employee gift card programs

Employee Gift Card Programs: How to Successfully Design Work Incentives

Justin Calderon

Justin Calderon

9 min

Employee gift card programs have been growing in importance as a way for organizations to reward their employees thanks to their broad appeal, usefulness, flexibility, and customizability. 

In today’s world, recognising and rewarding employees is crucial to improving employee engagement, retention rate, and referrals (employees recommending their firms to others). 

According to a survey by Gallup and WorkHuman, a firm that helps organizations create inclusive workplaces, when employee recognition hits the mark, workers engagement grows 4X, burnout reduces by 73%, and they are 5X more likely to be in the organization for the long term

Yet with thousands of gift cards available on the market, it might be difficult for organizations to know how to create the best employee gift card programs that will “hit the mark.” 

Should open loop be preferred to closed loop? If you go for a closed-loop card, which store should be selected? 

These and many more questions we will seek to answer in this article. We’ll cover: 

  1. Four reasons why you should use employee gift card programs
  2. Types of employee gift card programs
  3. Best gift cards for each employee gift card program
  4. How to create your own employee gift card programs

[Are you ready to incentivize your employees with gift card rewards? Sign up for Reloadly to purchase gift cards from over 300 brands, customize them with your own messages, and get performance reports for every employee reward gift card program.]

1. Four reasons why you should use employee gift card programs

Before going into details about how to create the best employee gift card programs (also known as corporate gift card programs), let’s examine four reasons why you should even consider gift cards for employee rewards.

1. Usefulness

Though buying a gift for your employees can be a sign of thoughtfulness that is well appreciated and received, it is very possible that the gift does not meet their needs. 

Many times, someone’s best efforts at deciding what another person needs may be inaccurate. Even though the person may appreciate the thought and effort that goes into the gift, they may be forced to sell it (at a discount, in most cases) to get what they really need or just keep it for a future use. 

Gift cards are helpful in solving this problem. Even closed-loop gift cards that can only be used in a particular store still gives your employees a chance to choose their preferred gift. In this way, they can decide what they need the most at the moment and use the gift card to purchase exactly those items. 

Sample closed-loop gift card

Source: CardVest

A survey by Carat, the global commerce platform, has shown that 72% of users consider gift cards the perfect gift because they allow the recipient buy their preferred gifts

Source: Capital One Shopping

2. Flexibility

If all you can afford is to give $5 to every employee, there are $5 gift cards that you can purchase and share. When your budget increases to $100 per employee, there are also gift cards of that amount. 

A $5 gift card may seem too small but you might be surprised what your employee can do with a $5 iTunes or Sephora card, for example. 

3. Broad appeal

The global gift cards industry is valued at $899.3 billion and is expected to reach $2.3 trillion by 2030, according to Report Linker

In the US, 64% of consumers buy gift cards as holiday gifts according to the Carat survey.

4. Customizability

You can also customize your gift cards to include specific messages to your employees. This is especially useful when you are sending a digital gift card (also known as egift cards) instead of a physical gift card. 

In addition, you can use white-label prepaid cards that can be branded with your logo and other brand identities. This branding option can further increase employee satisfaction and deepen the connection between your organization and its employees. 

2. Types of employee gift card programs

Employee incentive gift card programs are not monolithic since you can have different reasons for rewarding your employees. Below are some popular ones you should consider: 

  • Achievements: While there are general rewards you should use to recognize the efforts of all workers, there will be times when you need to reward the hard work and achievements of a particular employee or team members. 

This is especially appropriate for members of your sales teams who have gone over and beyond to beat the targets you gave them. 

  • Anniversaries and milestones: When employees are celebrating their work anniversaries or a significant milestone (10,000 products sold, 50 products designed, etc.), you can also give them gift cards as recognition of their dutiful service.
  • Birthdays:  You can also send gift cards to employees on their birthdays. 
  • End-of-year rewards and Employees Appreciation Day: The end of a financial year is also another opportunity to reward employees for their service for the year. Some organizations also select a day in the year to appreciate employees. This is a practice you can imbibe and another opportunity to reward employees. 
  • Holiday seasons: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Labor day, Christmas, etc., are also opportunities to reward employees.  

You may think that rewarding employees so frequently will be bad for business. It’s not. Studies have shown that benefits (perks) like these are becoming even more important to employees than their salary. If you want to retain your staff and keep them engaged, then you can’t play with their rewards and benefits.  

3. Best gift card type for each employee gift card program

So which employee rewards gift cards should you use for which program? 

Below are some general guidelines that you should consider when designing your employee gift card program: 

General rewards require less specific gift cards

If you are rewarding all your employees during the holiday season, at the end of the year, or on Employees Appreciation day, then it is better to go for a general gift card that will be useful for each person who receives it. 

In this situation, an open-loop gift card (from any of the popular credit card networks – Visa, MasterCard, Amex.) will be more useful than an iTunes gift card and a closed-loop card from a general-purpose marketplace like Amazon will be better than a Sephora gift card.

Sample open-loop gift card

Source: CardFellow

Personalize even general rewards

Customizability is one of the competitive advantages of gift cards. Employee recognition gift cards should not be bland even if you are sending it to every one of your employees.

A simple gift card message for employees like: “Thank you for your outstanding service; it’s because of your effort that this company is thriving” can improve the value that your employee derive from the gift card, irrespective of the actual amount on the card.  

If you are on a budget, prioritize usefulness

As said above, gift cards are flexible because they are adaptable to your budget. 

However, if your budget is tight and say only $5 can go around for a general employee reward, then you should prioritize stores where even $5 can be useful or just go for an open-loop gift card. 

Yes, 61% of consumers spend an average of $31.75 more than the gift card value, according to Clearnet, a payment processing platform. But many employees might not appreciate getting a $5 gift card from a store where the least they can spend is $50. 

Consequently, the best $5 gift card for employees might be Amazon, Starbucks, Target or just Visa and MasterCard. 

Specific rewards may require more specific gift cards

Imagine the joy that an employee who loves buying a particular brand will feel when you give her a gift card from that brand as a reward for a specific achievement or milestone. 

This is a great way to combine usefulness and thoughtfulness and if done right, it can deepen the connection between the organization and its employees in unimaginable ways. 

Doing something like this will require deliberate efforts from your HR team. By paying attention to the kinds of brands employees use – perfume, shoes, clothes, bags, pens, phones, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. – they might be able to gather information that will be useful when needed. 

If doing this will be hard, you might decide to sacrifice thoughtfulness for usefulness by asking the employee to choose from a list of closed-loop gift cards

Alternatively, you can just give them an open-loop gift card and allow them to buy what they want with it. 

Personalize specific employee rewards gift cards

If you are sending a gift card to reward the outstanding achievements of a particular employee, then the accompanying message must be well personalized to that employee. 

Instead of a general appreciation for their contributions, mention what they did and how it has impacted or will impact the organization. 

Let your gift cards reflect your company’s culture and values

If your organization has been placing premium value on your employees improving their reading habits, then an employee rewards program can provide opportunities to reinforce that message. 

How so? For general rewards, you can distribute the gift cards of a local bookstore

To take another example, suppose a movie has just been released that bolsters your message that employees should learn how to take the initiative and be innovative. You can decide to share gift cards to the movie theater where that movie is showing

If health and wellness is what you have been emphasizing, you can also share gift cards to a trusted health and wellness store. 

4. How to create your employee gift card programs

Now that you know why gift cards are useful for employee recognition programs and which gift cards you should use for the various types of employee gift cards, let’s consider how you can get your employee incentive programs started. 

  • Choose a gift card platform: Your platform of choice must provide you access to a wide variety of gift card options (the popular ones and the not-so popular ones) so you can always choose the one that is suitable for every employee gift card program.

This is especially important if you have chosen to put a premium on usefulness by allowing employees to choose the card they want. In this case, you want a platform that can supply bulk gift cards to meet everyone’s needs.

  • Install a gift card API: The platform you choose must also have an easy-to-install API that you can quickly integrate into your websites and apps. An ideal API must be installable within a day with little technical knowledge
  • Create employee gift card programs: It is better to decide beforehand on what occasions you will reward employees. For general rewards, you might decide it’s only at the end of the year and at Christmas. In the case of specific rewards, you will also need to specify what you consider as an outstanding achievement or milestone in need of rewards. 

This step is important because it makes it easier to budget for these programs. Although you might not be able to predict when specific rewards will have to be given out, you can at least plan for the general ones.  

  • Decide on your budget: Deciding on your budget for employee recognition gift cards at the beginning of the year can make the process more seamless. 

The overall budget will determine what you can afford to give each employee for every program you want to execute

It’s also important to work with a gift card platform with no minimums requirement since there are times you can only afford $5 gift cards. 

  • Create and send customized gift cards: A good gift card retailer must provide you with customization options so you can include personalized messages to your employees. 

Though both physical and digital gift cards can be customized, it is often easier done with the latter. 

  • Review results: The best way to improve gift card incentives for employees is to get performance statistics on previous ones. You can review those results and find insights that will improve subsequent ones. 

Reloadly is a gift card platform that provides access to great gift cards for employees from more than 300 brands including the most popular ones like Amazon, Apple, Sephora, Starbucks, Target, amongst others. 

employee gift card programs

Its API is easy to install with little developer knowledge. Once installed, you can easily customize your gift cards before sending them to your employees. 

And with each gift card program, you can gain access to analytics that you can use to improve your next employee incentives gift card program. 

[Are you ready to improve employee engagement and retention with employee gift card programs? Sign up for Reloadly to start sending gift cards from over 300 brands to your employees across the globe.]


  • Gift cards stand out among other reward options because of their usefulness, flexibility, broad appeal, and customizability. 
  • Employee gift card rewards can be general (rewarding all employees) and specific (rewarding employees with certain significant achievements). 
  • Gift cards should be adapted to the nature of the employee reward and irrespective of the type of reward, they should be accompanied by personalized messages. 
  • To succeed, you must use a gift card retailer with access to different types of gift cards, easy-to-install API, performance reports, and provision for custom rewards. 

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