How to Reward Your Employees in a Tough Economy

The holidays are nearly here, but in these tough economic times, the days of big bonuses and lavish holiday parties are over for many companies.  However, there are still ways to show your employees that their hard work is appreciated.  Whether you’re strapped for cash or have a little extra to spare, these tips will make for a positive work environment no matter what time of year it is.

Compliments. This may seem a bit trite, but a positive comment can go a long way.  People like being reassured that they’re doing good work, and a compliment is perhaps the most direct way of letting them know (plus, it’s free and you’ll never run out).  If an employee has done an exceptional job on a project or really nailed her presentation, make a point to say something.  Remember, a compliment from a fellow associate is always nice, but one that comes from the boss means even more.

If your business has clients that regularly come into the office, a compliment given in front of those clients can be even more rewarding for an employee.

Dr. Steven Hornstein, owner and medical director of Monroe Animal Hospital in Monroe, N.J., said he regularly compliments his employees while clients are around.

“It shows the employee that they are appreciated and it helps to show the client that our employees are valued, which leaves a good impression of our practice,” Hornstein said.

[Creative Rewards: Unique holiday bonus ideas from small business owners.]

Delegation. This tactic is a win-win.  On the surface, giving an employee more tasks might not be viewed as a reward, but it shows that you trust him or her enough to take on some bigger responsibilities—and it means a little less work for you.  Earning the boss’s confidence is vital to making employees feel valued and appreciated in the workplace.  If you put an employee in charge of a project or in a leadership position, it can boost job satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, a reward that money can’t necessarily buy.

Promotion. Like delegation, this type of reward truly shows that you believe in your employees’ capabilities.  For many companies, salary increase isn’t an option, so a promotion may be in title only (think Dwight Schrute in NBC’s “The Office,” who went from assistant to the regional manager to assistant regional manager).  However, even a new official title can make an employee feel a little more important, and lets them know that their dedication to the company hasn’t gone unnoticed.

For JJ Hornblass, CEO of Royal Media Group in New York and Seattle, acknowledging employees who have been loyal through the recession is of utmost importance.

“The reward within any business especially coming out of this most recent recession is survival,” Hornblass told BusinessNewsDaily.  “There has to be a deeper reward for people who have weathered that storm…those colleagues with whom you’ve been able to come out of this dark economic period.  You tend to forget who was standing with you in the foxhole, and I’m not sure that that’s right.”

“Lunch is on me today!” Employees who are trying to save a few bucks by brown-bagging their lunch will really appreciate this one.  Depending on how many employees you manage, the types and selections of food you can afford to purchase for them may be limited, but having a hot or catered meal (even pizza counts) at the office once in awhile not only shows that you care about your employees, but also often creates a more positive, productive work environment —our brains tend to function better on a full stomach!

Flexible scheduling. For smaller firms with just a few employees, a flexible schedule is a great way to let employees know that you respect and understand that their lives can be hectic outside of the office.  Allowing and encouraging your associates to create a schedule that best suits their lifestyle (within reason) will likely make them want to come to work, since the time they spent there is time that is convenient for them.
John Derderian, managing director at Consumer Comprehension, LLC in New Jersey, finds this system especially effective.

“[A flextime schedule] is more of an intrinsic reward,” Derderian said.  “This seemingly small gesture may seem modest, but with family schedules fragmented, the option for flextime is clearly viewed by most associates as a meaningful reward.”

If your company is slightly larger and this type of scheduling isn’t practical for you, a “summer-hours” schedule — adding a half hour to the work day Monday through Thursday and leaving early on Friday — is another way to give employees a little extra well-deserved time for themselves.