6 Inexpensive (But Effective) Ways to Reward Your Employees

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By Andrew Schrage

For business owners, it's always a good idea to keep expenses as low as possible. Preventing employee burnout not only goes a long way toward reducing human resource expenses, such as employee recruitment and training, but it increases the overall utility of your workers and their happiness on a day-to-day basis. It's essential in creating a positive environment that allows everyone to flourish from top to bottom over the long term. In other words, spending a little money to keep your employees happy may be one of the best investments you can make.

Fortunately, it doesn't cost much to make an impact. Here are some free and low-cost ways you can reward your employees:

  1. Casual dress days. Offering casual dress days goes a long way toward developing a satisfied workforce. Most folks love to take off their tie or forget the high heels every now and again. If you're in a client-focused business, however, be sure to set guidelines for what "casual" looks like: You don't want someone showing up for a client meeting wearing gym shorts and a tank top. When our company has meeting days, we always stress that jeans and a T-shirt are more than OK. What is important is their mindset, and that they come to work prepared.
  2. Chore-free week. If you require your team to pitch in on office chores, like cleaning the break room or employee bathrooms, reward them with a chore-free week. Do the dirty work yourself, or go ahead and spend the money to hire a cleaning crew that week. If you're in sales, consider offering this reward as a prize to the team that generates the highest number of sales each month. You could motivate your sales force further by hanging a bottle of cleaner on the showroom floor as a reminder of what they're working toward.
  3. Paid days off. Who doesn't love an extra day away from work? Consider offering high performers an extra paid day off in exchange for a job well done. While you are spending the equivalent of a day's salary to offer the incentive, a well-rested employee is a more productive employee, so you'll likely come out ahead. Plus, your entire workforce will be motivated to earn days off, improving productivity across the board. To make this incentive fair, set guidelines for the reward and determine in advance how many days you'll dole out each month or year.
  4. Cheap after-hours activities. Just because you want to take the team out to celebrate doesn't mean you have to blow the whole budget. If eating out is your thing, check out deal-of-the-day websites like Groupon to find discounts at eateries in your area. An early evening park outing is another inexpensive idea: Grill burgers and hotdogs and invite your team to bring their families for an evening picnic. If you can, allow everyone to clock out of work an hour early to go home, change and return ready to blow off some steam. We will occasionally hold team pow-wows where we host some team members for a barbecue after a good monthly performance.
  5. Work from home. Chances are, most of your team members would love to work from home. If you're in a business where home-based work is a feasible solution, reward your staff by allowing more flexibility in their work schedules. Depending on your business, this may mean allowing home-based work a certain number of days each week, or working from home when an employee's children are sick. Just set guidelines for communication and productivity so it's clear that a work-from-home day isn't the same as a vacation day.
  6. Personalized schedule. If you can't afford to give your team members a paid day off because of staffing levels, consider allowing them to write their own schedule for a week. Some staff members may love working mornings, while others would prefer to work nights. Keep in mind that this can be tricky if you work in a retail or a service industry requiring all-day coverage. If this applies to your business, you'll need to be prepared to handle any blocks of time that aren't covered by your staff. In our case, we allow team members, many of whom are parents, to change up their schedule from week to week depending on when they need to be available to take care of their children. One week, someone may work during the day Monday through Friday, and the next week, Wednesday to Sunday in the evenings. This flexibility is invaluable to employees.

There's nothing wrong with asking staff members which rewards would help keep them motivated. The key is to match the reward with your team's interests. Put up a suggestion box or ask them to shoot you an email with ideas. They may come up with some great ones that you wouldn't have  even considered.

How do you reward your employees without breaking the bank?

Andrew Schrage is co-owner of the MoneyCrashers.com Personal Finance website. The site strives to educate readers on a wide variety of topics, including how to budget for retirement, tips to increase your income, and the best small business credit cards