Rewarding Employees When Money is Tight

Be the best manager you can be. People do leave jobs sometimes because they’re offered more money at another company – or at least the probability of extra compensation. But you don’t have to be a human resources professional to know what a difference a good manager can make in the satisfaction level of employees. If you weren’t born to lead but you sincerely want to be the kind of supervisor that motivates people to do their best, ask for help. Read a book. Take some webinars. Get advice from a co-worker or friend who is either a natural leader or who has worked hard to become one.

Offer growth opportunities to your employees. Show interest in their ability to advance. Look for tasks they’re doing well and for good work that they do outside of their job description. Let them know that you notice these things, and try to find ways to encourage this professional development.

Give them an unexpected day off with pay. Or even an afternoon off. Only do this if the employee’s absence won’t put an excessive burden on co-workers. No need to encourage resentment when you’re trying to foster the opposite. This of course wouldn’t be a frequent occurrence, but it would be a nice way to recognize exceptional work.

Assign added responsibility. This may sound counterintuitive. You’re going to reward employees by asking them to do more? But if you’re old enough to remember being selected to stay after class for a few minutes to erase the blackboard and clap the erasers until they’re free of dust, you get the concept. You need to be clear that you’re not punishing the employee. You’re asking them for some extra effort because you trust them and you need their help.

Spend a little money where you can. There’s nothing wrong with telling your employees that there just isn’t much money in the budget for monetary rewards. Don’t make any promises about future possibilities, but do what you can now, in small ways. Surely you can find a few dollars here and there to buy gift cards for a local coffee shop or other establishment. Hand these out quietly for work well done. Word will get around. Employees may not knock themselves out for a $10 Starbucks card, but the message will be passed that you’re trying, that you’re genuinely grateful for above-and-beyond contributions to the company.

Always reward performance with praise. If there’s one thread that runs through all of these suggestions, it’s that how you treat employees can have impact on them that rivals extra dollars. It doesn’t cost any money to deliver a handwritten note to an employee who deserves thanks and recognition. You won’t have to enter a line item in the budget for saying “Thank you” and “Great job” and “That’s even better than I expected” out loud when it’s warranted. It’s not a trip to Cancun, but small rewards, recognition of your employees’ worth, and management skills can go a long way toward retaining your staff during hard times.


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