In times of a bad economy, when raises aren’t as high as employees would like, and job growth opportunities might be temporarily “frozen”, having a strong, effective recognition program in place can go a long way toward “tiding over” your most valuable employees. If you don’t yet own the book 1001 Ways To Reward Employees, get it now (you can get it used on Amazon for around 3 bucks). This book gives several examples (1001, to be exact) of potential rewards you could implement, and a large portion of those examples are actually rewards that cost nothing, or very little.
In addition to those ideas, I thought I would share some of the rewards that have worked very effectively for me in the past. Some of these might feel obvious; some not so obvious:
1. Time off – this could be an entire day, or it could be given in small time increments (2 hours, 1 hour). Make up a bunch of paper “slips” that designate the time increment to be gifted, and use those to present the time off, so that the employee receives something tangible from you. If you work in an environment where each of your employees’ schedules are time-dependent on each other (like, groups who work in shifts), then just make it known that you must approve in advance when the employee wants to use his time off slip, so you can plan for their absence.
2. Public recognition – call a quick team meeting randomly NOT at your usual team meeting time, but say Wednesday at 2:45 in the afternoon. Publicly recognize one of your employees for a job well-done, and say a few words about what they did, and the impact to the company. It can be a 5-10 minute meeting, but do it “spur of the moment”, so no one expects it. It can be a really small thing they did, or some activity that is specific to a particular initiative you are trying to implement and emphasize. Also, keep a digital camera at your office, and have someone take a picture of you and the team member who received the recognition – you can then start a monthly “Recognition Bulletin Board”, where you place their picture for the month.
3. Hand-written note – especially in this day and age, even seeing someone’s handwriting these days is a little bit of a shock! Get some personalized stationery of your own, and make it a practice to hand out 1 to 2 handwritten notes per week. It can be something as simple as “Josh, thanks for staying late last night to finish taking care of that client. You are terrific!”
4. Food – ok, this is probably one of those really obvious ones! Whether it’s doughnuts, pizza, lunch brought in, unexpected food is ALWAYS well-received. Also, grab a bunch of candy bars one day, and randomly pass them out during times of high stress.
5. Gas card – even if the dollar value isn’t very high, employees will love receiving gas cards as gifts, because it’s recognition by the company of the hardship they face with rising gas costs.
6. Gift cards – everyone enjoys receiving a gift card, regardless of how big it is. Maybe a $5 Starbuck’s gift card for an employee who resolved that 5-hour client issue. Or perhaps a $10 Amazon gift card for that tech guy that came in and worked on your “broken” computer, only to find out it was something you did wrong!
7. Cash – handing out cash periodically has a POWERFUL impact, and it doesn’t have to cost as much as you might think. I once led a group (in a Technical Support environment) through a service initiative entitled “Whatever It Takes”, where our goal was to consistently go above and beyond for the client, as though that were the normal expected behavior. Whenever I walked past someone’s desk that happened to be displaying “Whatever It Takes”-like behavior, I handed them a $5 bill – right then and there. If I got an e-mail from a satisfied client bragging on one of my reps, I walked right out and handed them cash. Even though each reward was a really small cash amount, the impact was large – people actually started tacking their $5 bills to their cubicle walls, and comparing among themselves who had the biggest stash of cash!
8. Free trip – you could actually fund a free trip by talking to a group of your company executives who might be willing to donate airline, car rental, and hotel miles to create a free trip for someone (and their guest of choice). Some people travel so much that they will never miss some of their miles and would be pleased to have their name associated with such a cool gift.
9. Bartered prizes – are there any businesses you could work with to “barter” your services back and forth? For example, if you are a furniture store, could you barter with a local radio station to get free concert tickets in exchange for some amount of furniture? Another example: if you are a law firm, could you barter several hours of a top attorney’s time in exchange for some product? Taking this a step further, there are actual barter companies that exist that can facilitate some of this for you? An example of a barter company would be Itex.
10. Trip to a client – do you have someone on your team that works “ behind the scenes” and rarely gets into the customer environment? Arrange to have that person do a “ride-along” on one of your salespeople’s appointments – not only will they learn a lot, but it’ll a treat for them to get out of the office for the day when their regular job is answering phones, or working in a factory.
The thing is, you as the manager know more about your group of employees than any book or article. Spend some time thinking about what types of things really motivate your group. It goes without saying that money is a motivator. But, do you have an employee that tacked up your hand-written note to their cubicle wall, in a prominent place? Personal recognition means a lot to this employee. Take care to ensure that what you perceive to be a “reward” isn’t embarrassing, or unimportant to the people for whom it’s intended. For example, I once managed a group made up entirely of men who HATED doing “secret pals”, and gift cards only moderately excited them. What they loved? Getting time off. This was a HUGE motivator for them, even if they got a gift of “2 hours’ time off”, and I really only learned this valuable fact through trial and error. It’s really important to focus your gifts on items that will motivate the particular group you are working with, and also for each individual within your group.
And finally – even if you are not a manager with the power to put some of these things into place, make it a point to at least share these ideas (and any others you are inspired with) in hopes that they will be implemented. Or, choose one of the ideas that is especially meaningful to you, and go request it for yourself!