In tough economic times, employees are working longer hours and watching the newscasts for the latest word about the state of business in the U.S. Because anxiety is high and the prospect of raises may be nonexistent, it’s easy for workers to become discouraged.

Employee dissatisfaction and fear might not necessarily result in poor performance, but could hinder your strategies for change and innovation. When your staff is expected to pitch in to buy coffee and paper products for the break room and still be totally onboard for your next product rollout, you may get a less than stellar vote of confidence. It isn’t always about the money, either. Employees value a number of things in the workplace that you can probably supply even if you won’t be able to cough up a bonus this year.

Motivate Employees Without $$$$$$

Show your appreciation – Recognize a job well done with casual but sincere praise. Institute an employee-of-the-month program to acknowledge excellence within your organization. For every criticism, find something positive to admire. It’ll help create a more balanced work environment.

Give employees a chance to grow – When you give employees chances to refine their skills or develop new ones you increase their worth. You help them become more valuable in the marketplace even though you can’t offer them better pay — right now, anyway.

Consider telecommuting – Letting employees telecommute, even one or two days a week, allows them to save money on transportation, food, dry cleaning and other incidentals. It’s one perk that may cost you very little but reap big rewards in the employee satisfaction department. To make this happen, you’ll need a way to monitor work flow. You’ll probably also need to establish a remote connection to your computer intranet. This isn’t the only measure that will raise employee satisfaction and cost you very little. Consider instituting: a casual dress day, flex time, or occasional longer work days to balance out shorter Friday work hours.

Respect employee autonomy – Work styles differ, and it’s likely that there are employees in your organization who’d be much happier if they had more decision making power within their areas of expertise. Innovative, smart, and responsible employees don’t need to be micro-managed and will probably thank you for loosening your strangle hold on a few policies and processes. It doesn’t work with everyone, but when it does work, you get a happy innovator for the same price as an unhappy drone.

Establish clear goals – Employees who aren’t freewheeling innovators want to know exactly what’s expected of them. Take the time to write out policies and procedures for positions within your company. These handbooks make your expectations clear and are great tools for cross training.

Implement performance reviews – Your company may only have a small staff, but providing employees with formal goals and feedback is important. An annual performance review will give you insights about employee satisfaction and offer you an opportunity to praise and guide employees along a more productive path. It works for everyone and can be a great excuse to give employees a well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

Recognition, autonomy, and flexibility are all important to your employees, and keeping your workers happy and productive is one of the fundamental principles of good business. Evaluate your employee benefits package relative to ways you can improve satisfaction and motivate your workforce without increasing payroll. You’ll discover there are lots of options.

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