Employees are at the heart of your small business. They serve the customers, make your product or provide your services, fill and process orders, get the shipping out the door. Without good employees, it’s tough to build a successful, profitable company. But in small businesses, money can often be tight. How can you reward good employees without breaking the bank?
Over the years as a business owner, I’ve found a number of inexpensive ways to help motivate and retain employees. Of course, you need to provide a fair and competitive wage, and employees should get deserved raises or bonuses. But you can’t give a raise every day, and small businesses and startups have limited resources.
Fortunately, there are a number of meaningful and fun ways to reward employees that don’t cost much:
- Birthdays off. Everybody thinks of their own birthday as special, so each of my employees gets their birthday as a paid day off. If their birthday falls on a weekend or a busy time when I just can’t afford to have them out of the office, they can take their “birthday” on another day.
- “Well” days. I’m not proud of this, but once or twice when I was a young employee and needed a day off but didn’t have vacation time, I called in “sick.” The guilt from lying made me actually feel sick, and I couldn’t enjoy the day. I decided that when I became a boss, I wouldn’t make my employees lie. Instead, in my company, I established “well” days. If something is going really right in your life—you’ve fallen in love, it’s your anniversary, your child is getting an award, or your best friend is visiting from out of town—an employee can “call in well.”
- Employee of the Week. We’ve got a very small staff, so when I named someone “employee of the week” many years ago, it seemed humorous. But my employee was really proud of the honor, so the idea caught on. We don’t do this every week—not even every month—but once in a while an employee will do something special, and I’ll name them (or another employee will nominate them) as “Employee of the Week.” They get a candy bar, a round of applause, and an email to a family member or friend of theirs. Even this little recognition can make someone feel special.
- Extra time off. If money is really tight this year and profits are low in your small business, you may not be able to afford raises or bonuses. Consider giving employees an extra week of vacation. This shows your commitment to your team even when the budget is tight.
- Free food. People love free food. You can’t compete with companies like Google or Facebook that provide free breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, but a little bit of free food, like bagels on Monday mornings or occasionally buying the staff lunch, is appreciated. When anything special has happened, food is an easy, inexpensive way to celebrate. We recently finished a second edition of one of our books, Entrepreneurship: A Real-World Approach, and our staff celebrated over lunch when the book came back from the printer.
- Small gifts. People appreciate thoughtful, small gifts that don’t have to cost you a whole lot. Movie tickets, membership in a warehouse club, a gift card to a restaurant, or an iTunes card can cost very little. Tailor the gift to the recipient so they get something they like and know you put some thought into it.
- Flexibility. One of the most valued perks for an employee is having a little bit of flexibility in their work schedule, whether it’s a regular later start time to enable a parent to get their child to school or occasionally leaving a little early to take care of another pressing need. That kind of understanding builds employee loyalty.
- Saying thank you. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Although it is often overlooked, a simple “thank you” or “nice job” can help motivate an employee and shows that you notice and value their contributions. And when someone has done something particularly good, give praise quickly and publicly.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on June 7, 2017