We don’t have to tell you that it costs a lot of time and money to hire a new employee. And with most people today staying in a job for less than five years, the chances that you’ll have to spend those resources are more likely than ever.

That’s why you need to do whatever you can to keep your employees happy. Some companies can offer matching 401ks and top-tier health plans paid at 100%. But there aren’t many companies that have that ability. Most have to think a little smaller…donuts on Friday, or not-quite-top-tier health plans. Still, no matter how large or small a company is, there’s one thing that employees really love and can have a surprising effect on how devoted they are to your company and therefore how long they stay: swag.

What is swag? It’s those employee incentives that you can give to employees for them to keep at their desk, take home, use, or wear. It’s the stuff that you’re giving them that gives them a little thrill just by receiving it. It could be a nice shirt, customized flashlights, branded fidget spinners, or clocks. Really, it’s anything that connects the employee to the company

So, if you’re an employer, read on to find out how employee incentives can work for you. (And if you’re an employee, stop reading now. We don’t want you to know the secrets!)

Why Do Incentives Work?

You might wonder why incentives work at all. After all, most employee incentives are pretty small. You might be paying $6 for a custom t-shirt with your business name (a bit more with embroidering), but that’s still not much. In fact, it’s less than an hour’s work with the minimum wage being where it is right now.

Incentives work for quite a few reasons. First, people love free stuff. Getting free stuff, even if they really have no use for it, gives most people a thrill. That’s why most tables at conventions have freebies that they give away. Giving somebody something helps remind them of where they got it, and from whom.

Second, humans are hardwired to feel like they should give a gift if they receive one. So if you give them something small, they feel the need to give you something back. One of the most common ways is continued loyalty to your company.

Third, you know who your employee works for, and they know who they work for. But giving them stuff is a way to keep that connection going when they’re at home. When they grab a clean coffee mug from their home dishwasher, your name is one of the first things they see after they wake up. The more company swag a person surrounds themselves, the more connected they feel to your business. It becomes more a part of their identity, and they’re much less likely to leave for another company.

When Do You Give Incentives?

There’s really no one time that most employee giveaways are distributed. Here are five of the most common reasons that a company might give their employees branded items.

Anniversaries – This one is certainly one of the most important, because celebrating an employee’s anniversary is in effect celebrating their loyalty to you. Whether your company is small enough to celebrate the actual anniversary date or so large that you have to celebrate all of the anniversaries quarterly, you don’t want to neglect showing them you appreciate them staying around. It doesn’t have to be anything too special, but everyone like to be acknowledged for their work.

End of Project – Another good time to hand out company-branded swag from the print shop is at the end of a large project. Perhaps it’s the release of a piece of software or the delivery of a product that was a year in development. When the big date is finally here and you’re ready to put that project behind you, celebrate it with custom t-shirt printing with the project’s name. If it was a piece of software released, have the name printed on mouse pads, thumb drives, or ear buds…anything they can use at the computer as the next job ramps up.

Winning – There are many times employees win. Sometimes it’s because they’ve gone above and beyond among their peers, and you want to recognize it. Other times you might be having a company picnic and want to reward the employees who ran the three-legged race fastest. Either way, you want to celebrate them, and what better way to do so than with company merchandise.

Anytime – Who needs a reason? Peppering employees with gifts is a great way to keep them thinking that they’re working for someplace special.

Retirement – Here’s the one exception to trying to keep your employees happy. In the case of retirees, you’re really not trying to make them stay with you. But you do want to honor them for their service, which means giving them something nice. This isn’t the time to dig through the closet and find them a pair of company sunglasses, because if they’re worked for you for this long they probably already have a few pair! No, this is the time to give them something nice, something like a golf jacket. (You might get them a trip and a watch as well, but make sure to send them off with something that’s specific to your company.) You want to give them something high-quality that they’ll be proud to wear for the rest of their days, something that will invite a retiree to talk about their time with your company.

What’s The Benefit To Your Business?

As we stated at the beginning of this article, you want to foster employee loyalty as much as you can. Not only is it expensive to hire and train a new person, but you also don’t want to lose the productivity that comes from losing a trained person and getting another up to speed. A few customized tchotchkes could help your employee feel more positively toward your company even when the job gets tough.

You also can’t deny the advantages that come from your employee using their branded merchandise out in public. One employee might wear a shirt out in public, while another might take their travel mug to a coffee shop. Give enough pens away and one of them will eventually end up on every continent!

What Kind of Incentive Work Best?

We can’t really answer that for you, because we don’t know your industry. Sometimes it’s custom t-shirts, other times it’s toys that employees take home to their kids. For that reason, we’d love to talk with you about the print services that you’re looking for so that we can offer what we bet will work best.

If you have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for, we bet you can find it here. If you’re not quite sure, contact us and we’d be happy to help you keep your best employees happy!