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How to Recognize Employees on a Shoestring Budget


Employees are people, and they deserve to be rewarded for good performance. In these tough times, here are some ideas for showing appreciation without breaking the budget. Only in very specific situations should money be used as an incentive to better performance. I've written many times on how pay for performance sends the wrong signal and often complicates already complex working relationships. Still, that doesn't mean employees should not be rewarded. They're human beings and have feelings. Good work deserves recognition. Most of us are still recovering from the Great Recession and may not have much of a budget for employee recognition programs. In a previous post on employee rewards, I mentioned some ways to reward employees without breaking the bank. Here are some more ideas I'm sure you will find useful: • A word (or more) of thanks It's something we learned as toddlers: When someone does something special, just say thanks and why. The word is simple, personal and to the point. There's no need to script anything in advance - just say what you feel. An honest conversation will also go a long way toward strengthening the bond between you and your employee. • Recognition from manager's manager Words of praise from your immediate boss are nice; recognition from the boss's boss adds yet another dimension to the recognition. Such a gesture - whether in a personal note, conversation or special meeting - sends a message that the employee's hard work is being noticed up the organizational hierarchy. One warning: Brief the higher-ups thoroughly on the details of the employee's achievement. Make sure the manager knows the employee's name and how to pronounce it. Such recognition can backfire and sound hollow if the senior manager gets the employee's name wrong or misstates a key detail of the achievement. • Monthly award There is no limit on how you define monthly rewards - or whether you announce them publicly or privately. You can honor a plethora of different achievements: highest sales, most satisfied customers, greatest improvement, and so forth. Be creative! • New challenges Top performers appreciate being assigned the most important and demanding jobs. Such assignments are seen as a sign of your confidence in their work - and an opportunity to grow their skills. • Temporary reassignment Strong performers like stretching their wings. A temporary reassignment to another department or project will do exactly that. Employees will feel like they're in demand and even being tested for bigger and better positions. Once they return, they will bring a different perspective to their work and a better understanding of how their regular position fits into the big picture. • Food! It's been said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. A similar saying applies to employees of all genders: Everyone gets hungry and nothing shows appreciation like food. For top performers, consider buying a voucher for a dinner at a restaurant for the employee and his or her family. A gift or fruit basket is another popular way to show appreciation. If the budget is strained, you might consider extending the lunch break so the employee can run more personal errands or just relax in the middle of the day. • Discounted parking If your organization charges employees to park at the office, consider instituting a discount for top performers. They'll appreciate this gesture every time they write a check for parking. The discount, if announced in the office, also can be used as an incentive to raise the performance bar across the department. Who wouldn't like to pay less to park? All these ideas will work great as standalone rewards. Or you can combine two or three, such as an "employee of the month" contest that includes a longer lunch as a prize. Whatever route you take, make sure that the reward isn't too small. An extra 5 minutes at lunch or a few cents off the monthly parking bill will be seen more as a slap in the face than an incentive to improve performance. Also note that some rewards can be awarded publicly, whilst with others people can be rewarded in private. The key here is to find out how your employees like to be rewarded. Similarly, some forms of recognition can be handed out impromptu whilst others can form the part of a regular and formal program. The point here is for you to think about creative ways of rewarding good performance regardless of the setting. Are your managers thinking about this? What have they proposed? Did they act on those ideas? If so, what was the reaction in the office? Please share your experiences here.

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