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10 Effective Techniques to Boost Employee Morale Without Increasing Salaries

by Joy Powers on August 30, 2011

This piece was written by Joy Powers (@JoyPowers).

Trying to boost your company’s bottom line? It is time invest in employee morale.  Happy workers are 12 percent more productive according to a study led by Professor Andrew Oswald at Warwick Business School.

Unhappy employees on the other hand can be detrimental to your business.  Not only are they less productive and absent more, if they end up walking out the door, you’ll be paying the price for months or years to come. Turnover costs are estimated to be from 30 percent of annual salary for an entry level employee up to 400 percent of annual salary for a high-level employee.

Lucky for you, improving morale doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  In fact, none of the in practice methods outlined below involve raises or bonuses.

1.  Recognize individual employees

Tell people when they are doing a fabulous job.  It is so simple, and works so well. This piece of advice was by far the most common response I heard when asking professionals how to boost employee morale.   Praise your employees at staff meetings, or take the time to thank them in a hand-written note.  Whatever the message, the most important thing is that employees know that their hard work is noticed and appreciated.

The employee recognition need not stay within the office walls.  One local hospital worked with their public relations pro Shelly Gordon of
G2 Communications Inc. to create a “Hospital Heroes” program which celebrated the great accomplishments of the hospital employees.  The press profiled the hospital’s housekeeping staff, nurses, and surgeons, boosting employee morale.

One Internet startup company posed a challenge to their employees to come up with an innovative and cost effective way to promote the company.  Each month, the best idea was chosen and implemented.  The winner was announced at a staff meeting, and given a prize.  Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling had the honor of winning one month, and to this day describes it as “one if the highlights of my working with the company.”

2.  Show employees the results of their hard work

I once worked at a large non-profit that raised money for other non-profits. As a result of this, most of my co-workers and I had very little if any direct interaction with the people and the communities we were actually helping. So while we raised money for books and senior excursions, we never witnessed the joy of children receiving the new books, or the delight of retirement home residents enjoying an afternoon at the museum.  To help remedy this, the HR team organized fieldtrips for us to actually see the end result of our hard work. These were incredibly rewarding experiences, which better connected us to the communities, and made me feel more passionate about the work we were doing.

To bring the fieldtrip experience in-house, be sure to share the thank you notes and positive reviews written by customers with the entire staff.  Or better yet, team-builder Mike Jaffe of Jaffe Life Design LLC asks clients to meet and personally thank the employees that service their account. “By reminding employees about the meaning their work has by seeing its impact directly through the eyes of the people they are engaging with, it serves as a tremendous boost to morale, confidence, and satisfaction and adds an entirely different level of meaning to their work,” Jaffe said.

3.  Give them responsibility

All of your employees can point out inefficiencies in your organization, but not all feel empowered to do so.  Paul Vragel of 4aBetterBusiness, Inc. recommends listening to employees to learn about what gets “in the way of the good job they want to do” and then involving them in the process to eliminate these barriers.  Using this approach, he helped a mid-market manufacturing company implement almost 100 ideas that increased earnings by 30% within a few months.

When Terry Henley of Employers Resource Association was tasked to take over a production department of 100+ employees, on a 6-month clean-up assignment, he also involved the department members directly in the process of improving their department.  Together, the department reduced their error rate by 50%, increased their production by 25%, and eliminated the overtime caused by huge backlogs.

4.  Treat them as people

“The fastest way to kill morale is to treat an employee like a resource similar to a stamp press or die cutter,” said Curtis Stuehrenberg of Accelrys.  Instead, small gestures like learning your employees’ names, and sending flowers when they are sick can go a long way.

5.  Make sure that top management is available, listening, and engaging

In the early days of Hewlett-Packard, ‘the HP Way’ included the practice of ‘management by walking around,’ explained Bob Kalsey, whose father started working at HP in the mid-1950s. Founders Dave and Bill spent time on the shop floor, talking with individual employees, asking questions, and soliciting ideas.

“People there felt their work and opinions were valued, and they took pride in that,” explained Bob Kalsey.  “We all want to feel genuinely a part of something larger than ourselves, and when we do, we are loyal and eager to go the extra mile. Unlike many C-level people who insulate themselves from low-level workers, Dave and Bill weren’t absent from their employees’ daily lives.”

6.  Offer training

One of the top reasons employees leave a company is lack of development opportunities, so providing your employees with professional effective training is sure to boost morale,” said Robert Bilotti of Novita.

This begins with partnering new employees with more seasoned veterans, bringing in experts for training sessions, and encouraging and paying for employees to attend local trade conferences.

“Your best people continue to demand professional development opportunities that help them grow, yet most companies take the short-sighted view of cutting those programs when financials are tight,” explained  leadership coach Darcy Eikenberg of Red Cape Revolution. Be wary of taking away these benefits.

“Your stars will remember how they’re being treated now and will walk to your competitor as soon as the economy turns,” warned Eikenberg.

7.  Give small perks with big personal impact

In addition to providing training, businesses can reward their staff with perks that truly make a difference in the lives of their employees.  One perk that I cherish, that costs my employer nothing, is having the luxury of working from home once a week.  The hour and a half that I save by not riding the bus, gives me the rare chance to take a breather between my work and family responsibilities.  On same vein, having flexible hours can make a world of difference to working parents.

The New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado rewards each of their employees after their first year of employment with a new bicycle, and encourages the employees to ride by providing on-site showers and bicycle maintenance supplies.  Of their 320 employees, over half of the staff ride to work at least a week in the summer.

When it comes to rewarding a job well done, many executives revert to giving their employees small cash bonuses.  Instead, CEO Ruben Estrada of Estrada Strategies, a company providing executive coaching services, recommends treating employees to an experience.

“Instead of giving your production supervisor a $50 bonus, offer to buy dinner for him and his wife at a local fine restaurant,” said Estrada. “When you give an employee money, his attitude is grateful but the feeling is ‘I earned it’ and thus the impact is short lived. When you give an employee an experience, you’re giving them something they would call their mother to brag about.”

8.  Be transparent and keep staff in the loop at all times

Nobody likes to be the last to know, but when employees don’t know what is going on in their own company, productive time can give way to duplicate or unnecessary efforts on the part of the staff.  Worse yet, when employees are only given part of the story, not the whole picture, they are left to fill in the blanks with gossip, rumors, and worry.

This happened to the employees of one of leadership coach Darcy Eikenberg’s clients who was successful in a growing industry, but employees were still concerned with layoffs. Turns out the executive wasn’t looking at the situation from the staff’s view. They didn’t know as much as she did. That’s when she started explaining to them how and why the industry was growing and why they were making cuts for the benefit of the company.

9.  Make the office fun

“No one wants to leave a place where they are having fun,” said recruiter Abby Kohut at Staffing Symphony LLC.  “For little to no cost employers can implement programs that make their employees smile.”  Her suggestions include potluck cooking contests, baby picture contests, and department shows.

Instead of throwing boring run-of-the-mill office party, the crew at Rackspace Hosting, who pride themselves of making their work environment fun, decided to go all out for an 80s party.

Jillian Zavitz at TalktoCanada, a company that offers English lessons over the Internet, has tried numerous approaches to boost the morale of her teachers. She found that bonuses and weekly prizes really don’t really work. Faced with the additional challenge of having virtual workforce, Jillian recently tried a new approach and implemented a game called “Amazing Race Canada” for her teachers and students.

“So far people are pumped at the opportunity to do different things – and compete against each other,” said Zavitz.

10.  Ask employees what motivates them

While the list above will certainly help bolster the morale of many employees, one of the most important things to do is to ask your employees what motivates them. Robert Dolezal, CEO at Consultiq & D&A Consulting, recommends sitting down with each employee and have a conversation about what they value and how they measure success.

“The answers they give will in turn suggest non-compensation rewards that will boost morale–and the conversations themselves will make them feel more motivated, appreciated, and participatory, leading to morale boosts just by asking,” said Dolezal.

Raj Khera, Co-founder & CEO of MailerMailer, has found that the outcome of these sessions “is often a list of ideas that you hadn’t thought of. If you implement them, the employees will feel even more appreciated and will typically help you get the ideas launched.”

Just be genuine

Whichever methods you choose to implement, the most important thing to remember is that you do so out of genuine interest and concern for your employees.  Forced office socials and cheap thoughtless gifts will be recognized as such, and can cause more damage than the good will for which they were intended.  If you need more examples of what not to do (or if you simply need a laugh), I highly recommend reading David Spark’s piece “10 tales of condescending morale boosting efforts.”

Stock photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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