the appreciation you give to your employees while providing the gift. Thoughtless experiences seem better than appreciated gift cards because at least you'll get to go to a concert, even if you don't feel valued, right?

According to Deloitte, "There is a correlation between employees who say they are "happy at work" and feel "valued by [their] company" and those who say their organization has a clearly articulated and lived culture."

If your company culture is essential to you, your focus should be on building how many employees feel valued, not just having cool workplace rewards.

Gift cards go easy on the environment

We surveyed employees about their feelings on company swag earlier this year and only 17% of respondents noted they use all the company swag they are sent. Our swag partner, AXOMO found that 52% of swag is thrown away or re-gifted. That’s a lot of swag sitting there unused or in a landfill. 

The beauty of a digital gift card is there is literally no waste. There are no CO2 emissions related to production, packaging, or shipping. And gift cards are redeemed for items an employee wants, resulting in fewer returns and environmental impact associated with returns. 

There are still sustainability issues with plastic gift cards. They are made from PVC and are difficult to recycle. But many companies like Apple and Whole Foods are moving to paper-based gift cards, which are easily recyclable. 

Bonusly’s gift cards are fulfilled digitally, which means your employees get instant gratification and no plastic goes into the landfill! 🌳

5 best practices for using gift cards as rewards and incentives

When it comes to giving gift cards away as rewards and incentives, it’s best to follow these best practices so that your gift cards are well-received.

Utilize closed-loop gift cards whenever possible

As we’ve discussed, closed-loop gift cards are the best gift cards to give. While open-loop gift cards are nice because you can spend them on everything, they don’t truly allow you to splurge.

If you get an open-loop gift card, you’re likely to spend it on something mundane like gas for work or a small bill you need to pay. Closed-loop gift cards give us the ability to buy something just for us.

Include a personal touch with your gift cards


If you want to take gift cards to the next level, add a personal touch to them. Instead of giving out a random Starbucks gift card, pick a gift card like you'd choose a gift for someone. If you know a person on your team is expecting a baby, moving to a new place, or going on a dream vacation, tailor your gift card choice to who they are and what they need at that moment.

Here's one way to add a personal touch to your gift cards: create a story around them. For example, if you know an employee has been especially burning the midnight oil for a difficult project, put together a self care-themed reward with gift cards to a spa and a nice dinner!

Eliminate over choice

Too many choices can cause issues with your gift card rewards program. You may think that people don't like your program, but they’re likely just overwhelmed by the choices you offer. If you have a sheet that lists all your gift cards, looking at that list of options can feel daunting.

Instead, give your employees voice and choice by aligning your gift card offerings to your company values.

You’d probably want the old standbys like Amazon and Starbucks as options, but if your company emphasizes voracious curiosity, gift cards to bookstores, movie theaters, and airlines would only reinforce those core values!

Plus, Bonusly’s Reward Catalog offers the opportunity to contribute to charitable organizations, where your employees can make a real impact.

Make sure gift card value meets store expectations

As we discussed, gift cards are flexible. While gift cards allow you to pick a wide array of denominations, you need to be careful that the gift card value meets store expectations.

For example, a $30 gift card to the local movie theater makes sense. You can see a couple of movies or maybe have a night out to the movies with your partner for that amount.

But if you give someone a $30 gift card to the Apple Store, your gift won't be near as appreciated. Most of the products at the Apple Store start at a few hundred dollars! Your employees won't be able to spend their $30 gift card without spending a good amount of their own money.

So, make sure you match store expectations to each gift card you give to employees. Are you setting your employees up to be disappointed when they realize they can't afford to shop at a store, even with a gift card? 😬🙈

Pair gift cards with explicit recognition and appreciation


Lastly, our biggest piece of advice is to pair your gift cards with explicit recognition. When you match gift cards with gratitude and appreciation, you can really accelerate your rewards program and build the commitment and engagement your employees feel for your company.

Giving gifts—any kind of gift—is terrific, but can feel empty or shallow if it's not paired with thought and appreciation. Pairing a gift card with praise is how you make a gift card feel just as good as an experiential reward.

Rewards confer recognition, at least implicitly. But to maximize impact, every tangible reward should come with explicit appreciation– a thank you for the specific behavior or accomplishment a person is being rewarded for.

Incentive Research Foundation

Here are some tips for pairing gift cards with recognition:

  • Include a thank you note with your gift card
  • Give away gift cards in meetings or award ceremonies, and explain why you chose the gift cards you did
  • Give gift cards at meaningful milestones, like work anniversaries or birthdays

Key takeaway

Gift cards are a wonderful way to treat your employees.

When gift cards are paired with the right amount of recognition, even a $5 reward be really meaningful. When our employees feel valued, they feel attached to our company culture.

Experiential rewards are great—and there are gift cards for those experiences! 😉

Bonusly gives you tons of options in our global rewards catalog. Your employees can choose between gift cards of every category, and can even donate to a charitable organization of their choice. Want to offer something extra special? Custom rewards give you the ability to give something unique to your employees, like coffee with the CEO or fun swag.

The most important thing you can do is mix up the rewards you offer. Let your employees choose which rewards excite them, and then create a rewards catalog your employees love. For more excellent rewards ideas, check out this resource:

Working from home seems to be a new normal for people across the world. While working from home can be a fantastic opportunity, it can also be incredibly isolating and challenging—especially if you're used to going into the office. 👩‍💻 

Buffer's 2020 State of Remote Work revealed that communication/collaboration and loneliness were the most common challenges for remote workers. Processes and norms that work in the office may not work remotely!

The good thing is, you’re not necessarily stuck in your current routine. You have the ability to mix things up to help your productivity. We could all use some new working from home tips!

We've put together a list of 21 ideas that individuals, teams, and companies can use to switch up their remote work routine. Are you ready to dive into the list and add some spice to your day-to-day while working from home? 🌶

Why switching up your WFH routine is a good idea 


Day-to-day life WFH can be rather monotonous. Monotony at work can have some harmful side effects. For example, it can cause burnout, lack of focus, low productivity, and ultimately create a disengaged workplace. We know that employee engagement is the cornerstone of a driven company culture.

Many companies can’t afford to be stagnant. These simple tweaks can reinvigorate your team and make them excited about their job again! 

7 ways for individuals to change their remote work routine

First, let's talk about how individuals can switch up their work from home routine. If you are an employee, manager, or even a CEO struggling from the monotony of your remote work routine, try out these working from home tips.

Get a WiFi hotspot 

Working from home doesn’t mean you should be tethered to your desk. Getting a Wi-Fi hotspot will allow you to be connected to the internet anywhere you go.

Don’t be afraid to mix up where you work—relocate to your patio, or even head to the park! Getting some fresh air in the morning while checking your emails will help you kickstart the day.


Use the 50/10 rule 

Work/life balance during this pandemic has been challenging for everyone. Many employees have been working longer hours, and this isn't good. More hours doesn't necessarily mean high-quality work or better productivity.

One way to combat this is by using the 50/10 rule. This rule gives you 50 minutes of focused time, followed by a 10-minute break. Most of us can't stay focused for hours on end. Also check out the Pomodoro Technique, which gives you 25 minutes of focused time and a 5-minute break after each concentrated burst. 

Being intentional about the time you spend working and taking breaks will help you better navigate your workday.

Try bullet journaling

Bullet journaling is a wonderful way to take some time for yourself in the morning to clear your head. Journaling can be therapeutic and help you navigate the feelings that you have about the work you do. Don't hold your emotions back or push them aside!

Acknowledging how you feel about work and what lies ahead will help you come to terms with how you are feeling. You can't acknowledge problems at work if you don't consciously know they exist.

Decorate your space


Many of us had to go from working in the office to quickly throwing together a home office. You probably didn't estimate the semi-permanent nature of remote work life.

It's time to take your remote workspace seriously. Take some time to decorate your space, and make it functional and inspiring to be in. A few simple tweaks to your home office like an ergonomic chair, better lighting, framed pictures, and colorful office accessories will make your workday more enjoyable and productive.

Get dressed (actually dressed!) on Fridays

One exciting trend that has been popping up is Fancy Fridays! 💃

Fancy Fridays are a chance to get dressed up, even if you aren't going into the office. Most of us have been living in lounge clothes—and that's okay!—but getting actually dressed can give a much-needed mental boost.

Purchase a standing desk

Investing in a standing desk is a great way to improve your remote work routine.

Office work is also pretty sedentary, but at least you were able to get out of the house, bustle around the office, or run out for lunch.

When you're at home, everything is on your computer. You really don't need to move... at all. A standing desk will allow you to stand up and get in some activity every day.

Be gentle with yourself 


No one was prepared for a global pandemic. Dealing with current events and this general weirdness can be a challenge for many people. Be kind to yourself if your project wasn't as successful as you predicted, or if you weren't able to hit everything on your to-do list. Times are stressful!  🤗

We are all learning to cope. Take breaks, scale back your project scope, and be vulnerable with your colleagues. You're doing the best you can. 

7 ways for teams to shake up their remote work routine

Next, let’s discuss some excellent ways for teams to get out of their comfort zone. When everyone is working from home, it can be challenging to connect. Here are some tips to bring your team together during this socially-distant time.

Implement project sprints


Often teams get pulled in a million different directions. This lack of focus has a massive impact on what gets done. 

Whether you are in engineering, marketing, or customer success—you can use a project sprint model to get work done on time. Focused work will always be better than distracted work.

Limit time spent in meetings

Meetings can be helpful if they are structured productively. Many meetings are unnecessarily long, cumbersome, and without an established goal.

Not only that, but meetings are also expensive! Each hour spent in a meeting is drawing your employees away from an important task—especially if your team is small. Make sure you create agendas for your meetings, and block out time on your calendar for deep focus work. Keep in mind Parkinson’s Law when it comes to meetings.

“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Your meeting will expand to fit the container that you give it. If it’s a thirty-minute meeting, don’t schedule it for an hour.

Build intentional communication with daily standups 


Communication can be lacking during this time, especially without smalltalk around the coffee maker! Daily standups are a great way to see your team's faces and understand what they're up to.

Consider how your team members work best before implementing these standups—some employees prefer morning standups to kick off the day, while others think it's disruptive. Find what works best for your team.

Collaborate with another team or company partner 

Collaborations can prove to be an effective way to meet other people while breaking yourself out of a work rut. Here are some examples of partnerships that you can run:

  • Work with another marketing team on a blog post
  • Build a special offer between two sales teams
  • Create a contest with another company
  • Do a virtual meet and greet with their company using Zoom Rooms
  • Host an educational webinar with another company

Meet up with organizations in your state and around the world to make these collaborations happen. Since so many people are working from home, you don't need to be confined to a specific geographical area! 🌎

Give people time to work on exciting projects

Working from home is a lot more pleasant when you can work on a project that invigorates you. Ask everyone to write down an aspect of their job they'd like to focus on.

You can make this a personal sprint or just give them a quarter to make significant progress on this task. Allowing employees to dedicate a few hours a week to a passion project can result in some innovative company features! 

Spend time on virtual team development 


Learning and development should be at the forefront of your mind.

Create a professional development plan for your team and invest resources in them while everyone is working from home. Whether that's hiring an expert speaker for a team meeting or sharing your department's knowledge, take time to keep everyone up to date with the latest information in your field.

Host a team challenge 

Gamification is a great way to spice things up! Gift cards are a great incentivize. Create a team challenge and offer a $50-$100 gift card to a favorite store for the winner. Here are some examples of team challenges:

  • How many relevant sales calls/emails can you make in one day?
  • Who can build the best UX design for a new software update?
  • Who can come up with the most blog post ideas?
  • How many relevant potential employees can you reach out to on LinkedIn?
  • Who can come up with the best/most creative solution to a company problem?

7 ways for companies to keep their remote work routines fresh

To wrap up, let's discuss seven ways for companies to switch up their work from home routine. These ideas can be utilized at the company level to create connections within your company.

Host social hours 


First, try out different kinds of remote social events and activities. Staring at each other in during a Zoom happy hour... isn't that interesting! 

Here are some fun social hours you can plan for your team: 

  • Group work-out session
  • Speed get-to-know-you sessions
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Cooking competition/team lunches
  • Arts and crafts sessions

Start scheduling Donut chats 

Another way to form cross-departmental bonds is through an app called Donut. All you need is Slack to get partnered with another person at your company. Encourage your team to sign up for a Donut date to get to know each other in a non-work-related way!

Start sharing public recognition

Mix up your remote work routine by implementing a tool for public recognition. People like to be recognized for their hard work, and this can be challenging when everyone is working remotely. You have to find a way to recognize employees, even when you don't meet face-to-face.

A tool like Bonusly be connected to your company's Slack organization, making recognition a breeze. Plus, you can tie recognition to company values, making it even more meaningful to your employees!

Spark conversations through your chat tool 


Do you have off-topic channels on your company chat tool? It's easy to drift apart during this time, so these chit-chatty channels helps you keep in the loop with everyone in your company.

Think of it as a virtual water cooler! At Bonusly, we have Slack channels devoted to food, travel, television and movies, and of course, our pets! 🐶😸

Host a town hall or AMA

As we've discussed, communication can lapse during this time. If you have a lot of employees at your company, a town hall could be what you need to keep everyone informed.

At Bonusly, our CEO hosted regular AMAs at the height of COVID-19 so we could ask questions as things changed. And it doesn't have to be all serious—we also loved getting to see his chickens. 🐔

Experiment with flexible scheduling


It's likely your employees have had to cancel vacations, but that doesn't mean they should just work through their planned time off! Your employees can't work all the time without burning out. Make sure you're encouraging people to step away from their jobs. 

It's worth it to experiment with flexible scheduling, especially now for parents with kids at home. 

Plan a virtual retreat

Last but not least, host a virtual retreat for your team. If you typically have in-person retreats for your organization, there is no reason why you can't transfer that online. 

Mix it up! 

Mixing up your work from home routine is easier than you think. 🥳

Making these small adjustments to your work from home routine as an individual, team, or company can make all the difference. Which working from home tips will you implement in your work life?

For more great ideas on employee engagement, check out this resource: 

Rewarding your employees for a job well-done is essential to employee engagement. As an employer, you are likely trying to find the best way to connect with your employees, thank them for the work they do, and retain great workers.

We know that providing specific feedback and helpful recognition isn't always easy, but it can help you create a workplace where everyone is delighted to work. 🥳

One of the most common ways that companies reward employees is by using a nomination program. With only limited time and budget to run a program, nominations are a popular way to recognize and reward team members.

Nomination programs are an excellent first step, but they have a lot of issues that you might not be aware of at first glance. Are employee of the month awards really a good idea? Let's take a more in-depth look at nomination programs and why they likely aren't the best way to motivate and incentivize employees.

What is a nomination program?

Nomination programs typically allow a group of individuals to nominate an employee or coworker for their contributions or good attitude at a regular interval, usually monthly or annually.

Employees get this recognition by being nominated by colleagues or higher-ups. These recognition programs might take the form of an “employee of the month” program or an award ceremony at your year-end celebration.

At Bonusly, we get a lot of questions about using our program to nominate one person to receive all the points for the month. That’d be great for that person, but... what about all the other employees who also do great work?

The psychology of nomination programs


We’re just gonna say it! Nomination programs are not a good way to recognize your employees. 🔊

Think about it: your nomination process is likely based on some amount of favoritism, even if you’re doing your best to mitigate favoritism!

If your program depends on nominations that are submitted or approved by managers, bias is inherent. Some managers will prioritize recognition more than others, which consequently leaves some employees out of the running.

If not, nominated employees are likely to be in a highly visible role—maybe the team lead of a productive team, or someone who’s at ease presenting at the company all-hands. Managers, higher-level employees, and more sociable, outgoing employees are more likely to win these nomination-based awards.

Which is great! But we know that there are many different working styles that should be recognized.

If you depend on nomination programs to recognize employees, it’s likely that the most “impactful” contributions will be celebrated—the sales rock stars who close the largest deals, the developers that ship the shiniest features. This leaves behind the customer support teams and operations folks who help make it all possible, creating a culture of inequity and exclusion.

So let’s step back to the real reason why we use nomination programs at work: we want to encourage certain behaviors in our employees. You want your employees to rally around the same cultural values that your company mission and vision are tied to.

Reinforcing desired behaviors strengthens organizational culture by highlighting actions consistent with core values. 
–Chief Executive

In order to feel like part of the community and culture, employees need to see how their work fits together, and that they each have an important role to play. This isn’t always the easiest when nomination programs are your only type of formal recognition program.

Here’s why your nomination program isn’t working

Nomination programs may be the default way that companies think about employee motivation and recognition, but just because it's traditional doesn't mean it's the best way.

Let’s consider why your nomination program isn’t working.

Reason #1: Nomination programs can be demotivating to employees.


If you’ve ever been at a company with a nomination program, it’s likely that you saw the same winners, or same types of winners, over and over again.

If you’ve ever run such a program, you probably saw that the same employees were submitting the nominations to begin with!

We typically see that nomination programs may start out strong, but after someone’s nomination doesn’t get chosen for one or two cycles, they stop participating because it doesn’t feel like it matters. Also, in submitting a nomination, you’re actually decreasing your own chances of winning!

And statistically, this feeling is normal—if you’re at a large company, putting your awesome manager or superb support staff’s name in the hat feels like a drop in the bucket.

And if an employee never receives a nomination, they may end up feeling disengaged with their work and unmotivated to go above and beyond for your company, since they're never recognized for their efforts.

Reason #2: Nomination programs don’t give you the best picture of who makes your company amazing

Your company is a complex, beautifully framed work of art. 🖼

If you're trying to sum up your company values with one fantastic employee, you’re missing out on the bigger picture. Context is vital when it comes to building a company culture.

Nomination programs force employees to nominate one individual instead of all the team members that go above and beyond. As a company, you want to understand the details, because details allow you to reward all the employees who make your company great.

Rewarding an employee for closing a big deal is great, but if you’re not also airing that the operations team created a custom slide deck just for that prospect or that this deal was made because of new features from the product team, you’re creating value placements on one type or work over another.

Reason #3: Nomination programs can be time-consuming to implement correctly


Think about it. What do you need to do to implement a nomination program each month? Here are some of the necessary steps that might be involved:

  1. Your employees need to be ready to step up and nominate people.
  2. You need a committee that is ready to read nominations and crown a winner.
  3. You need to spend money on the extra fanfare of making the award special for the winner.

All of these steps are time-consuming for you and your employees. Many nomination programs fall flat because of the time it takes to run them.

An employee of the month programs needs to run every month to be effective, which can cause even more issues when your business is dealing with a busy season. Even one slip-up or skipped month can undermine the program and result in a lack of nominations going forward!

Reason #4: Nomination programs are hard to quantify and set standards for

Nomination programs are known to many employees for being a subjective popularity contest. If you want your program to go above that moniker, you need to do a lot of work to make it as objective as possible.

You’ll need to create specific quantifiers and standards for your employee of the month program. Creating an objective employee of the month program can be difficult, especially if multiple people are eligible to win in a single month.

That’s where things get complicated. How will you decide who wins overall? What if you keep getting the same winners? What your nomination program just becomes a cycle of recognizing the same people?

How do you decide if one nomination is better than another? The standards you set will require that your employees step in from time-to-time. How will you control any biases your team might have?

These are a lot of questions, but these questions are ones that your employees are thinking about, too.

Reason #5: Nomination programs can be plagued by favoritism and biases


Who gets nominated, and by whom? And what’s the approval process, and who chooses the winner?

If it’s the CEO, they’re more likely to nominate the managers and leaders that are presenting their team’s work. Which is great! But it doesn’t necessarily recognize all the employees involved in a great project.

Nomination programs favor the visible.

You could create separate employee of the month awards for managers and employees, but this might also cause issues because there are typically fewer managers, so they'll be recognized more often than regular employees.

All of these factors are bound to make some of your employees feel left out. It might make them feel like your company has favorites, and that they aren't one of them. Your employees notice who is more likely to get nominated, and this disengages them from doing their best work. Why would they, if they’re not going to be appreciated for it?

Blatant favoritism of one star employee can lower the morale of all other employees, as other good employees will likely be aware that their peer is enjoying extra perks while their own hard work goes unnoticed and unrewarded. 
–Edward Fleischman, Fortune

Reason #6: Nomination programs aren’t frequent and timely enough

Organizational and cognitive studies show us that the best and most impactful recognition is timely, frequent, specific, inclusive, and values-based.

Let’s say your team member spotted an error in your presentation, and went out of their way to find the correct data. Even if you nominated them for a reward, it’s unlikely that they’ll receive it soon enough for it to make an impact.

When you only reward employees once a month, like many employee nomination and “employee of the month” programs, this stops those rewards from being tied to specific behaviors and situations. It’s likely that the nominated employees will have forgotten exactly what they were recognized for!

Think about recognition from your employees' perspective.

Your employees likely want frequent feedback, and nomination programs can't give them that. Your employees might be likely to quit or become disengaged before you provide positive feedback through an employee nomination program. It can be challenging to save an employee once they’ve become disengaged.

As we discussed earlier, nomination programs do a poor job of reinforcing positive behaviors. If you want to create a positive experience for your employees, you should aim to give recognition as soon as possible to produce a clear connection to positive behavior.

Why you should focus on peer recognition


If you are looking for an alternative to employee nomination programs, we've found that crowdsourcing peer recognition instead of accepting nominations is the most impactful.

Peer recognition has become one of the leading ways to improve company culture and community at work. Top-down recognition isn’t enough to create a happy and healthy work environment.

Peer recognition allows praise to be specific and in the moment

When we enable peers to celebrate and appreciate each other, they can provide feedback in the moment. Peer recognition can happen almost immediately after an event takes place, and it allows your team to come together and celebrate the people who matter. Since peers know the job well, their feedback and praise can often be more helpful than feedback from managers or higher-ups who don't understand their role.

The turnaround time of a peer recognition program compared to a well-regulated employee of the month program is astounding. You don’t have to have an open period for nominations, your committee doesn’t have to waste dozens of hours pouring over nomination forms, and you don’t have to spend so many hours getting the celebration just right.

Sending thanks to your fellow peers takes much less time than a nomination program. You don't have to think about their accomplishments as grand gestures they've done for the company. With a peer recognition program, you can reward employees for their contributions every day. 🤗

Peer recognition builds company culture and community


While employee of the month prizes breed competition amongst employees, peer recognition builds company culture and community. Employees feel better about themselves, the company they work at, and the people they work with when praise becomes a part of the company culture.

It becomes more about helping each other to help the company succeed, instead of pushing oneself to the top.

By default, you are awarding one person with the "ultimate" monthly award. When employees feel like there is only one shot to be awarded for their work, they either work hard to undercut employees, or they lose motivation to do the work entirely.

Peer recognition gives you the ability to see your silent rockstars

If you use a program like Bonusly to provide peer recognition to your teams, you'll begin to uncover the silent rockstars that are contributing to your company’s success. This data is tremendously important, and it's often lost when you use an employee of the month model.

Since you'll have access to the data of how employees give away their points every month, you'll begin to see those employees you didn't realize make such a difference at work. It might be managers, but more than likely, it's the staff members you least expect getting points and recognition each month.


Here's the bottom line: nomination programs can breed competition and resentment within your workplace. Peer-to-peer recognition is much easier to utilize at work, and it has tremendous results. While peer-to-peer recognition has less fanfare than an employee of the month program, it can be more productive because you recognize people in the moment and on a more consistent basis.

When recognition is an unlimited resource, there's no need to fight over who is the best employee. Your recognition-rich company culture will soon prove that all your employees bring something unique to the table.F

For more strategies on building a recognition-rich and high engagement culture, check out this resource:

Surveys, surveys, everywhere! As consumers, we're constantly asked to take surveys. Prompts for surveys line the bottom of most receipts and come at the end of almost every customer service call.

At work, on the other hand, we're rarely prompted to share our opinions. 🤔

"Most organizations (74%) will still use formal, large-scale surveys to gauge how employees feel about their jobs and workplace."

But why not? Shouldn’t we always be looking for ways to improve? We think yes. 

Why you should frequently solicit employee feedback


Companies need to invest in and accept employee feedback, because employees are the heart of a company. If your employees aren’t happy, it affects all areas of your business. Listening to your employees empowers them and makes them excited about the work they do for your company. Employees appreciate feeling heard and empowered.

To gather employee feedback, many companies turn to annual surveys, but this isn’t the best action plan for connecting with your employees. If you want to improve employee engagement, you should look at a different way to measure engagement and satisfaction.

Highly engaged organizations are more likely than other organizations to measure engagement, and they are more likely to measure it more than once a year.
–Bonusly, The State Of Employee Engagement in 2019

These highly engaged organizations are better positioned for success because of their use of surveys and other engagement measurements. While annual surveys may take less time to administer, the problem with annual surveys is well documented:

  • Many managers don't like them and view them as tick-box exercises
  • Employees don't feel like employers utilize feedback gleaned from them.
  • Most managers aren’t taking action on the feedback they get from annual surveys

All of this results in an average annual survey response rate of 30%. You can’t tell what your employees are thinking when the response rate is that low. 

So how do you solicit real, actionable insights from your employees? We’ve got the answer: pulse surveys.

What is a pulse survey?


Pulse surveys are quick and easy surveys sent to employees throughout the year to gather feedback. Instead of one gigantic survey wrapping up your year, you break it down and receive actionable feedback year-round.

Rather than addressing every issue under the sun, pulse surveys target a few specific pain points. With them, you can keep surveys short and actionable for everyone. For example, you may create a pulse survey to address topics like overtime policies, burnout amongst your employees, or company engagement levels.

Pulse surveys thrive when you can see trends in the data. Therefore, you’ll want to create a set of questions that get at the same idea. For example, build out various questions that help you understand employee engagement so you can send out your pulse surveys without producing boredom or survey fatigue.

At the heart of it, pulse surveys are all about shorter, more frequent check-ins. The goal is to help you gather and react to employee feedback before it’s too late.

Seven best practices for pulse surveys

Creating a pulse survey is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. Let’s discuss some of the best practices you should consider when putting together pulse surveys for your employees.

1. Be clear on your goals


Creating a survey without clearly defining your goals first is a bad practice. If you don't have any goals, you won't know what you are looking for or how to get there. While it's great to value employee feedback, you shouldn't survey your employees just to send out a survey. Instead, create a plan for what you want to accomplish.

For example, your goal might be to gauge your employee's thoughts on your new overtime policies for the next year. Once you set a few specific survey goals, creating survey questions becomes easier. Think of your survey goals as a rubric that will help you determine the usefulness of your survey questions.

2. Keep it short and sweet

The reason pulse surveys work is because they are short. Annual surveys get a bad reputation because they are excessively long. Most pulse surveys are 5-10 questions. Pulse surveys are easy to complete in one sitting, which reduces your survey abandon rate and increases your response rate.

3. Mix up survey question types


While pulse surveys are short, it’s still important to mix up survey question styles, so your respondents don't get bored. Seeing a wall of ten similar questions can invoke some of those high abandon rates, even in a pulse survey.

Instead, mix it up by using some of these survey question styles:

  • Multiple choice
  • Closed and open-ended questions
  • Short answer questions
  • Likert scale questions
  • Rating questions
  • Demographic questions

Keep your employees on their toes, so they think of these surveys as a fun exercise instead of a chore. 

4. Make sure it's genuinely anonymous

Respondents are much more likely to participate in surveys if they are confident that personal anonymity is guaranteed.”
Palmer Morrel-Samuels

Depending on the survey questions, employees might fear retaliation if they’re honest and truthful. Employees want to know that it’s safe to share their feedback.

Creating an anonymous survey is about more than not asking for a name or email address. Other parts of a survey can give away someone's identity, especially if you work in a small office.

Protect anonymity in responses by avoiding:

  • Long answer questions
  • Collecting information like IP addresses or other identifying background information
  • Asking personal demographic questions.

It's also worth it to look into employee engagement tools, many of which bake anonymity into their software.

5. Ask questions you have the authority to change


The most typical reason people don’t want to fill out your survey is because you haven’t done anything since the last one.”
Didier Elzinga

It’s disillusioning to be hopeful for change, and yet have nothing happen! 😣

For example, if you want to ask about changes to your company’s overtime policy, you should have the ability to change the policy to reflect your employee’s thought process. Survey questions shouldn’t be only about validation, because sometimes you'll find that your employees don't agree with you.

6. Share results and improvements

Organizations can collect all the employee feedback they want from their employees, but unless they communicate and take action on that feedback, they will not see the results they hope to.
Dr. Benjamin Grange

Are you taking the time to compile survey results and share them with your employees?

Surveys need to be more than lip service; they should inspire change! 💫

Once you make changes to your company, make sure your employees realize that those changes were a result of survey responses. The simple act of sharing improvements with your employees will make them more excited to respond the next time you share a survey. 🎉

Highly Engaged employees are 3.1x more likely to say that their organization takes their feedback seriously than Actively Disengaged employees.
–Bonusly, 2019 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

7. Watch out for survey fatigue and response rates


We've talked about survey and respondent fatigue, mostly as it relates to annual surveys, but your employees can still get survey fatigue while taking pulse surveys. Most research on survey frequency is built for customers, but a good rule of thumb is sending out surveys quarterly or more frequently.

"Respondent fatigue is a well-documented phenomenon that occurs when survey participants become tired of the survey task, and the quality of the data they provide begins to deteriorate."
Sage Research Methods

To avoid survey fatigue, put a cap on the number of pulse surveys your employees receive. If you follow that up with taking action on survey results, you’ll reduce the risk of survey fatigue.

Also, consider the response rate when dealing with pulse surveys. If you want to make accurate decisions using survey data, your response rate should be high enough to speak for the majority of your employees. For example, if your response rate is 10%, you wouldn’t be able to use that data to make changes at work. You aren’t looking for a 100% response rate either because that likely means that you provided too many incentives.

If you want to pull up your response rate a little, try incentivizing your team using some of our staff appreciation and employee reward ideas.

How to run a pulse survey

Now that we've discussed some best practices for pulse surveys, let's go over your pulse survey plan. 📋

Create the survey


At Bonusly, we’re a big fan of Gallup’s Q12 survey questions, a list of questions shown to be the most effective measure of employee engagement. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t throw in more tailored questions that are specific to your organization. You should work with your leadership team to craft survey questions based on your goals. 

Most importantly, make sure survey questions are specific. It might be tempting to combine questions to save space, but that can produce muddled data. For example, don’t ask a question like, “Do you feel like our overtime and personal time-off policies are fair?” because while both overtime and PTO concern an employees’ hours at work, they are vastly different concepts in execution.

Ask clear, specific questions and divvy up topics up so your employees can tell you how they feel without caveats. 

After you have your survey written out, create a digital version with a platform like Officevibe. Remember to abstain from collecting any identifying background information like IP addresses.

Share it with your team 

Send out an email to your organization with a link to the survey. Let them know what the survey is about and the deadline for submitting their survey answers. Remember to send reminders! 

Follow up during meetings

Instead of following up via email, considering following up in person by mentioning the survey during meetings, whether it’s during 1:1s or team status meetings. By following up during office meetings, you reach those employees who aren’t as diligent about checking their emails.

Close the survey and analyze results


After the deadline has passed, close the survey, and take your time compiling and understanding the results. What are your employees telling you? How does this differ from the results you thought you'd get? How does it compare to past trends?

Here’s an example: Our friends at Officevibe wanted to better understand the relationship between recognition frequency, one of the most challenging metrics for most organizations, and other aspects of employee engagement. By looking at their pulse survey platform’s network averages, they found that:

  • Out of 120 engagement questions, respondents rated recognition as highly meaningful (placing it in the 10 highest scoring questions), yet the frequency at which they received recognition was troubling (in the 10 lowest scoring questions)
  • Out of 26 submetrics, Recognition Frequency and Happiness at work had the strongest correlation, followed by Recognition Frequency and Feedback Quality

Officevibe used pulse survey data to uncover the importance of frequent recognition to employee happiness. How could your team analyze pulse survey data to uncover important insights and prioritize employee engagement initiatives

Make any immediate changes and share results


After reviewing results with other managers and leadership, decide which changes to make now and which ones to save for later. Share the results and then communicate the proposed changes with your team.

Create a survey cadence that works

Last, but not least, keep up with pulse surveys by creating a survey cadence that works for you and your team. A simple cadence that may work for your business is quarterly surveys. You may also want to make one of your surveys a bit longer so you can get more in-depth data from your employees.

Your survey cadence will depend on the data you’d like to gather and employee sentiment. If employees are keen to provide input on your next office location, or want to share their thoughts on the new all-hands presentation format, you may want to send out a quick survey to get your employees’ thoughts in the moment. Don't be afraid to mix things up until you find a rhythm that works for your company.


Employee engagement is becoming more valuable than ever before, meaning employee feedback should be taken even more seriously. Pulse surveys provide a snapshot into the daily joys and concerns of our employees, making it easier to celebrate wins or quickly address concerns. 

Pulse surveys results can be an enlightening and invigorating way to make sure you’re on the right track to creating a great company culture and workplace environment. When you’re ready for more ideas, check out this resource:

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