How to show appreciation to employees without any profits

If your coffers aren’t quite as full as you’d like at the end of this year, you’re not alone. It has been a tough year for many in our industry, and so it’s likely that a good chunk of you are wrapping up a year of lower (or even negative) profits. Despite financial struggles, there’s a good chance your team busted their butts all year, and it doesn’t seem fair that you can’t show them the usual appreciation with end-of-year bonuses and pay bumps.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reward employees that don’t involve money. Here are a few to help jumpstart your own thinking. You’re a creative bunch, so feel free to share any that we might have missed.

Extra vacation days and random afternoons off

Giving employees extra time off costs you nothing, but it can mean a lot this time of year, when people prioritize spending time with family and friends. You can give someone a one-time extra bank of days, or increase their annual allotment. If you have an unlimited PTO policy, instead you can shut down the office for a designated period of time.

If you don’t want to give full days off, consider just an afternoon or two. You can set expectations ahead of time, asking that your team be as productive as possible in the morning, so that you don’t lose a lot of billable time along the way. These can be awarded en masse, or to individuals.

A commitment to revisit pay and bonuses at a certain date

Employees are usually understanding that business ebbs and flows, and profits might not always be plentiful. If you’ve treated them well, they’ll stick with you through the tougher times. Showing them that you’re not satisfied with your ability to compensate them adequately can go a long way. You can set a date in the future, after Q1 results come in, for example, and schedule a meeting to revisit any pay or bonuses that are warranted. Even if you have to kick the can down the road again, having a meeting on the calendar shows that you’re thinking about an employee’s long-term wellbeing.

A handwritten note

An oldy but a goodie. Handwritten notes take time and show thoughtfulness. Set aside an hour of your time to knock out notes to staff members thanking them for their contributions, personalities, drive, etc.

Provide learning opportunities

Professional development is often overlooked in our industry due to the time pressures and constant churn. Taking your employees’ professional development seriously is a great way to invest in them without investing a ton of money – though it’s usually not free. This could take the form of:

  • Giving dedicated time to complete an online course
  • Setting up a mentorship program with folks inside and outside of your organization
  • Committing to sending more people to industry conferences or seminars next year

Before diving in, you’ll want to understand where each of your team members hopes to grow, and tailor a professional development plan to them. 

Stock the office with snacks

This only works if you have an office… or does it?? You can also get snacks shipped to employees’ homes. Throw in a Yeti of their favorite sports team or college for bonus points.

Meaningless Employee of the Month Awards

One thing my father does with me is award me the prestigious “Employee of the Month” award every once in awhile. The team is just me and my dad (also the boss). Up until recently, David was the winner for 240 months running. Look, I know it’s a meaningless gesture and he’s just trying to come up with ways to not have to pay me, but it does feel good to beat my dad at something every now and then.

That last one was a joke, although I do still win the award from time to time. Appreciation to your staff doesn’t have to involve large sums of money. And please remember sometimes it’s better to do nothing than to do something small. $5 Starbucks gift cards and your unused Kohl’s Cash are usually more insulting than anything. But most employees do understand that down years happen, and will appreciate you going out of your way to reward them for their effort in spite of that.

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