Just Rewards

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2008

Keeping employees motivated amid turbulent economic times with grim daily news and unpredictable workloads is a challenge for small businesses today. How can companies acknowledge and reward exceptional performance, especially when budgets are tight?

“It’s definitely a hot topic, not only with our small businesses but with human resources professionals across the nation,” says Meredith Johnson, chief people officer for Gevity, the Bradenton-based PEO that administers payroll and benefits for 7,000 business clients with 107,000 employees nationwide.  “A lot of people just think of monetary rewards, but there are a lot of things you can do that are more meaningful to employees,” she says. “They’re even more necessary in an economic downturn.”

Timely, consistent communication that lets employees know their contribution matters is the foundation of employee appreciation, Johnson says. For very little cost, it also helps deflect uncertainty by maintaining the leadership’s visibility. “The worst thing you can do in an economic downturn is have a lot of closed doors,” Johnson says. “It leads to water cooler talk.”

The value of regularly thanking and rewarding employees is proven to result in more creative, higher achieving workers. “It’s always important that it’s immediate and relates to the behavior that was demonstrated,” says Johnson. “The more you can tie the praise into the behavior that resembles a core value, the better off you are.”

Companies without big bonus budgets can incorporate flexibility into their work policies, which can help employees balance work and home life and save costs. Gevity, for example, is researching the idea of staggering its internal employees across four-day, 8/80 workweeks, which would save in gas costs and commuting time. The firm has also instituted a “March Forth” floating holiday, during which employees are encouraged to “take the day off to take the day on” by participating in a physical or community activity.

Employers who can’t spring for that glitzy company party this year can cater a holiday lunch, and they might ask companies with whom they do business to sponsor a gift basket. “A lot of these partners want to do that,” Johnson says.

Ten terrific employee incentives for tight times

Written thank-yous.  E-mails of praise should be shared and copied to higher-ups. But a personal note from the boss gives a real boost as well. “Handwritten thank-you notes go a long way in this electronic age,” Johnson says.

Spot rewards. Retail or restaurant gift cards, such as $10 Starbucks card, flowers, certificates and plaques, can communicate appreciation for a job well done.

Signed books. A book that relates to the employee’s interests or goals, and that is signed by a company leader, demonstrates gratitude and a personal interest.

Flexible hours. Flexible work times can help employees balance family commitments and save on child-care costs.

Holiday closures. Businesses can control costs by closing during slow times, and employees always appreciate time off over the holidays, Johnson says.

Carpooling or ride sharing coordination, to help employees save on gasoline costs.

A coveted parking space.

Extra time off or vacation days.  When a company has to cut pay or benefits, owners can offset the hardship and preserve employee motivation by increasing vacation days.

Time to volunteer. Some companies have rewarded exceptional performers with a day off to help others in need, which is especially popular during the holidays.

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