“Unofficial” rewards are those that generally don’t require the HR team’s approval or even participation, although again this will vary from company to company. As such, these are generally easier to hand out, but will also often have a smaller impact on the individual.


Probably the most common of the unofficial rewards is the team party: take a few hours, combined with some food and beverage, and socialize. Before announcing the party, however, take a few moments to make a few decisions ahead of time:

  • Where? Onsite, offsite, or remote? If the party is held within the building, the company will most probably have some kind of limitations on food and beverage (most notably alcohol) that can be brought inside. Space limitations may also apply. Plus, you just can’t really get all that obnoxious when there’s people trying to get work done just one cubicle wall away. Additionally, if members of your team are remote, it can feel very exclusionary to hold something in-person when they can’t attend. In that case, do something over your videoconference software of choice, and consider shipping something (food or beverage) out to everybody ahead of time.
  • When? Remember that your team has lives after the workday is over, so don’t just assume that everybody can get together on a Thursday night in a bar, particularly if they have spouses and/or families. On the flip side, however, many people can feel awkward walking into a bar or bowling alley at 1 in the afternoon.
  • Food. Sure, everybody loves cake, but a non-trivial number of people also have religious and/or medical concerns that mean that there’s no one dish that appeals equally to everybody. (I’m a carnivore of the highest-order, and one of my best friends is a strict vegetarian.) Keep that in mind—combined with the knowledge of your team your 1:1s have given you—when planning any food options.
  • Beverages. The elephant in the room here is alcohol: while many companies (particularly startups) like to proclaim their “work hard, play hard” culture, alcohol at a company-sponsored event can be playing with fire. Remember that if you buy the drinks, you are a company representative and you now assume a certain amount of liability for whatever happens. This means you, personally, making sure that everybody behaves within acceptable limits (and stepping in if they get out of hand) and gets home safely. Keep in mind that certain religions forbid the consumption of alcohol entirely, and many people have medical concerns and personal histories that may make alcohol an unwelcome participant. Exercise deep thought here, consult with the HR team to make sure you stay on the right side of the company’s policies, and when in doubt, err on the side of caution and choose to be a “dry” party.
  • Activities. While sometimes it’s best to just sit around in the break room and chat, some celebrations call for something a little more celebratory, like bowling, or miniature golf, or a water park. Many large cities have all sorts of fun diversions that cater to corporate events—I’ve personally been to axe throwing, immersive combat simulations (basically networked video games), escape rooms, paintball, and go-kart racing. Again, keep your team’s interests and restrictions in mind when you think about the event—if you have a team member who requires physical accommodations (for example, they are wheelchair-bound), go-kart racing is a bad idea. Or, if you have someone who is claustrophobic, escape rooms can be difficult for them. And so on.
  • Participants. Sure, your immediate team is invited, but take a moment and stop to think, are there others who can/should be invited? Software development is a team sport, and sometimes the team is larger than just your immediate team: the product folks, the marketing folks, the sales folks, the administrative assistants, all are reasonable candidates to include as part of the celebration. Also, decide up front if this is a “company” party, or if you want to let “plus-ones” and/or families to participate.

Lastly, when planning the party, make any costs explicit to the team/guests, but look to absorb as much of the cost as possible, footing the cost yourself if necessary. It’s not as much of a reward if everybody has to pay their own way. (That said, frequently the exception is alcohol: it’s very common to pay for everything except drinks, which then neatly avoids some of the liability mentioned above—although not all.)

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