11 Ways to Keep Employees Motivated Without Handing Out Raises: Other Benefits Employees Want

When you’re a SME (small/medium enterprise) or a startup, the budget may come up short for promising big business paychecks and raises.  However, don’t sell your business short on keeping great talent.  You business is in a unique position for soft benefits that many big businesses can’t provide.  Ensuring a positive and engaged work culture is something SME’s can do relatively easily, and it’s something that corporations usually miss out on due to their size.  When it comes to keeping your group motivated and loyal while staying on a small budget, try one of these and watch morale and productivity boost in front of your eyes.

  1. Giving employees more independence and clear communication on expectations, but the freedom to complete projects on their own will show employees that you trust their judgement, and often allow them to be challenged within their job.  By not being micromanaging or constantly questioning, you are showing the go-getter employee you looked for when hiring that you value their judgement and position within the team.
  2. Allowing the ability for professional growth and meaningful contribution to the business is something many larger businesses fall flat on.  Being an SME means you can tailor each employee’s skills to meet your businesses needs, while they are also able to see the place of their efforts within their company and the effects of their work directly.  Being able to keep employees engaged and not stagnant, gaining new knowledge and responsibilities, and have challenges that allow for professional expansion and growth will both motivate employees to keep bettering their accolades, while also giving your business better assets in the long run.  Offer tuition reimbursement for college courses the employee can show will help their position, pay to send stellar employee to a leadership conference, or ask them to come with a few ideas to try to fix a challenging issue they’ve experienced.  Invest in your employees, and they will loyally invest in your business.  Ask them what their long term career goals are, and see if you can expose them to some of the duties of that position.  If you have a receptionist that is going to school for accounting, maybe they would like the chance to process some of your receivables in her down time.  Later, she could easily replace the retiring accountant, and you can spend less on hiring a new receptionist.
  3. Giving employees recognition and appreciation will give your team longevity and harder work ethics.  Bonus points if you can find out how an employee would like to receive recognition.  For example, I prefer a genuine handshake in the hall or an email, while a salesperson may love recognition within a team meeting.  Doing some covert work in figuring out their personality and catering to it will ensure they want to prove even better next time.  The way people are treated, especially by their manager or owner will determine their input to the business (whether they give you 40% to get you by, or 100% to get you growth).
  4. Ask for employee input on business decisions.  If you’re considering rolling out a new software to invoice with, consider asking your top accountants to test it and report back anything they love about it or concerns they may have.  Likewise, you could ask your safety officer if they have any ideas that should be put into the new employee handbook that’s being written in human resources.  Asking employees for input shows that you value and trust them – an employee that feels that way isn’t likely to look elsewhere, saving you on future recruitment and hiring costs.
  5. Consider giving employees flexible schedules, if possible.  This could mean hiring two part time employees that share a desk and work on the other’s off time, or it can mean telling an employee they need to work forty hours in a week, between the hours of 6am and 6pm (or other time frame your business needs coverage on).  This gives employees the ability to schedule an appointment for their child and take a longer lunch for it, creating a better work/life balance.  Employees really see the value in finding a company willing to give them a flexible schedule, while businesses see loyalty and better work ethic in employees having some flexibility in choosing their hours.  This single benefit can make a huge difference in employee lives, and can be a better and longer-lasting motivator than a raise.
  6. Further, you could consider letting employees telecommute, even one day a week or once in awhile.  If they can easily perform their duties at home, employees see huge value in reducing expenses for childcare, gas, and commuting time, even on occasion.  Further, I have interviewed many for telecommuting positions, and when I ask why they prefer working from home, the overwhelming response is that they know they are being given a gift from a company in the ability to work from home, and don’t mind working longer hours or into the night to reach goals.  That sounds like loyalty to me, which means longevity in your hire.  From accountants to salespeople, if they have duties they can perform from home, they will likely be more productive there, as odd as it sounds.  Although they may throw a load of laundry in during the day, there isn’t a breakroom or people stopping by their cube to interrupt 15 minutes of their time multiple times a day.  Less distractions and their perfect office chair, even once in a while to complete a pile of paperwork, translates to big timecard value to you.
  7. In some instances, you may want to consider time off for no good reason.  This is a great motivator if you see a team reaching burnout with a large project.  Tell them to stay home Monday – they will be of much better use to you Tuesday morning, and know they were given a big break.  If you are doing a massive new rollout or revamping, some sudden time off can really benefit both you, and your workhorse team.  The product can wait a day or two longer, if it means mistakes are avoided due to burnout.
  8. Having a relaxed environment can honestly be a big motivator.  I once worked in a corporation that twice a year sold tickets for “jean Fridays” for two months.  So, for four months a year, their suited staff could wear jeans on Fridays of their choosing.  They coveted when these tickets went on sale (money went to different charities).  Imagine, as a SME…these businesses usually naturally are a lot more relaxed than their big business counterparts.  Use it!  Have a relaxed dress code, even if it’s one day a week, allow the ability to take a call from their kid’s school without scrutiny, encourage collaboration and friendliness to coworkers outside their department.  Employees recognize this as a big benefit, and covet when they find a business they find comfort and support in.
  9. Surprise employees with free food in the break room.  As cheesy as it sounds, I have seen literal stampedes in businesses when the mass email goes out declaring bagels in the break room.  The opportunity to suddenly take a short break and chat with coworkers on their employer’s dime goes a long way towards boosting morale, collaboration, and fresh eyes when they go back to their work after their bagel…or pizza slice, hot wings, leftover cake…you get the idea.  Plus, many employees work through lunch to get work done…do it in the 3pm slump and you’ll get those hungry overachievers and those feeling the workday back at their desks feeling like they need to tie up loose ends before their day ends, and ready to do so.  However, don’t do this regularly, or it will quickly become an expectation instead of an unexpected break.
  10. Provide seamless tools, software, and processes.  If your business is using an outdated version of Windows, employees are met with an extensive process to order a new stapler to replace one they’ve been limping along with for months, or they see broken processes in things they have to complete daily, they will quickly get unmotivated and frustrated.  Regularly updating software and processes, and allowing employees to have the tools they need to perform at their best will greatly help your business in the long run.  I have seen project managers mention a new program they “get” to work with, and their friends from other businesses literally salivate…I know because I have seen their top talent referrals come across my desk.
  11. Have a pleasant and updated office space.  If your company looks cosmetically upscale and beautiful, employees will like coming to work much more.  If they feel like they work in a closet, one can see why they might not feel motivated.  Open up spaces, have a classy conference room that facilitates open collaboration, and use bright colors and glass, wherever possible.  Take down the “motivational” posters from 1980, and just because you own a car mechanic shop doesn’t mean the waiting area for customers needs to be dark and dirty.  Class it up, so employees feel proud of their workspace, and motivated and creative employees will be a byproduct.

I hope you are able to pick out one or two ways to motivate employees without handing out raises to try this week in your business.  I think you will be surprised with how attitudes and productivity will shift.  If you invest a little into your people, your people will invest in your business!  Considering these are the people you are trusting to grow your company and bring in revenue, showing you appreciate their hard work, even in small ways, can mean big outputs in your workforce.  Not to mention reduced turnover from loyal and happy employees, saving you time and a lot of money in recruitment and hiring costs.

See also: How to Advertise Your Small Business Benefits to Prospective Employees: Creatively Attract and Retain Employees in a Competitive Market

What have you tried, in an effort to motivate your employees?  What worked, and what didn’t?  Share in the comments!

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