How to recognize employees if you don’t have money to give bonuses

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Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, Major accounts manager, Ashton Staffing, Inc.

Your employees work hard to ensure your company’s success, but when companies are cutting back on expenditures, it seems nearly impossible to recognize their efforts without cutting into your bottom line, says Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, major accounts manager, at Ashton Staffing, Inc.
“Many companies feel strapped for cash right now and run in the other direction at the mere mention of bonuses or raises. Nevertheless, tough times don’t mean that you shouldn’t reward your employees,” she says.
Smart Business spoke with Coon-Leeper about how to acknowledge employees through non-monetary means.
What are some ways to recognize and reward employees if you can’t give bonuses or raises? 
There are many ways that a company can reward employees without handing them money. Many things can be done with minimal effort. For example:
• Be flexible. Give your employees the flexibility in determining work schedules and the ability to take time for family or personal issues. Create summer hours with shorter in-office workdays. Rearrange working times to add an extra hour during the first part of the week in exchange for lesser hours later in the week. As long as the employee is deserving and does not abuse the privilege, this can go a long way to building trusting and mature relationships.
• Lunch from the president/CEO. Have the ‘powers that be’ bring in lunch as a nice surprise. It can be a home-cooked meal. Clear the conference room and have the president deliver the praise, lunch and sit down with the employees to get to know more about them. All business aside, just the thought would make employees feel appreciated.
• Give employees a free pass. Try giving out a certain number of free days off to employees to use as they see fit. Employees get a few of these a year and can use them as they like. They do not have to pretend to be sick. They can go to the beach, read a book and play with their kids. It does not matter how they use the time.
Do some employees prefer certain types of rewards and what’s the best way of identifying what works best?
Companies should make an effort to get to know their employees. Each employee is different and will have different values depending on how old he or she is and at what stage in life. Because of that, younger employees may appreciate different rewards than individuals who are middle age. For example, younger employees may prefer to earn more paid time off to use as they see fit, whereas studies have shown that middle-age employees prefer to be praised more on their work performance by either receiving a handwritten note from the president/CEO or by simply hearing verbal approval of a job well done.
If your employees still want bonuses or raises, how can you best handle turning them down?
In many situations, it is easy to turn down a raise request — if a person’s performance has not met expectations or if a person bases the request on what others are making, it is easy to explain that everyone is treated as an individual. The more difficult scenario is when you have to deny a request from someone who merits an increase but cannot get one because of the company’s financial situation.
The secret here is to ensure the employee knows he or she is a valued worker and is making a legitimate request that simply cannot be met right now because of the company’s financial status. A rational person will understand these kinds of circumstances. Acknowledge the employee’s disappointment by ensuring that you will come back to him or her with a raise as soon as the financial picture brightens.

Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, is a major accounts manager with Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or [email protected]
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