Motivating Without Money

Employees who are disengaged are so for a reason. The Gallup Organization’s annual survey of employment found that employees are unmotivated when they do not know what is expected of them, when they feel stagnant in their work, and when they do not feel appreciated. People lose enthusiasm for a job when it becomes boring and routine, when bosses are clueless, and when their employer seems to care more about money than people.

If you want to motivate employees without money, the first thing you need to do is engage them. You need to learn what excites the problematic employee and try and incorporate that into their work. What motivates people is feeling appreciated as individuals and contributing what they have to offer.

Indeed, there are many simple ways to motivate people, to have them feel appreciated, without spending a lot of money:

Show your appreciation. Thanking employees for a job well done is so simple yet so effective. Thanks can take many forms. It could be a pat on the back from a manager, a call from the president, a special parking spot for a week, a night out with your team, increased territory, a massage and facial, or a round of golf. FedEx inscribes the names of special employees’ children on the nose of new planes to thank the employee for a job well done. How often do you see a plaque naming the employee of the month?

Recognize employees. Letting everyone know that a team member did a great job works wonders. A survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found that for 68% of employees, being appreciated is important to job satisfaction. At Blanchard Training in Escondido, California, praise from customers and managers is reprinted in the company newsletter. What about sending a press release regarding an accomplishment to your trade journal?

Ask for input. Listening to employee ideas and taking action on them makes people feel as if they are part of a team and that what they say makes a difference. At Grumman Corporation in New York, employees whose suggestions are implemented receive gift certificates. Fel-Pro in Skokie, Illinois, has a yearly drawing for $1,000 for all employees who participated in the employee suggestion program.

Offer freebies. Employees who do something above and beyond the call of duty can be given an afternoon off, a gift certificate to Nordstrom, or tickets to a sporting event. At H. B. Fuller Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, employees get a paid day off on their birthday. Mary Kay Cosmetics gives the birthday girl a lunch voucher for two.

Make your business a special place to work. What about having a massage therapist come by every other week for complimentary 15-minute back massages at employees’ desks? What about an in-house yoga class? Have a yearly picnic with spouses and children. Organize a rafting trip down the river. None of these ideas costs a lot, but all would be appreciated, and appreciation is motivation.

The thing about non-monetary rewards is that you need to be creative. Take suggestions. A few changes can reap tremendous rewards.

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Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is the senior small business columnist at USA TODAY, the Editor-in-Chief here at Small Business Connection, a speaker and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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