3 Non-Monetary Ways to Reward Employees

In an era of highly competitive talent retention and acquisition, money isn’t always the only way to find and keep your best people.
April 4, 2022
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Without question, it seems we’re in a job-seekers market. Employees are changing jobs in record numbers and, in many cases, demanding perks and compensation increases to stay as everything from the job market to inflation puts employers at a disadvantage.

Many companies already struggle to attract and retain talent, especially for in-demand technical skills. Attempting to increase already-high payrolls in an uncertain market might be an untenable demand. For smaller companies in particular, it can be tempting to throw up one’s hands and assume that you’ll always be on the losing side of the war for talent and watch as your best employees depart.

However, money isn’t the only driver for employee turnover. There will always be some number of employees that believe they are underpaid, but there is likely a larger group of employees that feel undervalued. The latter group can likely be appeased by demonstrating that their contributions and work are highly valuable to the company through non-monetary means. Here are 3 straightforward non-monetary approaches to showing employees that they are indeed valuable resources.

Listen, and Fix the Basics

Most employees have a litany of frustrations and complaints about their job and their employer. While many of these might be little more than general grumbling, there are likely several legitimate complaints that, when addressed, make your company a more enjoyable and rewarding place to work.

Avoid the urge to launch a convoluted survey or seek help from HR or outside organizations to “study” employee satisfaction. Instead, use a simple question like “If you could change 3 things about the company or your job, what would they be?”

You’ll likely find consistent themes around culture, the advancement process, or perhaps your leadership style. Some of these themes might be incredibly simple to address. If you repeatedly hear that you don’t provide actionable feedback for improvement, simply taking the 5 minutes to identify and communicate feedback might make your workplace more rewarding and valuable to the employee.

Some feedback might require long-term effort or investment, but few workplaces are so exceptional that there aren’t a half-dozen low-cost and low-effort ways to make your workplace more enjoyable and effective.

Advance Careers

Stagnant career growth is often a driver for employees leaving, and for too many organizations, career advancement focuses on promotion into another position. This is undoubtedly an important part of career development and often the culmination of years of work. Still, there should also be a focus on acquiring new skills and experiences that advance an employee’s career.

For example, if you have an employee interested in innovation, consider putting them on an innovation task force or involve them in selecting an innovation approach. If you have a team member passionate about international business, help them find opportunities to work with your international divisions or on country-specific projects.

The mere process of sitting with an individual employee and helping them develop a practical, and immediately actionable plan to help advance their careers will do wonders, versus dropping a few vague paragraphs into the year-end appraisal.

Similarly, create multiple career paths for your employees that let them see several potential futures with your organization, versus being forced to follow a single track or make a choice to exit your organization. An excellent developer might not want to lead a team or become a manager, and if you don’t provide a clear path for them to grow in your organization, they’ll eventually exit.

Just as you’re more likely to pick a restaurant with a dozen thoughtful options on the menu versus one with only a single meal option, so too are your people more likely to stick with you if they have a variety of opportunities for growth and development.

Create Non-Monetary Perks

We’ve all seen the tech giants showering employees with expensive perks ranging from elaborate free lunches to swag and on-site game rooms. Like compensation, it can seem like you’re competing in a talent battle you can’t win, but there are dozens of non-monetary perks that you can copy from these companies as well.

For example, set up a weekly “innovation afternoon” whereby employees have dedicated time to pursue projects or areas of interest. Have monthly or quarterly “innovation days” where employees present what they’ve been working on, and you’ll not only provide a zero-cost benefit, but your organization may find ideas that can be scaled into valuable projects.

Similarly, consider flexible working schedules or even exploring policies like four-day workweeks. You can also create “quality of life programs” like no-meeting Fridays or banning evening emails. These programs require little or no cost to implement. However, the key to their success is leadership setting the example and ensuring it’s followed. The quickest way to derail your “no evening email” policy is to send a barrage of emails to your team every evening, who will follow your example and erase all the good intentions and communications around the program.

Do the Math

Too many employers assume that retention and employee turnover are merely costs of doing business and don’t understand their actual talent acquisition costs. While some of the numbers can get “fuzzy,” there is a very real and concrete cost to finding, vetting, and onboarding a new employee that can easily creep into the tens of thousands of dollars.

While not purely a non-monetary strategy, you may save money in the long run by implementing pay adjustments or other mitigations. Like most investments, even if you’re initially told there’s no funding available, a thoughtful and well-reasoned business case that attrition is more expensive than funding a retention program in the short and long term might unlock funds that appeared unavailable.

In all cases, some creativity and engagement with your teams can make your company a more competitive employer even without additional monetary rewards. While cash is nice, most studies indicate salary has little impact on job satisfaction. This insight and some effort can allow you to compete in an “employee’s market,” even against larger competitors.

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