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Answer: Finding ways to recognize and encourage employees when cash flow is tight and lavish incentives are not an option can be tricky. Fortunately, there are plenty of less expensive ways to show appreciation for employees’ efforts. Some suggestions:
Entice with alternative rewards. The days of extravagant incentives may be over, but rewards can still be effective without being pricey. Instead of scrapping incentive programs altogether, scale them down or find alternative, yet still meaningful, prizes. Employees participating in a companywide or intradepartmental contest could reap the rewards of a gift card to a restaurant, department store or coffee shop, for example, while some organizations might elect to give the gift of time, by granting employees an afternoon off or a bonus vacation day. These small rewards can help boost employees’ spirits and create some friendly competition in the workplace.
Delve into development. Organizations might not have large budgets to continue expensive employee training and development initiatives during a recession, but that doesn’t mean learning should stop. Continuing education and development is something that keeps people excited about their jobs. Instead of sending teams away to off-site seminars, consider sponsoring a series of internal “learning lunches” or lectures. Invite the CEO, clients or business partners to speak on timely topics, or consider interdepartmental training (for example, have a member of the IT department train sales staff in new software). Consider other creative ways employees can help each other and continue to learn.
Keep it casual for Fridays. It might seem inconsequential, but instituting a casual dress code on Fridays can lift the mood in the office. Being able to slip on jeans instead of a tie or pantyhose— especially during warmer times of year—can create a welcome start to the day. Employers can also adopt “team spirit” days and encourage employees to don their favorite sports teams’ colors and jerseys to commemorate important game days and sports seasons.
Let them eat treats. Food can be a great reward. Leaders might want to consider providing a healthy meal or snack for a job well-done or to motivate employees on Monday mornings or the first day after a holiday. Lunch or dinner brought in for a team working long hours on a project is another nice gesture. Some organizations even have sundae cones and popsicles delivered to employees as a special treat.
Go on giving. Corporate philanthropy programs are a valuable way to increase morale among employees. Instead of writing a check, many organizations are making a greater impact by allowing employees to volunteer for their favorite charities. Participating in employer-sponsored programs allows employees the opportunity to donate their time to a worthy cause, make a connection to their community and feel good about their organization. Some events such as a walk for charity or serving a meal at a homeless shelter can take place after-hours so family members can join in the activities.
Consider shrinking—not scrapping—soirees. Many organizations might not have the funds for glitzy holiday parties, expensive golf tournaments and weekend team-building retreats, but they might be able to host smaller-scale events, such as a family picnic or team-building exercise onsite, with the same impact. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish with the event and devise a plan to achieve the same results without the exorbitant costs.
Ask for input. It is always a good idea to ask employees for their input. Survey people to find out what options appeal to them most. Where do they want the resources to go? What would they like to see? Implement the most popular choices whenever possible.
Leaders who institute incentive programs must do so for the right reasons; not just to trick employees into working harder, but to express gratitude for their efforts and to show value and support. As such, leaders should make sure that the initiatives that are put in place to help motivate stay true to the organization’s core values and culture. While these gestures might seem small, they represent one way to convey one of the most powerful sentiments there is: “Thank you!”
Michelle D. Roccia is senior vice president of corporate organizational development for Winter, Wyman, a staffing firm. She has over 20 years of senior human resources experience, including in-depth knowledge of organizational development, employee relations, staffing, benefits, training, compensation and performance management.
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