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Small Rewards With Big Impact

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: My budget is pretty tight, but I want to recognize and reward my great staff. Are there low- or no-cost ways to do that and still make an impact?

A: Good for you for understanding how important it is to recognize and reward talent. It’s a great way to boost morale and motivate employees. However, before you start any rewards program, take the time to find out what recognition will be meaningful to your staff. Often, managers think they know what their employees want but sometimes miss the mark.

The most cost-effective reward and the most valued by nearly everyone is a simple “thank you” for a specific job or for completing a project or for going above and beyond. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at how few managers effectively use these two simple but powerful words.

Another no-cost reward is to send a handwritten thank-you note to the employee for a job well done. If your CEO, president, or executive director will agree, have him or her send an email or note to thank the employee—this is a very powerful way to recognize a staffer’s contribution. All-hands meetings can also be a great place to honor great work, but before you recognize an employee publicly, be sure he or she is comfortable that. Some people would just as soon have you thank them privately.

An often-overlooked way to reward employees is to give them an assignment to a highly visible project, task force, or team. This sends the message that you value them and showcases their skills to others.

The most cost-effective reward and the most valued by nearly everyone is a simple “thank you” for a specific job or for completing a project or for going above and beyond.

Low-cost rewards for good work include lunch with the association’s president, gift cards to local restaurants, movie tickets, a reserved parking place, flowers, and more.

One CEO I know does something called “Surprise Tuesdays.” Each week, something fun happens; employees don’t know if it will be ice cream in the conference room or a drawing for an American Express gift card. Employees look forward to the surprise, and the CEO says, “No one ever quits on Monday!”

Since employees value time off, the best reward might be a day off with pay. You would be a hero to that employee and would send a message to your whole staff that you appreciate and reward hard work.

Whatever you do, be sincere, and don’t forget to say thanks as often as you possibly can. It costs nothing but means everything.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Performance Management