It’s the unspoken holy grail of any business – the ability to motivate employees without money. We can all see the benefits of a whole culture built on capturing every moment that matters with a meaningful reward, but time gets in the way or budgets get stretched.

You may remember the famous quote from author Dan Pink ‘pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table’. Of course, payment is part of the principle of work – so when it comes to offering your employees something extra, without money, you have to be a bit smarter than the average bear.

So, meet the new ways to motivate employees without money. These alternative rewards are not only great for employee motivation but your whole business strategy!

1. Motivate employees with….Flexible rules

It comes up in study after study after study, flexible working is something we are all looking for. It plays a part in a wider concept which is treating an employee like an adult. Whilst earning a salary is effectively renting out your time on earth for recompense, it makes sense to keep your compassion about you to ensure employees aren’t resentful. A bit of flexible working, whether that is structured or ad hoc can do the world of good for employee motivation. Think about letting them chip off early on Fridays, to come in later after a work event or to have a longer lunch break now and again. Flexibility could also be part of your whole business and flexible rule can be used as a treat. Usually, have your team with their ties tight and suit jackets on? Denim becomes a treat. If you don’t allow food at desks, why not break the rules with a buffet or picnic style lunch? Anything can become a perk if it’s unusual and enjoyed.

2. Motivate employees with….Recognition

This is, of course, a much broader category, but it really is key to make recognition one of your ways to motivate employees. Whilst there is always the stick, the carrot has endless appeal.

3. Motivate employees with….Training and development

Employee motivation can really ebb when there is no buzz about the place. You can install the table football, but without the passion, you’ve got a team of zombies. Training is something you can do, and we don’t mean boring drudgerous sheets and forms. Send them on a course! Bring in a consultant! Get them sharing skills between themselves.
When you train your employees, it means there is plenty of room for them to grow. They don’t have to feel stuck in a routine job. They can look forward to much bigger challenges. Start to look at sideways skills. Perhaps your tech team could learn sales techniques or your sales team can learn basic coding. If at the very least, it raises some smiles, morale and makes a talking point with a new prospect, it’s done its job. Take a look at how it’s done best.

4. Motivate employees with….Collaboration

Just as not getting out of the office and engaging is the path to total despondency after a while, not collaborating out of the normal parameters and with the same team is very dull indeed. As a manager or a leader, it’s your role to get people to push out of their boundaries. If the same people call meetings, ensure other people feel empowered to book in diary time. If the same groups are in cahoots, ask for more people in meetings – not less.

5. Motivate employees with….Team spirit

Team spirit isn’t about the Christmas bash where everyone hangs about in siloes as usual. Team spirit isn’t expensive at all. What about a walking meeting, a surprise meeting in the park – a new take on a working day? Have you ever seen The Apprentice, when Lord Sugar heads to some destination which has a tenuous link to the day’s task at hand? The excitement as they pile into the car is palpable. Shake things up a bit.

6. Motivate employees by….Making friends

You probably think that you don’t have any part to play in how people engage at the workplace and how they make friends, but you do. Do you eat lunch alone or with others? Do you sit at your desk and subconsciously encourage others to do so? People who have friends at work are happier and more productive. Help tie bonds together with more projects, more inclusive lunch breaks and plenty of ice breakers. Try and bring people together.

7. Motivate employees by….Asking for innovation

If employee motivation is low, it’s probably thanks to a bubbling pit of worries, grumbles and concerns about your product, service or technical offering. Get everything out on the table and people feel better. Get a chaired meeting and a chance to blow off steam without judgement. Make rules on what is acceptable, and get it all out on the table. Project plans are made in Ivory Towers, but they are usually far too late for the people on the front line. Bring them in first and flip the whole process.

8. Motivate employees by understanding….Titles matter

A long time ago, you were probably thrilled when you moved from an account junior to an executive and then perhaps a manager. It means something, even if the pay doesn’t match up. How can you structure job titles, roles or duties to reflect what people actually do and how they want to be seen?

9. Motivate employees with….Attention

People want a voice and employee motivation is highly connected with being recognised. Everyone wants to be the person with the great idea or that feels that the CEO recognises and relates to. Ask about people and retain information, from where they holiday through to the names of their children. Too hard? Get time booked in, one on one with them. It can be 10 minutes or 2 minutes, but it really matters. If even that’s too hard – how about creating an internal committee for ideas and development plans?

10. Motivate employees with….Real development plans

Imagine knowing that if you can do x and y, you don’t have to beg for a pay rise, or a title or a company car – it’s all there in your hands, ready for the taking. Real development plans are a true road map, not a tick box exercise to ensure people have a made up 5-year plan. Back your development plans up with books and magazines, guides, meetings and free webinars. Show a real interest in helping them get that Porsche or to visit America. Make their development come to life.

10. Motivate employees with…Job satisfaction

Companies tend to rely on financial rewards when the going is good, but when times are tough, we pull the budget out of rewards, strip back the frills and head back to basics. You don’t want to speak up about motivating employees without having a cost free solution. How can you build job satisfaction into the day? One answer is certificates. We’re all digital natives now – but that doesn’t mean that a piece of paper with ‘star of the day’, ‘friend to all’ or ‘best of the best’ can’t be printed out.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t send an email showing people that they’ve made a difference, or taking a trip to see a real customer and asking them about their experience. Jon satisfaction can’t be bought anyway – it has to come from within. When times are tough, it’s the best time to start increasing how you bring satisfaction into an employees role.

11. Motivate employees with…Job rotation

It’s easy to get into a slump when you’re on the same shift, the same desk and seeing the same problems over and over. Job rotation isn’t just great for innovation – it’s good for morale and it can cost nothing.

12. Motivate employees by….Being enthused

If you have a mountain to climb, you wouldn’t want the leader of the expedition slumping about, grumbling about the distance and frowning and shaking their head. You’d want them encouraging you, checking how to make the journey easy and nipping anxiety in the bud with a big grin. Your management should be the same. You create the energy of the workplace! Why not send a funny email, or wear something shocking, or have a laugh and a joke? The world won’t end if you take 5 minutes to show your human side.

13. Motivate employees by…Connecting for free or heavily discounted rewards

You might want to negotiate deals at local businesses for discounts at places where employees already go, or perhaps you would look into voluntary benefits and rewards that put the onus on employees. Don’t forget they don’t have time or the inclination to look for these perks – so anything you provide will be better than nothing. Take a look and see where you can get business rates or group booking discounts. You can also offer your time – helping to book team days out that are paid for by employees, but organised with those heavy company discounts for big numbers of attendees.

14. Motivate employees with… Family events and days out

Leading on from the last point – if you have the power to arrange things, then this can be a great motivator. What about a day at the beach? Or a trip to a theme park? Whether you score a discount or not, helping to arrange the transport, food and day out can be really motivating and sticks in people’s minds as something the company ‘did’.

15. Motivate employees with… Extra holiday or an open ‘unpaid leave’ policy

Why are you so restrictive on unpaid leave? If your team are down in the doldrums, there’s never been a better way to offer out days off that the company don’t have to pay for. As long as you have the coverage you need (which should be possible) why not open up this as an option? All too often people are too timid to ask for extra time off as it implies a lack of loyalty, so start the conversation.

16. Motivate employees….By thinking creatively

Think you can’t reward without spending a tonne? Here are some ideas

  • Tea and coffee, cereals, bread, fruit juice, cold drinks and fresh fruit can all be purchased at very low prices and when presented well, really look impressive and say thank you.
  • Chocolates – a universal gift that appeals to most people with taste buds. Get a big bucket and ensure every employee has a chocolate on their desk before they get into work.
  • Gift cards – gift cards can be given in really low amounts. Imagine the delight of being gifted enough for a coffee with friends or family – and then finding you can leave early on a Friday! Very motivating indeed!
  • Office reshuffle – too often you think about the office for maximum learning. People are much more excited about a few bean bags, some books, calming music, a TV, a comfy chair – there are so many ways to make the environment more comfortable. What about a set of team plants or even a small plant for each employee?
  • Spotify – if you have a music licence – why not pick a team playlist for the day? It will get people talking!
  • Hire a karaoke machine. 1 boardroom later and you’ve got yourself a racket and a mini party.
  • Ask employees to share their skills in classroom lessons after work or at lunch. From war games or playing the guitar through to Pottery – there’s plenty of people keen to learn something new.

What other ideas have you had? Join the conversation on Twitter – search for @incentivehub and let us know.