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Motivate Employees Without Spending Big Bucks

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All business owners want to get maximum value from their employees, and a bit of incremental cash can create a pleasant and fun work environment that will go a long way toward building an engaged, energetic workforce that is eager to collaborate, not just cooperate. But providing motivation in the form of regular bonuses or raises is not always feasible.

Here are a few inexpensive ways you can make your office a happier, more creative, and more productive place to work.

Guest Speakers

Instead of putting out another memo on, say, tips for search engine optimization or closing a sale, get an expert to come in and truly engage your employees. Numerous services provide entertaining lecturers by educators, media members, executives, or consultants, who can cover any business-related topic. Demonstration- and activity-based learning have proved to be far more effective than merely reading; and participating in an educational session makes it even more likely that your employees will actually implement what they have learned. What’s more, hearing creative solutions from other companies or industries may spark ideas that can translate to your own business.

Work-from-Home Days

When it comes to brainstorming, group dynamics can be intimidating. Some employees may feel they can be more creative on their own, in a nonjudgmental environment where other people’s egos don’t come into play. In fact, studies have shown that solo brainstorming results in more initial ideas, while groups can be more effective at honing those concepts.

With that in mind, if it’s appropriate for your business, consider implementing a monthly, voluntary “Friday is work-from-home day.” A change of scenery, and a stress-free workplace, even temporarily, can be a big boost for creativity and morale. Upon their return to the office, employees can present their ideas in a group session. In addition to brainstorming, stay-at-home Fridays can be reserved for other tasks that may benefit from an interruption-free, solo environment, such as writing, researching, making phone calls, or producing reports.

Meanwhile, those employees who cannot perform their functions from home, or who see the office as a refuge from home, can come in on those days to a quiet workplace where they can relax and produce without distractions.

Free Lunch

Provide an employee lunch at the office at least every couple of weeks, and not just pizza or sandwiches from the deli downstairs. Show that you’ve made an effort by looking into unusual options that will intrigue your staff and make the lunch an experience for them to look forward to. Haven’t you been meaning to try that Cambodian place anyway?

Office lunches are a great way for staffers from departments that rarely interact to get to know each other; this can create smoother working relationships and may lead to inter-department collaborations or efficiencies. It’s also a non-intimidating way for low-level staffers to mingle with and get to know their superiors, fostering a more relaxed and collaborative atmosphere.

Employee Involvement

While it may sound like a harebrained idea from The Office, getting people involved in creating their own happy workplace is always a good idea. Employees are much more likely to respond positively to reward-based motivation if it comes from their colleagues, as opposed to their boss trying to “buy” productivity with free pizza, a tactic that can be demeaning and can lose effectiveness over time. Set up a volunteer “fun committee” of staffers from all levels. The members of the fun committee are not running the team; they’re part of it, so they will be extra motivated to find the best birthday cake bakery or to set up a workday party or happy hour that will truly impress their workmates.

Committee members may find themselves working alongside people they don’t know well from other departments, establishing a feeling of community that makes the whole company stronger. The committee can enhance the sense of camaraderie for the rest of the staff by documenting the fun on a company newsletter or Facebook page.

Happy employees are, simply put, the best resource your company has. These are just a few of the ways you can keep your staff engaged, dynamic, and ready to contribute to the team.


Carolyn Horwitz is a Los Angeles–based editor and writer who covers business with a focus on design, architecture, and lifestyle topics. Her latest book is Dealer’s Choice: At Home with Purveyors of Antique and Vintage Furnishings.

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