Ten Ways to Motivate Employees without Breaking the Bank

Using Recognition and Reward Techniques Motivates Employees Even In Challenging Economic Times

Understanding your employees and what motivates them to show up to work on time day after day will directly affect your bottom line. Smart managers have always understood the importance of a dedicated staff. But when the economy shrinks and business owners have to fight harder and harder to make even a decent profit, what comes first, the bottom line or your employees? Somehow, both are extremely important and each deserves priority attention on a daily basis. The following is a list of suggestions and ideas to keep your employees and sales people engaged, inspired, and striving to achieve higher performance.

First, let me ask you a few questions: How many of you have consistently used incentive motivation to recognize and reward your employees? What types of incentives worked the best? Are your rewards appropriate to the employees you are giving them to? If your answer is “cash”, my next question is how much return do you think you got on that investment? Studies have shown that cash is never as effective a motivator as the methods listed below. Why? Cash has no trophy value and disappears soon after it is awarded. Employees also feel that if they do an extraordinary job, they deserve a reward that is commensurate with the effort. Cash rewards tend to allow managers to emotionally disconnect with their employees, which can negate any good feelings workers had about the reward.

Employers and managers also do a bad job when it comes to understanding what their employees fundamentally want from their working experience. When asked, employers or managers will always list compensation as the number one motivator. However, when employees are asked, they say compensation is important, but they also value strong and competent management. What else do people want most from their jobs? They want to understand how their work is making a difference. They want job flexibility. They want recognition for a job well done. When an employee receives these things as a result of their efforts, they experience significantly higher job satisfaction.

How do you help foster job satisfaction in your employees? By taking time to comprehend what employees need and then determining strategically how to deliver it. But, you say, “It’s tough enough out there right now without having to create and build new incentives and management goals for the business…I can’t afford incentives for my employees.” My response would be that you cannot afford not to provide new incentives. And leading employers know this.

Studies have shown that employee recognition awards spike as the economy tanks. However, reward amounts can vary. In better economic times, companies turn to stock bonuses, travel incentive awards, cash bonuses and stock options. All these go away when hard times hit. In slow times, awards are spread thinner among more employees. In better economies, one employee may earn $10,000 through one award. In slow times, 100 employees may earn $100 each in prizes.

Strong recognition and motivational programs will help you to maintain good employees. A well managed incentive program with a strong educational component helps a company focus on its stated goals. It will also measure its sales and non-sales objectives regardless of the economic forecast. Today’s businesses are not taking advantage of the current economic situation in a smart manner: They should be aggressively pursuing growth. Ask yourself, what are you not getting that you need? Then consider implementing programs to target these specific challenges. If you create effective incentive and reward programs, you can increase your sales and motivate your employees through:

  • Training and certification
  • Client retention programs
  • Cost reduction systems
  • Productivity growth
  • Better pinpoint who your customer is and cast the net

Motivational tools can be as creative and flexible as you are. Bend the rules a little if you have to. Dream big and step back as you watch the suggestions below bring you the results you are looking for:

  1. Employees as recruiters – You can use your employees to achieve your stated financial goals for the company through incentive rewards. Also, why not include a new hire and lead generation referral system? Because it is essential that you hire and retain good employees, use the ones you have to find other good employees. Reward for new hires. If you would pay a recruiter $1,000 for a great employee, why wouldn’t you pay at least 50% of that for the same employee referral? Turn all your employees into salespeople. Reward them for bringing in leads for new customers. Provide even higher rewards for a lead that turns into a contracted sale.
  2. Eliminate anonymity – Human beings have a need to be known and recognized. If an employee doesn’t feel that the person they are working for knows much about their personal life, or understands them as a person, they cannot find their work fulfilling. Start a recognition program. This can be a very powerful tool when combined with genuine appreciation. Purchase some small generic MasterCard© gift cards–say in $25 or $50 denominations. Use the card in conjunction with a lunch out with the boss. This can work miracles. Always remember employees’ birthdays with a card or e-card.
  3. Engagement by recognition – Employees feel a sense of enslavement and loss of control when they lack clear and specific goals. Try to include non-sales employees in a company-wide recognition program. Start a program of recognizing service, teamwork and creativity, safety, leadership and collaboration. Give the program a name like the “Spirit of…” or the “Stars of…” Give out a packet of custom-designed gift note cards to all employees—these could be called “Star Cards”. They can be a way of saying thank you or recognizing the achievement of one of the department’s values. Rewards could also include travel or gift cards. Or, rewards could also be one afternoon off a week. Mention the employee on the company intranet. Create a flexible and open system for suggestions and ideas. Recognize good money saving or time saving ideas with appropriate rewards, such as gift certificates or travel getaways.
  4. Offer training consistently – Training is a perfect complement to recognition. In fact, the best incentive programs come with a big educational aspect. Create regular training sessions. These will develop a business base for measurement and recognition and are easily justified with management. Training also offers the chance for meaningful praise and recognition. Training is an easy tool to tie into incentive programs. It cuts down on irrelevance. Everyone wants to know that their job matters and that other people’s lives would be affected if the job was not done correctly. Find ways to inform employees about how their work improves the lives of your customers. Start a weekly educational meeting where you keep staff informed about products, services and customer relations, and how they are all interrelated. Serve a complimentary lunch at the meeting.
  5. Sustain – Start a Recycling Club at your business and let employees collect the dollars from saving the cans and bottles. Initiate some green practices by switching out light bulbs, reducing water usage, and recycling paper instead of just throwing it away. Go paper free whenever possible. Check to see how your business can obtain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design degree (LEED). Install solar power on the roof of the business. The more you are on the lookout for these practices, the more you will save. Pledge to give back a percentage of the savings to those employees with good ideas for going green. Redesign the workspace. Improve internet connectivity; install VOIP telephone systems so employees can communicate, not just from their desks but from various pods within the workspace. Create formal and informal work areas. Use as much natural light as possible and turn off some of the electric lights.
  6. Give back – Set a good example. Donating time builds rapport among employees and gives them a sense of community involvement along with the feeling of making a difference. Adopt a local charity for your company. Close the business for an afternoon to build needed housing, clean up a neighborhood or build bikes for needy children. Schedule the event and publicize it in the local papers. Write up a press release and publicize the event on your website afterward. Make sure the names of all employees who participated are mentioned. Press coverage is free; it’s good for your company, and a huge motivator.
  7. Start a Wellness Program – 80% of all cancer is preventable. For as little as $30 a month per employee, there are companies that will come in and offer health risk assessment to your employees. Reward those who fill out the assessment and who pledge to take action goals like losing weight and quitting smoking. Reward again once action items have been achieved. This is called preventative care and it is a growing concept in the workplace.
  8. Involve the entire family – Employees feel an even greater sense of commitment to their work when they feel that their families are understood and recognized as well. It’s important for managers to learn as much as they can about their employees’ families. Become a Dream Manager—create a recognition log about each member of your staff’s family. Know who is taking dance lessons, which child is in the Gate program at school, who is in after school sports like soccer or baseball. Find out what the employee’s favorite foods and snacks are. When appropriate, purchase tickets for the family to go to a baseball game, or order pizza on someone’s birthday and have it delivered hot to their house after work.

    One-on-one gratitude costs so little but does so much to spread good will! Send a letter of acknowledgement to the employee to his home address so the spouse and kids get a chance to read it, too. Send a gift basket full of wine or goodies that the family can enjoy. Offer a certificate for a catered in-home meal. Invite the employee to lunch but include the spouse and kids, too.

    Travel awards – These days, families have very little time to spend together, so if you’re providing a trip, make sure it’s somewhere that the employee can opt to take the family as well. If you are going to reward top performance with a trip, keep in mind the employee’s family. Studies have shown that when you maximize your employee’s job satisfaction, motivation and loyalty will follow. “Winner’s Choice” programs are extremely popular. These allow winners to choose between an adult destination, like an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, or a family all-inclusive such as a cruise instead.

  9. Be flexible–Create flexible work schedules that assist employees. Work around their religious, family, medical and personal needs. Create four day work weeks where possible. Offer every other Friday off, pay in comp time vs. overtime. Require employees to take their vacations and do not allow them to accrue vacation time from year to year. Allow a burned out employee to take a month off without pay. Let employees take an adult education class one or two afternoons a week to increase their job skills or even to learn a new hobby.
  10. Reward overworked employees—Overworked employees lead to overwhelmed employees. The employees that remain on the job after cutbacks have to take on the additional responsibilities of those who are gone. Overwhelmed employees lead to disengaged employees. Offer time management workshops over the lunch hour and buy food for everyone who attends.

Ok, I said it was 10 Ways to motivate your employees, but this idea came along and I had to include it:

  1. Realign your sales goals –In this economy, a yearlong sales goal or six month sales goals may seem impossible. Start two or four week projects or goals that can then move towards a larger goal. Try moving the middle up by 5%. We all focus on the top 10% of sales goals. Start measuring the other 40%—90% and ask for an additional 5%. That’s a huge increase. Also, raise sales goals to an 11% increase. That gives you a little bit more to work with for the same payout.

Marilyn Froggatt,
Vice President Sales at JNR Incorporated.

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