How to Recognize and Reward Employees When You Can’t Afford a Raise

George J. Ziogas

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A raise is a great way to recognize and reward your employees for all their hard work. Unfortunately, many business owners don’t have the money they need to give out raises this year. If you’re one of those business owners, don’t worry — there are plenty of other ways to recognize and reward your best employees.

Another Pizza Party? A Word about Recognition and Sincerity

First, a few important words on how to go about gestures of appreciation in the workplace. Research shows that employees crave recognition for their hard work. Yet, when done in the wrong way, some employees see public recognition as nothing more than a ploy for the boss to look good. The likelihood of cynicism is higher if it’s been a while since an employee’s last raise or they feel they never get personally recognized for their accomplishments.

You may have noticed that pizza parties are the pet peeve of disgruntled workers in memes and jokes on TV. Undoubtedly, memes take on a life of their own (don’t worry — people will always love free pizza). Regardless, the takeaway here is that tokens of appreciation can often fall flat (or worse) when presented in lieu of a raise. If the pizza party memes are anything to go by, this is a common experience for a lot of younger workers.

So, the ideas in this list should be accompanied by a conversation. Personalize your recognition and communicate sincerely. After all, a thoughtful and personalized reward is much more likely to make an employee feel appreciated.

Give Them a Paid Day Off

Imagine waking up on a Sunday morning. You’re about to get started on everything you need to do before the work week starts back up. You get a text from your boss, “Hey, I appreciate all the work you’ve been putting in. Take tomorrow off, on me.”

Chances are, nothing like that has ever happened to you before. Giving employees paid time off is a great way to show your appreciation for their hard work. It’s also a nice break for them and can help reduce burnout.

Let Them Work From Home

Working from home can be a great way to reward employees who’ve been putting in extra effort. For a lot of people, it helps reduce stress and increase productivity. If you’re running a business where it makes sense for people to work from home, then this might be an excellent way for you to reward them.

Working from home could be a one-time thing if you’re reluctant to change things up too much. But scheduling half the week, or even just one day a week, as a work-from-home day for select employees is one of the best substitutes for a promotion or raise when you can’t afford those things.

Buy Them Lunch

Buying someone lunch is a great way to show your appreciation. And it doesn’t have to be expensive — you can usually get a good meal for less than $15.

Offering an employee lunch is the perfect gesture for small accomplishments, or just for someone who’s been working hard the past few days. It’s simple and sincere: “Great job this week, let me buy you lunch.”

Take Them Out to the Movies or a Game

Sports games are a wholesome way for employees and employers to bond. A lot of people have been going to sports games since they were kids, so it’s an experience that brings back fond memories.

Movies can also be a great way to reward employees. They’re relatively cheap, and there’s usually something for everyone.

Of course, if you run a business, you may be too busy to even do things like that with your own family when you want. If that’s the case, you can surprise your employees with tickets and a thoughtful letter of appreciation.

Reach Out and Express Gratitude

Regardless of what you do, make a point to have a conversation. Pulling someone aside or taking them to lunch to say thank you is a great way to show your appreciation.

Saying thanks can be as simple as, “Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for all the work you’ve been doing.” But it can also be a conversation. For example, if they helped out with a project that went especially well, take some time to reminisce on the challenges and the successes you experienced together.

There are plenty of other ways to show your employees that you appreciate them. These are just a few examples that might work well for your business or at least get your wheels turning a bit. No matter what, make sure that your recognition is sincere and personalized — it will mean a lot more to your employees.

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