Being a small business owner comes with its fair share of challenges and rewards. One of the most persistent challenges is how to manage resources and limited budgets. Unlike larger companies, small business owners must think very carefully about every dime they spend and every choice they make. This can make rewarding and motivating employees a uniquely stressful challenge.
Monetary rewards and raises are not as consistently available to dole out in a small business. Yet, in order to grow and thrive, employee retention is crucial. It can be costly and distracting to lose and replace employees.
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Small businesses and entrepreneurs building startups must get creative. It can be tough, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few ideas to help you motivate and reward employees while remaining true to the bottom line.
- Additional PTO– work/life balance is a challenge for everyone, and especially important to the millennial generation rising up through the workforce today. Rewarding employees with additional paid time off can be a tremendous motivation. These valuable days can come in many forms – bonus vacation days, Summer Fridays where employees can leave early, or even charitable time off, where they can take paid time off to donate a day or half-day of their time to the charity of their choice. Of course, you still have a business to run, so consider the slower business cycles or holidays when you can reward such benefits.
- Small Tokens of Appreciation – you might be surprised how far a small gesture can go, such as a gift card rewarded for an extra busy week. Especially when given as a surprise, gift cards in small donations can brighten an employee’s day and make them feel more appreciated for a job well done.
- Annual “Prizes” – yes, employees want that annual review and raise, but consider adding something to sweeten the pot. Give a personalized “prize” each year that creates additional excitement among the ranks. Make them each unique – got a beer lover in your midst? Consider a beer of the month club. A golfer? That new 9 iron they’ve been saying they wanted to buy when they got a raise. A single Mom? House cleaning services or certificates. You can have fun with these and it serves a dual purpose – rewarding your employees but also increasing loyalty when you demonstrate that you recognize and appreciate them as individual people, not just another employee.
- Most Valuable Player – there’s a reason you see plaques like “Employee of The Month” at grocery stores or restaurant establishments. People thrive on recognition and competition, and being held up among their colleagues can be a strong motivator for employees.You don’t have to spend a lot or have an official “plaque,” but a simple announcement and statement about what an individual has accomplished to stand out can be rewarding. At my first company, I used to have employees submit nominations each month for an MVP award, and we would read the nominations (anonymously) at our company meeting each month. We’d also provide a unique reward specific to the winner’s interest. Rewards ranged from cashmere slippers to house plants!
- Role Play – Providing employees with the opportunity to shine can be rewarding in and of itself. Perhaps you allow them to run a different department, write the company newsletter or “try out” another role that they’ve been coveting. Give them a trial run and have them assess their ability to permanently fill that role after they’ve been exposed to it. Sometimes they’ll learn they don’t want it after all, and are grateful for the opportunity to have tried it without making a permanent change.
- Freebies – depending on your type of business, reward employees with special privileges to access your product or service at a discount or even free for a month. Maybe you surprise them all with half off any merchandise they purchase for a month, free meals if you’re a restaurant owner or two tickets to a concert if you’re a ticket agent.
- Discounts and deals – forge relationships with entities who give discounts to corporations. This is popular in bigger enterprises, but small businesses often don’t think of it. Find other small businesses that would appreciate swapping services or products, and strike special deals that you can then pass on exclusively to your employees. This can range from movie tickets to salon services to buying a car. Think of anything an employee can benefit from in their daily life and look for those corporate partnerships.
There’s no doubt that employee recognition must be at the forefront of every successful business. As you reach your goals, employees should feel a part of that success. Loyalty is priceless, especially to a small business that needs to remain focused.
Rewards and recognition should go well beyond an annual review, and be an integral part of your company culture. Plan and budget for it from the very beginning, and you’ll reap the rewards in the future.
Christine Perkett is a senior marketing and PR consultant, and the founder and CEO of SeeDepth, a PR Analytics platform that makes measurement easy, meaningful and profitable for PR agencies and corporate communications teams. She has been named a “Top 100 Must Follow Marketing Mind” in Forbes, “A Top 100 Small Business Influencer” in the Small Business Influencer Awards and a “Top 50 Social Media Influencer on Twitter” by Cision.