Think employee benefits, and what immediately leaps to mind are the pricey extras, like 401k plans and health care. But there are many low cost, high impact ways to make your employees glad to have you for a boss. These can range from an office lunch ordered in on the last Monday of the month to free movie passes.
The first thing to do when thinking of employee benefits is to think personally. The purpose of perks and bonuses is to keep morale high. You’ll defeat the purpose if you don’t take the time to find out what sort of “extras” would make your employees happy. All of your good intentions will be wasted, for instance, if you reward the heavy metal fan in your office with a pair of opera tickets. One company used to give canned hams to everyone during the holiday season, and in doing so, managed to offend the Jews, vegetarians, and Muslims who worked there.
So, pay attention to your employees’ likes and dislikes. Everyday conversations will yield ideas. You may learn, for instance, that your assistant is a huge fan of the symphony or that your account executive never misses a ball game. When you unearth these personal tidbits, file them away for later use. Another way to find out what matters to your employees is to simply ask, either informally or through a printed survey. If nothing else, they’ll feel good knowing you are interested.
Some things are appreciated by virtually everyone. A company where I used to work gave everyone a “mental health” day one Friday per month. That one day off generated a lot of goodwill for my employer. Although a monthly personal day may be out of reach for most small businesses, you might consider awarding a half-day off on Fridays during the summer. Or even a day off per quarter.
Education and training is another effective reward, one that benefits your company in more ways than one. Your workers will appreciate the chance to learn new skills or polish up on rusty ones, and you will get a work force that’s freshly trained. Educational opportunities can be in the form of tuition reimbursement, seminars, or in-house training.
It’s important not to overdo your generosity. If your employees come to expect, say, a catered lunch every Friday, it will eventually lose its novelty, and thus its effectiveness as a reward. You don’t want your perk to be taken for granted.
It’s best to link rewards to performance. This way you inspire as well as reward. When the assistant stays late for a week straight to help you meet a project deadline, say thank you with a pair of tickets to the symphony. When the account executive meets a sales goal, let the reward be skybox seats at the ballpark.
You can also reward employees for showing up on time consistently or for never using a sick day. You may want to set up an employee of the month, or employee of the quarter program, if your staff is large enough. By making such a public display, you send a message throughout your workplace that good work is rewarded.
When you react to the good things employees do, rather than the negative, you set up a positive work environment where everyone feels they are pulling toward the same goal.
And when you treat your workers like they’re something special, they’ll think your company is pretty special itself.