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How to keep employees engaged and productive on a budget

3-minute read

Research clearly shows that money alone doesn't make employees happy. Wisely chosen non-monetary rewards, on the other hand, will help you keep your employees engaged over the long term.

“There is unfortunately a fairly widespread belief in business that employees are paid for their work, and that's enough,” says Diane Bazire, a BDC Senior Business Advisor specializing in human resources.

To boost employee engagement, she encourages entrepreneurs to set up a structured program of non-monetary rewards. “Establish the behaviours and results you want to reward and determine your budget.”

A non-monetary rewards program produces many benefits. Employees are happier and more productive; absenteeism goes down; the work atmosphere is more positive—and all without having to spend a fortune.

Bazire suggested some examples of inexpensive non-monetary rewards entrepreneurs can offer their employees to boost engagement.

1. Recognize and appreciate

Recognizing the efforts of employees—especially publicly—is one of the main motivational tools you can use, and it doesn’t cost a dime.

“A thank you is worth its weight in gold,” Bazire says. “Recognition can take the form of an award such as Employee of the Month or Employee of the Year, a thank-you card, or simply being congratulated in front of colleagues.

TIP: Strive to be transparent, objective and fair to avoid the perception you are favouring some employees over others.

2. Offer the opportunity to make a difference

Employees become more engaged when they feel they work on a team where their voices are heard. Strengthen your employees' sense of belonging by communicating with them on a regular basis. Listen to their opinions; they have great ideas.

Have employees participate in activities that matter to them. Bazire gives the example of a contest to find the best way of recycling cardboard boxes the company receives. The employee with the best idea gets a day off.

TIP: Identify issues that your employees care about and can help to resolve.

3. Target continuing education

Regardless of what sector your company operates in, providing employees with the opportunity for development through continuing education is highly motivating and engaging. Courses, seminars and coaching are essential for the development of your employees.

TIP: Technology courses will help your employees remain current in their field.

4. Offer flexible schedules

Telecommuting, personal days and reduced work weeks allow your employees to balance work and personal obligations.

TIP: Be flexible and understanding.

5. Implement job rotation

Think about giving employees the chance to temporarily hold related positions in the company. This method eliminates monotony and strengthens respect for the work of others.

TIP: Job rotation should be implemented in a structured manner to prevent disruptions in the company.

6. Small gestures go a long way

Gift certificates, gas cards and gifts to highlight service anniversaries or special successes are effective ways of recognizing an employee's contribution. Another idea is to offer an employee the president's parking space for a period of time.

TIP: Consult Canada Revenue Agency regulations. Non-cash gifts and awards given to employees are taxable if their total value is in excess of $500 a year.

7. Organize team activities

Get-togethers, celebrations and group outings such as happy hours or sports days help improve team cohesion, work climate and engagement.

TIP: It could be worthwhile to sponsor the local hockey or soccer team to which your employees or their children belong.

Lastly, be attentive and remain flexible. The most important thing is to find a balance between the needs and expectations of your employees and the awards you are offering—the health of your company depends on it.