Motivate employees with perks that work

Motivating staff in tough times is a great challenge for any business. How to keep up morale during periods of uncertainty is a question that has baffled many business leaders. It is a subject that comes up in countless articles and classes. But in the end, the lessons are straightforward.

Employees want three things: clear direction; the resources to do the job as required; and to be treated with respect. That applies in good times and bad, but it becomes even more acute employers face uncertainties and have to cut back.

Motivating employees can come down to simple things, for example, thanking people for jobs well done. A well-deserved pat on the back can be just as effective as cash.

Employees value openness. Manage-ment experts advise bosses to take time and sit down with their staff, particularly the high performers who are being groomed for advancement, and to discuss broadly what is happening with the company, outlining the challenges ahead and what needs to be done.

An increasingly common perk is the greater value now being placed on work-life balance. During the downturn, many companies introduced four-day weeks, giving employees more time with their families and to pursue interests. Many employees now want flexible work schedules so that they can do
the work and at the same time, manage their families and other commitments. You might, for example, consider introducing telecommuting schedules for administrative staff where they would work from home one day a week.

Training and development should not be ignored. Unfortunately, these are often the first areas to get cut back. That de-motivates staff who feel that the company has no investment in their future. Employees crave development opportunities so that they can advance their careers and a company that offers them those opportunities and shows that it is investing in their future is more likely to keep them on board.

Smart companies also bring in programs that reward specific achievement. This might mean putting aside up to 2% of the payroll to recognise top performers. Cash works well but there are other cheaper but still effective motivators such as free movie tickets, dinner for two or a weekend away and gym memberships. 

Encouraging workers to voice complaints or give suggestions is an important motivational tool because it makes them feel involved in the company. An old-fashioned suggestion box works well. Even if the company does not
follow everything up, it is important to encourage people and to thank them for their contribution. There are reasons why employees are reluctant to offer any critique of the company. Some fear retaliation. Others do not want to seem ungrateful. By encouraging them to speak up, employers are making them feel they are part of the company, which is a great motivator.

Other suggestions include focusing on teamwork, subsidised or even free food, Christmas and birthday gifts and having staff get-togethers, either a lunch out once a month or a party. 

None of these are expensive. But the investment pays off with increased staff motivation that will see the company through challenging times.

Leon Gettler is a senior business journalist who writes for a range of leading newspapers and journals

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