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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Top Talent, Tight Wallet: 4 Budget-Friendly Ways to Reward Employees

When you’re a manager running a tight budget, cash rewards and bonuses are some of the first things you’re likely to cut. Unfortunately, those cuts can have a long-lasting impact on your employees’ morale, productivity, and overall pride in their work—especially for your top performers.

But cash doesn’t have to be your only resource. A little creativity can go a long way in developing an employee reward system that boosts morale while keeping your expenses down.

Just remember, the goals of a reward system are to acknowledge your employees’ accomplishments, to encourage them to keep up the good work, and to incentivize your other team members to do the same. Read on for a few ideas that check all of these boxes without breaking the bank.

1. Balance Recognition and Rewards

Developing an official employee “All Star” program is a great way not only to regularly recognize your top performers, but also to give other employees a glimpse into what impresses you. Every week or two at a set date and time, choose a staffer who has gone above and beyond, and give that All Star a pubic shout-out for it: Either via a group email, on a communal bulletin board, or in a team meeting, share what this employee did and exactly why it was awesome.

If you can add a little monetary incentive to the mix, start a quarterly raffle in which all the All Star winners are entered for the chance to win a gift card to a restaurant, tickets to a big event, or a tasty lunch ordered in at the office. By mixing a non-cash incentive (the exclusive “All Star” title) with the quarterly prize, you create consistent motivation—all while limiting the impact on your budget.

2. Give an Increase in Status

When you can’t give out bonuses or raises, status increases (anything from increased decision-making capabilities or high-level responsibilities to title changes) can be a still-exciting way to reward your employees. And don’t forget to think outside of your company’s official promotion schedule: Could you add “senior” or “lead” to someone’s title, or name your star employee head of a committee or project team?

These types of “promotions” are a great way to contribute to your employees’ career advancement, help them feel more motivated and empowered, and earn them greater respect from their co-workers and teammates. (Though, make sure not to go too far—giving someone heaps of added responsibility without the added pay to match isn’t exactly the motivating reward you’re going for.)

3. Give Out Non-Monetary Perks

As a manager, you’ve likely earned certain perks, whether it’s an office with a great view, an executive parking spot, or work-from-home privileges. So, when you’re thinking about rewarding employees without digging into the company fund, consider how you might be able to spread the wealth. Choose a perk you could offer temporarily to your top performers without hurting productivity, and determine a way to measure who earns it. For example, the employee who scores highest on your customer service survey at the end of each month could get a few work-from-home days, take a “free” day off, or work one Friday from your office.

4. Lighten Their Loads

Alternatively, you could look at the tedious projects that your employees have to complete—balancing spreadsheets, running reports, doing write-ups—and take that responsibility off their shoulders for a day (again, ensuring you limit the swap to tasks that won’t get confusing, hinder productivity, or put too much on your plate). Give employees a goal and let them know that whoever reaches it first gets to choose their least favorite task and hand it over to you for the day or week. The combination of a lightened plate and knowing that the boss is a team player can be an incredibly powerful motivator for your employees.

When budget gets in the way of employee recognition, dig deeper into what drives your workforce, whether it’s increased recognition, title bumps, or some added perks and fun. By using this insight to think outside of the box, you’ll be able to create an employee reward system that keeps your workers motivated without straining your budget.

Photo of employee and manager courtesy of Shutterstock.