By Mark Swartz
Canadian Workplace Specialist
Motivating employees in your small business needn't cost a fortune. You already have built-in advantages such as fewer layers of management to navigate, and a sense of belonging that can be harder to find in bigger companies.
Once you're paying a fair salary with reasonable benefits, perks can prompt productivity. Inexpensive ones work well when used smartly. Like offering free hot beverages so your employees don't have to leave the premises on breaks. Or making Fridays a casual dress day so that people feel a bit more relaxed.
There's no reason to try and duplicate all the perks of larger organizations. Your employees have chosen to work for you instead. Treat them to appropriate extras when rewarding and encouraging loyal performance.
1. Flexible Work Arrangements and Hours
Flex time. Some organizations require employees to be at work during core hours, and employees can set their schedule around this. Others allow employees to put in hours at their own discretion. Most require employees to have a set schedule so managers can plan for coverage. The schedule may be adjusted to accommodate personal matters like doctor's appointments.
Flexibility in paid time off. Employees can choose how to use their paid time off bank (vacation, sick, and personal time) to best meet the needs of their individual situations.
Telecommuting. In an increasingly mobile and digitally connected world, many employees can easily and successfully work from home part- or full-time with the help of technology.
Work/life balance. Create an atmosphere where it really is okay to leave the office before 8 p.m.
2. Flexible Leave and Holiday Arrangements
Parental leave. Parental leave benefits are paid out by the federal government through Employment Insurance (or QPIP if you live in Quebec). Topping up pay for parental leave is a nice perk from your end, if possible.
Summer hours. Employees kick back early on Fridays during the summer months, allowing them to beat the heat as well as the traffic if they're heading out to the beach for a weekend.
Sabbaticals. Offer month-long sabbaticals after five years of service, or two months after 10 years of service.
3. Wellness and Social Responsibility Initiatives
Paid time off to volunteer. Employees are given a specific amount of time to volunteer in their communities.
Green initiatives. Preferred parking and/or subsidies for those who purchase and drive hybrid vehicles. Also in-house green committees to encourage participation internally.
Wellness benefits. Employees can receive reimbursement for purchases related to fitness (up to $300/year or so). Typical items reimbursed include gym memberships, running shoes, yoga mats, bicycles, and so on.
Gift matching. The company matches employee's charitable donations, with the match based on what the company can afford.
4. Making Life Easier
Laundry service. Employ a service to pick up employees' clothes and drop them back at work, clean and folded.
Car care. Who has time to take their car in for an oil change? Companies have arranged for a service to come to the office and take care of this messy task while employees are working.
Monthly commuter benefits. Offer a monthly stipend ($100 or so) for those who commute by public transportation.
Tech neutrality. Offer the choice of PCs or Macs so employees can work on the machine with which they're more comfortable.
Cleaning services. Sweep employees off their feet–hire professional cleaners to tidy up employees' homes every so often..
5. Education and Upgrading
Innovation days. Set aside several days a year to allow employees to step away from their usual responsibilities to tackle projects related to the way they work and the spaces they work in. Results are shared in a company meeting the following morning.
Tuition forgiveness. Offer to pay a percentage of tuition owed, per year of employment, for hard-to-fill positions that are appropriate for recent grads.
6. Friendlier, More Relaxed Workplace
Canine colleagues. Got an office full of dog lovers? Then invite house-trained visitors to join the team.
Informal dress code. Relax — ties are optional in this work environment.
Acknowledgment of significant others. When employees do have to work late hours, the people who really pick up the slack are their spouses who are forced to work double duty. Acknowledge their contributions by sending flowers or gift cards, along with a personal note to acknowledge their contribution.
Free chair massages. Fifteen minutes in the chair once a week, and employees will return to their desks refreshed and ready to tackle their to-do lists.
7. Food and Meals
Well-stocked kitchen. Provide free coffee, soft drinks, and snacks for employees during work hours. Want to bump this up a notch? Keep organic milk in stock and add fresh fruit and healthy options to the shopping list.
Free lunch. Order in for all your employees once a week to foster community and give employees a break from packing their lunches
Easier dinnertimes. Take care of the people who matter by enlisting a vendor to deliver ready-to-eat healthy dinners that employees can elect to purchase and take home to their families.
Take-out meals. To help make things easier, new moms and dads are able to expense up to $300 for take-out meals during the first three months that they are home with their new baby.
8. Some Other Inexpensive Perks
Cultural extras. Keep the workplace exciting by mixing in rewards like concert tickets, movie outings, or passes to sporting events. Don’t forget to throw some cash your employee’s way to cover the babysitter.
Perks for part-time employees. Many organizations treat part-time workers like they were temps. Provide part-time workers with perks and they’ll be acting like full-time workers in no time.
Adoption assistance. This financial assistance can be used for legal expenses, adoption agencies, or other professional fees.
Employee referral programs. Good people know other good people, and the best employees are usually hired through referrals. Those who refer candidates who are hired receive a cash bonus award.
Keep It Cheap And Cheerful
Want to boost employee retention across the board? Then consider offering perks for part-time employees as well. Many organizations treat part-time workers like they're temps. Give part-timers perks and they’ll be acting more like full-time workers in no time.
As for you full-time staff, watch them light up with each little thing you do for them. Investing in small but varied perks helps reduce turnover. It can boost loyalty. And it tells your employees you care.