Particularly if you run a small business, finding ways to compensate your staff members for their hard work can be quite challenging. In ideal circumstances, you’d dish out bonuses, spa days, free TVs, seven-course meals and luxury work trips overseas — but when your budget is already stretched pretty far, that kind of option is off the table.
Instead of running up a bill, you need to get creative in showing your appreciation. It isn’t all about financial benefit, after all, and there’s a pretty good chance that people who’ve been working extremely hard for your business care about more than just the contents of their wallets.
To that end, here are 5 things you can do to suitably reward your ever-dedicated team members without sending your company into a hellish debt spiral.
There’s a lot of middle ground between “free” and “costing the Earth”, and I’m inclined to conclude that basic refreshment costs are probably manageable for even the smallest startups. When you’re hitting crunch time and everyone is working 12-hour shifts, it becomes a real issue to find the time and inclination to venture out into the harsh light of day to grab a proper meal — so bringing in some refreshments can make the arduous schedule somewhat easier.
How sophisticated and upmarket you get with this is up to you. If you happen to be a master chef, you can bake some sumptuous brownies and bring them in to share with everyone. If you happen to have a very distant relationship with kitchen utilities, however, you can pick up a cut-price tray of cupcakes from a store (or provide some healthy snacks if your team is at all health-conscious).
And if you currently have a water cooler, why not stock up on some other drinks beyond just coffee? Bring in a range of cordials and sodas and let people consume them at their leisure. The less time people need to spend worrying about when and where to get refreshments, the more focused they’ll be — just make sure everyone knows the refreshments are totally optional, and they’re free to go elsewhere to eat if they want.
Organise work socials
Team cohesion isn’t just important for productivity — it also engenders a more comfortable and frictionless working environment, which in turn lowers stress levels and leaves staff members happier. During frenzied periods of work, people find it much harder to arrange and enjoy social activities, so you have the opportunity to step in and arrange something for everyone.
There’s the classic visit to the pub after work for some drinks, yes, but that’s far from the only option. It really depends on what your staff members enjoy. Do they like sports? Watching them, or participating in them? Would they like team-building exercises? Let them steer your creative direction and try to find a work social idea that everyone can enjoy so no one feels left out. Maybe you could all go to the cinema, or even try an escape room challenge.
Whatever type of work social you end up choosing, if you can find the time, try to eat into your workday by an hour or two. This is to show that you view some things as more important than work sometimes, and make the event feel less of an intrusion into your employees’ spare time.
Allow flexible working
With every month that passes, flexible work becomes more viable in almost every area of business. Through the ubiquity of always-on high-speed internet access, robust mobile data connections, and cloud computing, the average office worker does very little work in their office that they couldn’t do just as easily from a remote workstation.
Though this is an increasingly-common option, flexible working is still relatively rare. This is because employers are intimidated by the prospect. They assume that people working without direct supervision won’t work as hard — that they’ll abuse the freedom and achieve greatly-reduced productivity — in spite of no shortage of statistical data and anecdotal evidence agreeing that it boosts productivity when handled correctly.
While you might not be in a position to let anyone work remotely (or at odd hours) at their leisure, you’ll undoubtedly be able to find a decent compromise. You could let the highest achievers work from home for a certain number of days each week, for instance, or allow them to work a half day and make up the hours across subsequent days. You could even focus on work over time spent, letting them work whatever hours they wanted if they met their quotas.
Encourage side projects
Even people who love their jobs can get sick of them from time to time, particularly in times of professional pressure, and that boredom and frustration can drive them to look elsewhere for new opportunities. They might dream of working for other companies, or starting their own businesses, or simply taking up a new hobby of some kind, but feel trapped and worn-down.
If you don’t do something about that pressure, it will just keep building, breeding irritating and (eventually) outright resentment. In light of that, a great thing to do is encourage your team members to pursue side projects, whether entrepreneurial, creative, or both, and commit to supporting them to whatever extent you can.
Even though you’re both time-poor in any realistic scenario, you can likely find a few hours each week, and that can be more than enough. You can even turn it into a joint venture (JV) if they have a business idea that you’d both like to attempt.
Stock-free ecommerce is the classic example — there are marketplace websites listing small Australian businesses for sale that can be operated fully remotely through dropshipping, requiring no inventory. You could partner with a team member to buy (or create) such a business, then run it slightly to make some profit but mostly as a way of letting off some steam.
Set fresh challenges
We all have aspirations, and we all like to feel invaluable, but everyday work can so easily place you in a rut that makes you feel entirely generic and insignificant. It’s important to feel that you’re going somewhere in your career, because if you’re not, then where’s the incentive to work hard? What are you working towards?
Even as they work diligently, your team members may be thinking about their futures, wondering if they’ll ever be promoted, make more money, or reach the managerial level. Not only will this sap their contentment and motivation, but it will also hamper their productivity, so no one benefits. You need to give people fresh challenges to pursue — if they can overcome them, they’ll feel very accomplished and valuable again.
Try to maintain an understanding of what each of your team members is trying to achieve in the long run. Who wants to lead the company? Who wants to change career? Who just wants to be paid on time?
Every individual will be motivated by something different, and if you can set each team member a challenge catered to their skills and goals, you might just find that everyone ends up feeling much more secure and confident in their position.
Rewarding your team for its hard work and enthusiasm is an investment in the future. If you’ve hired smartly, you’ll want to keep your staff around for as long as possible, and the happier they are, the better their work will be.
Using these 5 methods to reward your team members, you can reduce their stress, boost unity, and provide them with some much-welcomed motivation. Productivity will go up, the mood will be much calmer, and your business will start to operate much more smoothly — all without spending huge amounts of money.
About the author
Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who would love to do an escape room but just can’t find a team. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.