When budgets are tight, it can be hard to justify raises as rewards for high-performing employees. But if someone loves their work, takes pride in doing it well and feels valued, there are many other ways besides a bigger paycheck to show your appreciation for a job well done.
Studies have shown that employees with high job satisfaction are generally more productive, engaged and loyal to their companies. Hiring managers, HR experts and business leaders weighed in on the best ways to keep employees satisfied when salary isn't the driving factor.
1. Be transparent
"Feedback and the ability to understand employee concerns is important, but it's what you do after that's critical to retention. You should always be transparent by sharing what you've learned and a course of action for addressing the issue. For example, after a recent company-wide engagement survey, we chose to share our results with all employees. We not only communicated our top areas of success but also our areas for improvement and how we planned to address them moving forward. Transparent communication and a simple acknowledgement that we heard you can go a long way." - Laura Grieco, HR and administration director at Parkmobile
2. Offer more vacation time
"Reward your highest performers with incremental vacation days. These employees are your superstars so you can be confident they will get their work done as well as enjoy a few extra days of well-deserved time off with family and friends." – Stacia Pache, founder and CEO of itBandz [See Related Story: Want to Boost Employee Productivity? Offer an Incentive]
3. Make work-life balance a priority
"To engage the workforce and remain competitive, it's no longer sufficient to focus solely on benefits. Top employers create an environment where employees feel connected to the organization and have a positive work experience that's part of a rich, fulfilling life. – David Ballard, assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Association
4. Encourage communication in common areas
"Businesses should take steps to create spaces where employees can easily communicate and share ideas. Casual conversations in the break room can become collaborative conversations. Make it inviting and effective, with nice furniture, tables, and snacks and beverages, if possible." – Tom Heisroth, senior vice president at Staples Advantage
5. Create a career pathway
"[Our research] found that providing developmental support, such as training opportunities and career mentoring, to employees who do not believe there are attractive career opportunities for them within the company led to such employees leaving the organization. It's critical for businesses to have regular career planning discussions with their employees. As part of training and development, make sure employees are aware of the different types of career paths or job opportunities throughout the company." – Maria Kraimer, business professor at the University of Iowa
6. Build employees up
"If you're looking to keep an employee by giving him/her a raise, it's already too late. Find people who share the operational values of your organization from the outset, test for fit early, and allow growth opportunities to express that value. We're fanatics about initiative and constructive impact. Our team members are consistently rewarded with higher value projects following a constructive initiative." – Zachary Watson, CEO at HoneyCo
7. Promote a positive work environment
"Happy employees make for a happy company. Within the office, we'll publicly acknowledge accomplishments, provide a group lunch, reserve a prime parking space, or change a title. We'll also help employees to grow and develop, whether by taking on new desired responsibilities or challenges, taking courses to learn new skills, or furthering knowledge of the company by traveling on company business trips." – Jakki Liberman, president of Bumkins
8. Set the example
"One can't underestimate the importance of walking into the office as the boss with a smile on my face and making sure I give the same feeling of importance to everyone." – Jon Sumroy, CEO and inventor of mifold
9. Recognize and reward employees
"Achievement and recognition are high motivators for employees. If they take risks, reward them. Give them a coupon to go out for dinner, an extra day off, tickets to a show, etc. The small stuff adds up." – Charley Polachi, managing partner at Polachi Access Executive Search
10. Always say 'thank you'
"In my experience, employees rarely become unhappy or leave solely over money. When they do become disenchanted it is usually because they don't like their boss, aren't engaged or feel like they have stopped learning. Having a positive culture and workplace environment helps a lot, as it encourages teamwork and communication which increases engagement and opportunities for teammates to learn from each other. We also do periodic "shout outs" to people at all levels of the organization for great work or superior effort. These kudos cost nothing but provide important public recognition for a job well done, effectively compensating people in the form of social currency which is highly valued." – Gary Beasley, co-founder and CEO of Roofstock
11. Offer benefits beyond the basics
"There are many ways to supplement salary by assisting employees in other areas of their lives. You can offer an extra level of life insurance or disability insurance for employees to protect their incomes. Other ancillary benefits, such as dental, optical [and] wellness, are all well received by employees. And gym memberships and transit benefits are great perks to keep employees happy and healthy. It is important to [provide] higher benefits so your employees know that you truly care about them and their families." – Bobby Hotaling, president and CEO of The Hotaling Group
12. Make employees part of the big picture
"The best benefit you can provide to your employees is the opportunity to make a difference through their work and help guide the course of the company. Benefits such as clear and frequent communication on company happenings, individual and department direction, and big-picture company direction make all the difference in employee happiness." – Anthony Smith, CEO and founder of Insightly
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.