Whether you’re running a small business or a large one, you couldn’t do it without your employees. But when you’re a small business, keeping your employees engaged and productive is even more important than at a large firm – and small businesses often don’t have the resources large companies do to reward good performance and keep staff motivated. That means employee incentive programs can be even more of a challenge for small business owners – and the smaller the business, the bigger the challenge.
But that doesn’t mean that you, as a small business owner, can’t offer your employees a satisfying array of rewards and incentives. Rewards don’t always have to take the form of expensive bonuses. These days, employees appreciate a number of other, often less tangible, incentives, like flexibility, a fun workplace culture, and something as simple as the occasional pat on the back. Let’s take a look at some incentives that will keep your small business staff motivated, without destroying your bottom line.
1. Offer Some Flexibility
Everyone loves a bonus for hard work and strong performance, but if there’s one thing that employees might appreciate more than money, it’s time. It’s just as they say – you can make more money, but you can’t make more time. Each of us only gets so much, and with today’s hectic pace of life, more employees than ever are struggling to find the time for family, friends, hobbies, and health.
That’s where you come in. By offering your employees some flexibility in hours, or perhaps the ability to work from home occasionally, you’re acknowledging that you know they have a life outside of work, and that they’re entitled to it. Even if you can’t offer your employees benefits like everyday core hours or work-from-home shifts, you might still be able to work some flexibility into your employees’ schedules. Think about letting employees come in early in exchange for letting them leave early, or even consider rewarding a hard worker with an unexpected paid afternoon off. Even being understanding when someone’s kid gets sick or car breaks down can make the difference between nurturing loyalty to your business or sending your best employees back onto the job market. And if you’re still hesitant, remember that flexibility may benefit employers just as much or more as it benefits employees.
2. Recognize Good Performance
Nothing’s more discouraging than working hard on a project, only to have your hard work go unremarked upon and, seemingly, unnoticed. If you want your employees to suffer from low morale, to resent your leadership, and to eventually seek jobs elsewhere, then by all means, fail to recognize their achievements.
You should provide your employees with recognition for their hard work on a regular basis. Don’t let a hard worker spend weeks or months thinking you didn’t notice when he or she helped with a new product launch, made the new guy feel at home, or dealt with an emergency. Show him or her your appreciation right away, with personalized gifts and awards, small bonuses, or even just by saying thanks.
3. Provide Professional Development Opportunities
Giving your employees the chance to enhance their skills makes them feel like the company is just as invested in them as they are in it, so it can increase loyalty and motivation. Professional development opportunities also motivate employees to succeed, and give them the tools they need to accomplish more. Knowledgeable, skilled employees are more motivated employees, and they’ll be more valuable employees, too.
4. Foster a Fun Environment
No one wants to look forward to the work day with dread. Your employees spend a good chunk of their waking lives at work, and by making the workplace more fun, you’ll make going to work more enjoyable, which can keep employees motivated and engaged. How can you do that? Workplace parties, bring-your-dog-to-work days, and weekly employee happy hours are some common strategies. Ask your employees for their feedback on what would make the workplace more fun, so that you don’t end up causing a “pieces of flair” debacle à la Office Space.
5. Practice Effective Communication Strategies
In a small business, employees have the advantage of being able to directly see the impact their contributions have on the company. By communicating openly and effectively with your employees about how the business is doing and how they’ve contributed, you can help your employees feel like a part of the company’s big picture. Take their input seriously, and they’ll feel like a more valued member of the team.
Incentivizing employee performance isn’t just for big corporations. Small business owners, too, can and should use rewards and incentives to keep employees engaged. Get creative when it comes to recognizing and rewarding good performance, your employees will reward you with years of loyal service.