Non-Monetary Rewards for Employees: When Bonuses Aren’t Enough

Companies struggle to pay people what many feel they are worth. This long recovery from the 2008 recession has caused financial strain for many businesses, so the monetary awards that were once there have been replaced with unmet expectations for the hardest working employees.

Consider that, “When offered, monetary rewards are lumped in with individuals’ salaries and compensation, so they are not often regarded as gifts. They are additional earned income,” Says Scott Jeffrey of University of Chicago’s School of Business in his paper, The Benefits of Tangible Non-Monetary Incentives.

In such instances, non-monetary reward programs can provide effective alternatives without compromising morale or straining operating budgets.

But companies often miss the opportunity to offer rewards with a much smaller financial footprint while promoting the company’s overall goals and objectives and boosting morale and positive competition among staff teams.

These incentives can be easy to implement, maintain and track. Some of them can be woven into current internal communications (whether that is a newsletter, monthly email or quarterly report). Others may be dovetailed into a special event, or travel to a conference for a team who has reached measurable goals.

Implementing a non-monetary reward program can build loyalty, culture, and communication between internal networks while it reduces conflict and conflict-related competitiveness between management and staff—all at little cost to the company. In some cases, events, conference bookings, the printing of certificates (or ordering of plaques) and scheduling time off for deserving staff can be planned and executed outside of staff time.

Below are some successful examples of Non-Monetary Reward Programs.

Training and Professional Development
Every employee understands that they need to continue education in their field to stay useful to the company and competitive in the marketplace. Professional development opportunities send the message to employees that the company recognizes the values of its staff and is willing to invest in improving their skill sets and helping them move forward in their career challenges.

Health Savings or Improvements to the Current Health Plan (or Retirement Plan)
Health benefits are often a major consideration for employees as they look at jobs on the market. Offering expanding or expandable health programs can go a long way to advancing the retention of those employees as they continue to provide value to the company. Health plan consultants can provide options for creating health plan tiers for long-time workers.

Flexible Hours or Time Off
Employees have lives outside of the company. People volunteer with their community groups, churches, children’s sports or charities that they believe in. Giving staff flexible hours and time off (or time working from home) allows them to better serve those needs and increases their desire to do more for the company, boosting morale among staff as they to contribute more to their personal lives.

Staff Recognition Program/Event
Staff recognition continues to be one of the most overlooked reward methods. It’s understandable, considering the dizzying pace that many companies need to maintain in order to remain competitive. But a recognition program does not need to be a formalized process. A well-implemented recognition of staff through informal praise or mention in a company newsletter can provide the same benefit without taxing the already-stretched workflow.

If a more formal recognition plan is warranted, a staff event (barbecue or social event with families) complete with verbal praise can close out the quarterly earnings, keeping the morale high enough to last through the next reporting period.

Contribution Program
Front-line employees know that it will be some time before they are able to sit at the table where key decisions are made. Management may recognize that it is the observations of those on the front lines who can report trends as they appear in the marketplace. Creating a contribution program for general staff and management to engage with each other can help to narrow the chasm that can lie between them. Successful examples of contribution programs include in-house lunches with both staff and management sharing the tables, where the needs of staff and the needs of management can be aired in a casual, relaxed setting.

Informal Contact among Staff
Set lunches between staff can be useful, but cannot be a constant. Companies with shoestring social budgets can choose more informal contact methods between management and staff. Management can opt for casual walk-throughs to engage in cordial conversations with individual staff members. Another practice is having management take small groups of staff for coffee outside of the office. This can help to ease out of the formality of the workplace while still allowing for the flow of needs and ideas.

Independence and Autonomy
Although this may be the most difficult element to implement, autonomy is seen as one of the strongest morale boosters among workers. An independent workforce can function with the creativity and flexibility of a contracted workforce, with all of the advantages of in-house staff. Regular “assignments” (jobs broken up into phases) can be treated individually and the goals and expectations for both the staff and the company can be laid out at commencement and completion of each assignment. This gives staff considerable opportunity for communication as it breeds creativity among the workforce.

Be sure to take account of how the workforce is broken up and ask what reward program would best suit them. People of different ages have different life priorities, so engage them to rank those offerings. Creating an informal email survey and distributing it among the staff should suffice. It will lay the groundwork for what processes can be implemented quickly and which are best left unexplored.

Remember: Providing avenues for employee loyalty, respect, communication and recognition has become a hallmark for the best companies that employees can work for, but you don’t have to be the biggest fish in the pond to stand out as one of the most sought-after employers out there.

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