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Ways to motivate your staff when raises are not an option

We have been on a pay increase freeze for a little over 2 years now. Does anyone have any suggestions of how to motivate employees, when money is not an option?

Thank you!

good question & a bit of a challenge. While we all like to have a little more in our paycheck, typically the idea of a payraise is motivating because it stands as a symbol that my boss, company, etc values me & the work I do. If I do really good work I get a raise, right? So with that in mind, I would ask if there is any way to show how much you value your employees besides money? What other ways can you use to demonstrate that you know the work they do & you appreciate it? Hope that is helpful.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

I'd like to chime in here since I've been in the same boat. I can tell you honestly it's been a challenge to motivate and inspire while adapting to quick and frequent change. The cost of living goes up the paycheck stays the same. There are other opportunities out there but retaining and motivating employees is much the same as it is with students. Do the right things, show people you care and support them yet be an effective leader. Practice what you preach, empower them, let them have some control over their areas and responsibilities. A little recognition goes a long way. Having your boss tell you that you are appreciated and a pat on the back can go a long way as long as it's genuine and truly earned. Employee highlights, company news letters, listening to their concerns and of course FOOD. Everyone loves a good luncheon, pot luck, holiday parties, grab bag gifts, raffles, fun work friendly activities especially team building exercises. Hope this helps a little.

these are all great suggestions & yes, a key is to make sure we are telling those we lead how much we value them & respect them.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

Each year since its inception our company has provided two bonuses (one @ Christmas and the other in June) and give a raise of 3% - 5%, except this year. Due to declining enrollment, Christmas bonuses were not an option.

What did we do? We started with an employee satisfaction survey. Typically this survey was given each year in February. Knowing that we wouldn't be providing a bonus @ Christmas, I requested HR do it just prior to Thanksgiving as I thought this time of the year is more about what internally means the most to us.

We then took the results of the survey and focused on the high marks (95% or better) and low marks (80% or less) and made reinforcement and improvements a priority for the next 20-30 days. This included a large amount of associate engagement, buy in, ownership and cooperation. It ultimately resulted in our company being nominated for its 7th Best Places to Work award and a meeting in mid-December that we called a family gathering.

At this meeting we discussed the things we did well as a family, the areas we were working on to improve and what our internal satisfaction goals would be over the next 120 days. We also advised about not receiving the bonus and each administrator shared how not being able to do so this year was taken personally and out steps to get back to a position of prosperity so that we could return this benefit to the associates, along with the others things. We identified what was important (money and bonuses were not at the top of the list), focused on those motivations, immediately responded to them, while acknowledging areas of needed improvement and delivering what we thought would be bad news.

Turns out that while there was some disappointment regarding the bonus, but there was a great jump in morale and unity. Our response to our associates was a display of showing how important the things that were important to them were to the organization.

For us, it worked.

Timothy ,
Bravo!! This was an excellent idea & thank you so much for sharing. This proves that if we take the time to understand our employees & also tell them how important they are, we can get beyond just money. Granted we can't go this way forever, but it can help in these tougher times.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

It is difficult in today's economy to motivate when raises are not an option. Some possibilities: recognition for a job well done at a monthly meeting, annual awards from the company, or having the individual share a positive outcome with others that can then be replicated. Recognition is a powerful motivator in making employees feel appreciated.


it is difficult but with effort we can find alternative ways to reward & motivate our employees.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

The key to good leadership is the ability to set a direction, align staff, and motivate them during times of change,.

this is so true & to help keep everyone moving forward with that same direction.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

Give time off when work is slow or a job is completed ahead of time.

this is a great idea & can really help improve morale, maybe even more than extra money.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

I've also found that employees are appreciative, and in turn more motivated, when I have done this. As long as the work is done, I've "overlooked" leaving early or coming in late. Birthday recognition and "thank you" cards usually help too. Amazing what a Starbucks run will do for your team too.

these are all great ideas & you are right. This shows your team that you value them & what's more that you trust them.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

My company faces the same challenges, as it seems many others are too. It's hard to rally the troops when they have dollar signs in their eyes. Assigning responsibility, recognizing a job well done, team building, group collaboration and potlucks are all ways we try to motivate each other.

This pertains to our company and we were concerned when the announcement came out. Most people now-a-days have the mentality that they are just happy to have a job. We have encouraged our employees to keep a positive attitude and focus on our true mission and that is for our students.
We have issues small incentives like a gift card and a sincere thank you for all their hard work. Sometimes it's a small acknowledgement that goes a long way. We also plan team events to build morale and create a bond with each other.

yes, there really are many ways to encourage & thank our employees, even when funds are tight.

Ryan Meers, Ph.D.

I have assigned three members of my team to take the lead in moral. We attempt to identify a new game our employees can play each month. The game itself is usually revolves around work performance. Last month we did a rubber duck tossing contest and the number of ducks an employee received was based on an individual’s monthly work performance. The winner of the toss contest received a t-shirt.
I find the employees can be very creative when it comes to keeping their own motivation up.

I agree with this and find that not everyone is inspired by money, but more often positive feedback.

Motivation without monetary incentive of a sales team has been the greatest challenge of my career. Indeed recognition, pot lucks, team building, are all effective, but it seems for short term. I have seen a lot of turn over of very talented people from my company and others for higher paying jobs.

What else can we do?

What's working well out there?

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