Rewarding staff when money is tight

Non monetary staff rewards

By: Mike Watson

Just as people need to feel loved and validated within families and personal relationships, people need to feel appreciated at work.

A no-brainer, you might say, but think for a minute how many people you’ve heard complain about their employers and the lack of recognition.

In her book Just Rewards Australian journalist Janelle Wells makes a compelling case for rewarding employees.

Her focus is on case studies and examples of how smart bosses on both small and large businesses are using rewards to get results.

Writing the book was an eye-opener for Ms Wells.

"I was struck by the extremes of how companies treat their staff in Australia", she writes.

"On one hand there was the terrific generosity of a small business owner who organised surprise dinners for her employees and their families…at the other extreme was one employee who said their boss docked their pay by $4 for every toilet break."

Ms Wells has no doubt about the benefits of recognising people at work.

"Employees are who rewarded for their efforts are more willing to go the extra mile for the company, to contribute their intellectual capital, and to stay around for longer."

Also on her list is the fact that feeling valued creates staff ambassadors who are a living advertisement for your company, helping you attract top quality people.

While expressing thanks sometimes means spending money, with a little planning and preparation rewarding your people does not need to be a big overall drain on your finances

Studies of workplaces, such as those undertaken by Leadership Management Australia, reveal again and again that while the material benefits are important to employees, more important is good management and having a sense of control and purpose.

Similarly, a January 2007 survey by US. staffing firm Accountemps discovered that "frequent recognition of accomplishments" was the top non-monetary reward named by full-time and part-time office workers, with "regular communication" coming in second place.

Both activities can make your staff more productive without shaving one millimetre off your bottom line.

Truly rewarding ideas.

The type of rewards your staff will respond to depends in part on the sector your business operates in.

Some rewards can reflect a particular kind of the culture that an employer is trying to create, while others are more straight-forward freebies.

Here are some thought-starters for managers:

  • Say Hello.  This so simple and can brighten up anyone’s day. When you pass one of your staff try to greet them by name and give them a genuine smile.
  • Dig A Little. Find out a bit about what goes on in each of your staff member’s lives. It gives you the opportunity to express sympathy or empathy, and that means a lot to people.
  • Praise Publicly. You can do this at weekly staff meetings, over the P.A. system or even by group email. Saying thanks for a job well done in front of an employee’s colleagues can increase everyone’s understanding of the role each person actually plays in the company.
  • Make Prizes Fun. A little thought and creativity can make this a big hit in staff meetings. Do you have a gun P.A. who’s great at putting puts out client fires? Award her a fireman’s hat.
  • Did someone manage a particularly tough project? Present here with a big box of nails. Of course it’s silly; that’s the point and it provides fun as well as recognition.
  • Don’t Qualify. Unless it’s a formal performance review or you are dealing with a problem employee, be unconditional in your praise. The word "but" shouldn’t be part of your rewards vocabulary.
  • Eat & Drink. Yes, it can cost you money and it’s old hat but never underestimate the bonding power of a get-together outside the office.When staff get to know a bit more about each other outside the pressure cooker of the work environment, better teamwork ensues.
  • A bar tab at the local pub is a great Aussie tradition but you might be surprised at the number of people who don’t drink much or at all. So mix up your choice of treats; next time try a free breakfast instead.
  • The theory is that more gets done in a space where people see that doing quality work is more important than what they are wearing. Try it one day per week, and do keep your shoes handy for when clients come in for meetings.
  • Take A Ride. From jet boats to roller coasters, it may get your staff out of their comfort zone but do it right and they’ll be talking about it for weeks.

Plan it in secret and pick a day for a bus to roll up to the office unannounced and spirit them away for the big surprise.

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