Small businesses may not have much leeway in their budgets for bonuses but other ways to reward outstanding work can have a longer-lasting impact.
“The recognition that sticks with people doesn’t have much to do with money,” Cindy Ventrice, author of “Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works,” said in an interview.
While everyone appreciates cash, research has shown the good feelings from a bonus or raise fade quickly. Instead, it’s the “social rewards” – recognition that acknowledges outstanding work on a personal level – that people remember over time.
With that in mind, here are some low (or no) cost strategies to reward employees and acknowledge your top performers:
1. Be personal
Take the time to think up inexpensive but personally meaningful rewards for your best employees. You might give a valuable employee an afternoon off to play some golf, attend a cultural or sports event or engage in another favorite activity. Or, you might honor an employee who volunteers extensively through a donation in his or her name to a favorite cause. Giving to something the employee cares about could have a far greater impact than writing him or her a check.
2. Be public
Don’t keep praise for excellent work private. Recognize your best employees by openly sharing their accomplishments with their coworkers and their supervisors on a regular basis.
Don’t keep it all in the company, either. Consider calling out outstanding individual efforts with the customers with whom the employees work most closely, or even writing a press release for the local newspaper or posting a picture and shout-out on social media. Some business owners have even reached out to employees’ families to let them know how much they matter to the company.
3. Break out the stationery
A handwritten thank-you note is almost unheard of these days, which is why taking the time to write one can be so powerful.
4. Offer opportunities to grow
High-performing employees want to learn new things and find new challenges, which can be difficult at small businesses without extensive in-house training programs.
Consider sending top employees to conferences or seminars or rewarding them with high-profile, challenging tasks that show that you see them as capable of moving up to the next level. Even letting people explore a different role within the company for a few hours a week – for example, letting a top salesperson learn how the social media guru does her job – can be rewarding.
5. Reward employee teams and groups
Recognizing the hard work of a department or team collectively – with a team lunch or trip, for example – not only rewards individuals, but can boost camaraderie and teamwork.
6. Be flexible
Work-life balance can be a struggle, especially for top performers. Giving employees who have proven they can handle their responsibilities the chance to telecommute or have more flexible schedules can matter much more than money in the long run.
7. Have fun
Provendus Group CEO Mike Michalowicz writes about what he calls “the morphing trophy,” an award given to a different employee each week with the provision that each winner affix something new to it before passing it to the next awardee.
“You would be shocked how many things can stick to a trophy,” Michalowicz writes.
8. Host an outing — or an “inning”
In a small office, a company-wide outing that would be too costly for a larger business might not be within the realm of possibility. Rent a van and take your employees to lunch or a movie — or bring a masseuse on site for an afternoon of pampering.
Besides offering rewards or recognition, fostering a positive office environment can be meaningful as well. Check out these and provide your employees with a great space to work.