Effective employee incentives don't have to break the bank.
Keeping your employees happy and motivated is crucial to running a successful business, large or small. If your employees feel overworked or undervalued, like cogs in a machine, they’re going to spend more time shirking their duties than they will being productive.
The proper kinds of employee incentives can make all the difference in the world, and we’re not talking about “employee of the month” recognition or a meaningless paper certificate run off on the office LaserJet. Real incentives are real value, and breed both effective employees and, more importantly, loyal employees.
However, incentives can be expensive; and many businesses don’t have the kind of resources available to afford them. Here are five ways to incentivize your employees without having to worry about expenses.
1. Monitor and compliment employees
Compliments may seem shallow, and often they are. We’ve all seen, or even met, the manager stereotype that chimes in to a random cube each day with a “great job on, you know, whatever it is you do.” An impersonal compliment is a valueless compliment.
A great manager will be aware of what their employees are doing and how they’re handling situations. Maybe one of your employees noticed and fixed a security hole on your website. Maybe a particularly difficult customer came away satisfied from a support call. Maybe an unexpected order came in and an employee went above and beyond to fulfill it on time.
When you compliment an employee, let them know what exactly they did and what you’re praising them for. “Excellent work satisfying Mr. Darwin” is a lot better than “good job yesterday.” It doesn't need to be a big ordeal; compliments should be more commonplace to foster a productive environment.
2. Listen to Employee Suggestions
Your employees are not mindless drones, doing their job and nothing more. Many of them have ideas on how to improve the company, either in terms of minor business processes or in major product design feedback. Always take the time to listen to employee feedback and work with them to make reasonable adjustments.
What’s reasonable? Say you have a daily strategy meeting in the morning. Maybe an employee recommends bringing in snacks, or a stopwatch to keep it from stretching past time and cutting into productive hours. Maybe the meetings could be adjusted to once a week instead. If the majority of your employees work better with fewer meetings, you can instead set up individual meetings with those who want more direct guidance and feedback, and let the others work.
What’s unreasonable? If you have a product and an employee says “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if our product did this?” with a completely out of scope idea, it’s probably not going to happen. Rather than just rejecting the idea, however, discuss it with the employee and tell them why, so you’re not dismissing them outright.
3. Give employees tasks, not directions
Giving your employees the freedom to handle their work in a way that suits them is where true innovation is born. There’s no reason to force an employee to go through a tedious iteration of a task over and over when they could automate it and save time, for example. Give those employees the chance to handle their job in a way that is most productive for their capabilities, while encouraging them to learn and expand their skills.
Just make sure that the process of automation or otherwise streamlining job duties doesn’t leave crucial tasks behind. If you need a generated report that automation skips, make sure to explain that the report is essential, even if it delays the task. Employee productivity is important, but it can’t sacrifice the function of the business overall.
4. Be flexible with presence
Many employees are capable of performing most of their duties from home. Is there a reason you need those employees in the office?
There are, of course, valid reasons to have everyone in one place. Some companies don’t want to handle off-site data security or device management. You also probably can’t have an employee answering customer support calls from a personal phone.
On the other hand, if you have a designer who can do their work and submit plans remotely, you can allow them to take a day or two each week to work from home. Anyone who can work remotely without disrupting their productivity or their responsibilities can be allowed to do so. Simply require three to four days per week in the office to touch bases and make sure everything is on track.
One of the best ways to be flexible, however, is with illness. When an employee is sick, allow them to stay home. Many can work from home just as well, if not better, than they could in the office while sick, and they don’t run the risk of spreading their illness to other employees. Plus, while home, it’s easier to recover, so they can come back refreshed.
Sure, you may have to monitor for some abuses, but if someone is abusing calling in sick, you need to punish them, not the whole staff. Punishing everyone breeds resentment.
5. Oddball options
There are a lot of goofy “office shenanigans” you can implement to boost morale. Open mic nights, “bring your pet” days and themed-dress days are great examples of ways to keep an office environment casual and happy.
On the other hand, not all employees or even companies will do well with these kinds of incentives. Adjust and adapt to what works with your office, and don’t just implement goofy themed events because some business blog told you it works.