One summer after law school, I got a job at a law firm with a dubious reputation, but hey, it was a job. The gig was fine, not great, and so I was surprised a few months later when the firm announced it was going to have a holiday party. The first clue we had that something was amiss was that we were explicitly told that no spouses or partners were allowed at the party.
A few weeks later we went to the party on, of all things, a Thursday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Like I said, it was strange. But things got downright weird when the managing partner took to the microphone to announce that we still needed to bill for the two hours we had been at the party and so everyone was expected to go back to the office after it was over and work late.
Not surprisingly, I was thrilled when the firm let me go a few weeks later; it was like being sprung from jail.
There are right ways and wrong ways to reward employees. The important thing to note is that the right ways can pay big dividends long term as happy employees become loyal employees and loyal employees make for happy customers.
Here are six easy and great ways to reward employees:
1. Flexibility: Being flexible with your staff is simple and it can be incredibly useful in creating and maintaining a team willing to go the extra mile. Treating employees like adults and making accommodations for their lives and needs may not sound like an “employee benefit,” but if you have ever worked someplace where that is not the case, you know it is.
Letting people start work a bit late or leaving a bit early, or understanding that sometimes things come up during the work day, creates a cooperative culture. Your employees will appreciate and respect your flexibility, and that will in turn lead to loyalty and a happier work environment.
2. Special days off: It might be fun to let employees take the day off on their birthday, or anniversary, or Martin Luther King Day, or Purim, or whatever. Let them decide. When it comes to employee rewards, it is often the little things that lead to the best results.
3. Food/treats: As we all know, food is the way to a person’s heart and so, if you have the means to provide free food in the workplace, this can be a great benefit. Indeed, one thing you will notice if you ever see a profile of bigger businesses that get lauded for their employee benefits (think Google or Facebook) is that they consistently offer staff free food.
And note, it need not be free meals. If the budget is a little too tight to keep food in the office on a daily basis, consider bringing in bagels or donuts every week or two. Buy the staff lunch, grab coffee for everybody, etc.
4. Employee of the Month: This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it’s here because it works. The key to good employee benefits is that they make employees feel appreciated. People want to feel special, especially in a work setting, and they love it when their efforts are recognized. That is where the Employee of the Week or Month comes in. Yes, it may be a bit corny, but offering that recognition, along with a little prize, works.
5. Gifts/prizes: Speaking of prizes, offering up small gifts or prizes as incentives is a great way to ensure quality work. They don’t have to be grand or expensive things either. Everyone loves winning prizes/contest, regardless of what the reward actually is. You could offer tangible things, like gift cards, lunch paid for by the boss, candy, or movie tickets. You could offer up extra days off or a long lunch as potential prizes – the options are many.
6. Saying thank you: This one is the simplest and probably the most important. As a manager or business owner, it is your job to pay attention to how things are running, and how your employees are working and feeling. Take note of things that are going well, and look out for people who are going the extra mile, or have truly accomplished something special. Take a moment to thank these people earnestly and regularly. It will make a difference.
There are many fun, creative things you can do to keep your employees happy and motivated, and, happily, they don’t need to include working overtime.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss.
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