Empowering your employees requires more than monetary incentives.
Keeping your team motivated and productive can be a challenge, especially if your business is unable to provide additional monetary incentives to spur performance.
Money (or lack thereof) may not always be a problem. By prioritizing the right values and providing the right opportunities for your workers, you can ensure that your team stays productive through hectic workdays.
"People spend a lot of their day and a lot of their lives working; your work environment really can become pretty consuming," said Jeb Ory, CEO and co-founder of Phone2Action, a digital advocacy software company. "With the time that people spend in the office and with colleagues, it becomes a big part of their identity – and being able to create opportunities for people to get really involved and to show their expertise is absolutely critical for a company as it grows."
By providing career opportunities and value-based incentives, you can reward and motivate employees. Employee engagement and motivation is rooted in business culture. Regardless of how you incentivize employees, you should be communicating that you care about them and their professional growth. Employee engagement is a challenge for any business. Providing non-monetary rewards goes hand in hand with building a better business culture and engaging employees.
Recognition is at the root of feeling appreciated and valued by a company. Employees will work longer and harder for managers who consistently provide praise and feedback and are engaged in the employees' processes.
Ory talked about Phone2Action's unique approach to employee recognition. He said the company's sales team, which spends hours sending emails and calling prospective Phone2Action users, has a points system in place to log employee progress. This system isn't used to judge low performers or add stress to a worker's day by quantifying their success. Instead, it's used as a benchmark for who gets the papier-mache unicorn.
"It's like a kid's toy – it's something that kids are supposed to color," Ory said. "This has become the embodiment of success for this team. So, the winner will inscribe their name on it, and it will live on their desk. There's a healthy, fun competition around who gets that unicorn each week."
It may seem like a spontaneous and unique answer to empower employees, but the meaning is rooted in allowing inanimate, symbolic things to hold value within the company. Ory said many departments within Phone2Action have this type of system in place.
"It's less around the purpose put into identifying what those items need to be and more about how the organization rallies around elevating the employees that create outstanding work," he said. "Then find something symbolic to recognize that and make it visible to everybody. I think that's the important piece – everyone in the business recognizes that 'hey, this person did really well, and that's symbolized by this unicorn.'"
If getting a unicorn or a funny hat doesn't fit with your organization's culture, try publicly praising high performers in meetings or giving handwritten notes to employees. A little praise can go a long way.
"People want to be recognized for their work, and that means feedback, acknowledgment and praise," said Omer Molad, founder and CEO of recruiting platform Vervoe.
2. Flexible schedules
Providing a flexible schedule, if possible, can be another way to promote work-life balance and motivate employees. As technology has advanced, working from home has become a viable option for a lot of small businesses. Providing work-from-home days as a reward, or as part of a set schedule, can allow employees to unwind while still being productive and contributing to the business. If you're worried about productivity, don't be. A Stanford study found that employees who work from home are 17 percent more productive.
"Giving our employees flexibility and freedom is a great selling point," said Will Tjernlund, CEO of Goat Consulting. "Giving them the freedom to go on vacations or work from home is invaluable to them."
If working from home isn't an option, consider letting your employees leave early on the occasional nice day, or come in late on a random Monday. Again, these are small ways you can combat burnout and show your appreciation to your employees.
3. Responsibility and opportunity
While it's not a traditional incentive, offering employees more freedom, responsibility and opportunity can help empower your workforce to do great work. This can come in several ways, specific to your own day-to-day business operations.
Ory said he often selects high-performing employees to go to industry conferences. He cited a recent example where one of his leading employees (the first one to join the company, in fact) attended Facebook's developer conference and hackathon. By providing a unique and creative opportunity, Phone2Action rewarded this employee for his work.
"Being able to go and represent the company at a conference in a professional development situation is absolutely another benefit, because it's saying, 'Hey, we trust you to go represent Phone2Action, to be an ambassador for us,'" Ory said. "Rather than spending these three days working on coding this widget, we want to invest in your future growth by having you go out and learn and absorb and come back and share with us what you learned."
While this situation may not apply to every business, the principle is still important. By providing unique opportunities and responsibilities to high-performing workers, you can build another avenue for appreciation and professional development.
The three pillars to incentivizing employees without financial reward are recognition, flexibility, and responsibility or opportunity. There are many specific ways to reward high-performing employees, but showing your appreciation should be the root of your action. While monetary incentives can be effective, recognition and appreciation can build a culture of excellence within your organization.
"I think just constantly coming up with different ways and opportunities for people to get involved [works]," Ory said. "That lets them more highly connect with the organization."