Employee-RewardAre you rewarding your employees for good work? That’s great—but are you sure you’re rewarding them in the most effective way? One of my friends still remembers the time she got a gift certificate for $250 worth of premium steaks from her boss. Pretty generous, right? Well, yes—except my friend was a vegetarian. Not only did the gift certificate fail to serve its purpose as a reward, it actually made my friend feel worse by reminding her that her boss didn’t know anything about her—and didn’t bother to take the time to find out.

So how can you avoid this kind of gaffe? Here are some tips for effective employee rewards.

Get personal. A reward tailored to the employee’s hobbies or interests makes him or her feel special. For example, a gift card to a favorite restaurant, tickets to a game for a sports fan’s favorite local team, or an Amazon.com gift card for the avid reader are all good rewards that don’t have to cost a lot. If you don’t know what the person likes, have someone in your office scope it out. (However, stay away from anything so personal that it could be misinterpreted, such as cigars, lingerie or liquor.)

Be unexpected. Reinforcing behavior at unexpected times—that is, random rewards—can be more effective than rewards at expected times like holiday bonus season. Employees are likely to remember the unexpected reward (and talk about it) far longer. Look for opportunities to reward employees on the spur of the moment (you could keep something everyone likes, such as Starbucks gift cards, on hand for such occasions).

Make it public. Rewarding someone in front of the rest of the team makes the reward more valuable because it includes a dose of public praise. It also shows the rest of the team that there are rewards for good work, spurring them to earn their own rewards. Don’t reward your employees quietly in their cubes; get everyone’s attention, and make it a big deal.

Spread it around. Yes, some employees deserve more rewards than others do. However, if a few employees start to feel like they never get rewarded, resentment will ensue (and spread). Look for the positive in everyone’s behavior and find ways to give small rewards to all employees, while still making them feel “earned.” That way, you’ll keep everyone feeling motivated.