Incentivizing employees is all about getting the most out of a mutually beneficial relationship. An employee with the right incentive to work harder is not only more productive; they are simultaneously happier, and more loyal. Any good business owner is concerned with delivering their employees the appropriate incentives to increase quality, efficiency, and productivity within the workplace, but some people take the wrong approach to doing so. Incentives may be offered that don’t work for employees, or are delivered without regard for their half of the employee-employer relationship. Bad employee incentives can have exactly the opposite of the desired effect, while still costing a company money.

Here are 5 things that all management and executive personnel should bear in mind while engaged in incentivizing employees:

Employees Like Recognition

Recognition works to an employee’s advantage in a number of ways, not all of them purely conceptual. It boosts self-esteem and confidence, but — if managed effectively — it can also bring a hard-working and accomplished employee to the attention of the right people within an organization. Consider the possibilities inherent to incentives already being offered: do you send an employee an email when they’ve done a particularly good job? Consider copying it to other relevant management personnel.

Money Isn’t Everything

Financial rewards can be helpful, and are usually appreciated. Surprisingly, however, this is one of the most common employee incentive efforts to backfire. Financial rewards don’t typically carry a lot of underlying significance; they’re really only good for one thing. If an employee is having financial problems, or feeling significantly undervalued, a small bonus or gift card risks coming across as pandering — even mocking. When going the financial route, a better way to do it is to give a gift card to a popular restaurant, theater, or some other activity, preferably tailored to the individual employee’s avowed interests. This implies that their having a life outside of work is recognized, and even encouraged.

Consistency is Vital to Sincerity

When trying to incentivize, consistency is important. In the short term, inconsistent rewards or recognition can lead to the appearance of favoritism, which often has an immediate impact on other employees’ performance levels. In the long term, the irony that is “consistent inconsistency” reduces the impact of efforts to incentivize: it not only reduces the effectiveness of current employee incentive programs, but it negatively impacts future efforts to add incentive as well.

Make Your Incentives Fun

“Work isn’t fun; that’s why it’s called work” isn’t a wise old adage; it’s an expression of employee bitterness. It’s the hallmark of low job satisfaction, and high turnover rates. Making employee incentives fun is one of the best ways in which you can add a little levity and brightness to the overall workplace atmosphere, and make the day-to-day grind a bit less grinding. There are lots of ways to do this, ranging from the casual (a team meeting, which turns out to be a pizza party and a collective “job well done!” pat on the back) to the more extravagant (buy a couple of tickets to a gala event for a charity with which your company has an ongoing arrangement). Whatever you do, making sure it puts a smile on your employees’ faces is a job satisfaction boost.

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Make it Significant

A kindergarten student may respond well to gold stars on a performance chart, but professionally employed white-collar workers will usually want something a little more solid — not necessarily substantial, as such, but definitely more meaningful. A handshake and a “good job today!” delivered at the right moment would matter more than all the gold stars the world’s gold star factories have to offer. Incentives need to be sincere and appreciable; they must be something appropriate to a professional environment, and should communicate the value of the employee’s work in the eyes of management.

By bearing these and other common tips for incentivizing employees in mind, you will increase the effectiveness of your incentives. At the same time, they will become more affordable, and will often be much more deeply appreciated by your employees, thanks to the added sincerity they’ll pick up on with every gesture made. Incentives don’t have to be expensive, or particularly sophisticated — only genuine, an honest thank-you for an exceptional performance.