Unless you’ve hired a herd of rabbits to work in your small business, they’re not actually going to be motivated by carrots.
Yes, carrots are delicious and good for your eyes. And you’ve probably heard the cliché for reward vs. punishment that talks about using “carrots and sticks”. But if you hand your employees carrots to thank them for working 60 hour weeks for a month, then you’re likely not going to see any of them again.
So what can you do to reward employees that will make you stand out as an innovative small business owner? Here are some ideas for creative employee recognition.
Custom Shopping Events – Gift cards are always a nice reward. But they generally say “I appreciate you about as much as the effort it takes to grab something while at the cash register at Walgreens.” So you’ve essentially given them a really, really nice pack of gum. Instead, take the rewarded employee or employees to a shopping locale that fits their demographic and have them pick something out. This creates a business-bonding experience and lets you share in the fun of buying a reward that actually excites them.
Let Them Pick Their Job – Not, like, in elementary school where you got to pretend to be an astronaut or a professional wrestler for day. But in a more company-specific sense. So if your business has some assignments – like a consulting gig in sunny Miami, or a bar shift during the Mayweather – Pacquiao fight – let that rewarded employee get first dibs.
Seasonal Awards – If you live in a city with actual seasons, think about what people do for fun during those times of year and tie rewards into it. Like ice skating in the winter, or giant inflatable pontoon boating in the summer. If you live in a place where your seasons are “winter and August” or “hurricane and tourists,” tie rewards into annual events like sports, concerts, festivals or mullet tosses.
Give Personal, Customized Gifts – Because nothing is more awkward than handing an employee a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label for a job well done and him responding with “Ah, yeah, I’m four years sober. But … thanks?” What we’re saying is to take some time to get to know your employees and their interests, and give rewards based on that. So if someone is really into cycling, get them a bike jersey. Or if they write a knitting blog in their spare time, get them a cat. You get the idea.
Give Rewards That Mirror your Corporate Culture – If your company stresses the bottom line and making as much money as you can, then just give straight cash, homie. But if your small business has more of a work-hard, play-hard corporate culture, then bring a keg into the office one afternoon after a job well done. Or if you’re slightly more elegant and refined, then give clothes that cost way more than they reasonable should. Or maybe some symphony tickets.
Recognize a Significant Other – Even though your employee actually WAS “staying late at the office” last month, their significant other definitely got the short end of the deal on that one. To thank your employee – and avoid the drama of a mid-divorce employee – send that significant other a nice gift and a dinner for two somewhere romantic. Unless, of course, your employee is going to continue to say he’s “staying late at the office” to go out and do something else … well, then you just royally messed up his game.
Pizza Parties – Yeah, they’re not just for college RAs anymore. Never underestimate the motivational power of gooey cheese and fluffy dough. Even though you might drop three times as much bringing in better food, a good old fashioned pizza party – maybe with some light draft beer thrown in – will create a much more festive, laid back atmosphere. And it may even lead to a few Instagram pictures captioned “#bestbossever.”
Office Olympics – Though it might be tough to convince employees to take their one day off and spend it with coworkers, competition amongst each other in something that has no bearing on their job is just downright fun. Scheduling an office field day with prizes, and competitions like “beer-chugging three legged race” and “CEO dunk tank” gets people to see the work environment as something other than a chore.
Give the Gift of Relaxation – And not in some cheesy way like telling you employee to take five deep breaths and saying “There you go. The gift of relaxation.” Arrange things like massages, yoga classes, or whatever it is that will help your stressed out employees recharge. They work in a small business. If anyone needs to relax, it’s them.
Take Time Out to Talk – If you REALLY want to have fun with it, casually walk by your employee and say “Yeah, need to talk to you in a couple hours.” And watch them panic for the next 120 minutes. But once you get them out of the office, take them out to a quiet lunch or coffee, and just take some time to get to know them. They’ll feel rewarded not only by a free meal, but by knowing that you think of them as something more than a replaceable cog.
Sponsor a Team in a 5k Race – Nothing says “I appreciate your hard work” like saying “go run, you out-of-shape sissies.” So maybe don’t enter the office in a hyper-competitive 5k race that starts at 5am on a Saturday. But a fun run/walk, a color run, an electric race, or any kind of corporate-themed large group event can let your employees know you not only want them to bond, but also that you value physical fitness.
As a small business owner, you depend on your employees to keep your business going. It’s important to take the time and reward your team when they do a good job. Plus, by thinking outside of the box and offering cool rewards, you will help keep your employees motivated.