What’s best for employee engagement when finances are tight?

Everyone’s feeling a financial squeeze right now. Personally, I’ve been playing regular games of ‘red light lottery’ with my car’s fuel tank as the thought of filling it up fills me with financial dread.

With the cost of everyday essentials rising, we’re all having to watch the pennies more closely – and the same goes for businesses. In fact, it’s believed that rising inflation could hold back the growth of UK businesses, with the Head of Economics at the British Chamber of Commerce Suren Thiru commenting that “Rising inflation could well be a significant drag anchor on UK economic output this year by weakening consumer spending power and damaging firms’ finances and ability to invest. More needs to be done to limit the unprecedented rise in costs facing businesses.”

employee rewards cash gifts

Less to invest when it comes to employee engagement

Rising business costs pose something of a dilemma for employers. On the one hand, many will have to keep a close eye on operating overheads. But equally, they need to make sure they retain and continue to engage the talented people who will help their business thrive and grow.

Even when the financial chips are down, people still need to be well rewarded. Our recent in-depth survey on company culture discovered employees believe that a good rewards or recognition strategy is something that can improve and sustain the culture of a business.

So, what can employers do to maintain employee engagement that can support a positive culture, and keep people willing and enthusiastic if they can’t reward their efforts by putting more cash in their pockets?

A subtler way to maintain employee engagement

Luckily for cost-conscious businesses, rewards and recognition don’t solely have to rely on monetary-based rewards. There are more subtle (and often more motivational) ways to keep people focused on the task in hand and make them feel appreciated for their efforts. For example…

Promote flexible working

Although offering remote and flexible working isn’t an option for every business, it’s become clear that employees are increasingly seeing the chance to work flexibly or from home as a really valuable benefit. This sentiment is echoed in our latest survey, where it was a second-highest priority when looking for a new role, and also in our previous research that found it was the most used benefit by employees.

If you can offer employees the chance to work either flexibly or remotely, HR can lead the way in implementing, facilitating and championing the initiatives. Simple things you can do to get started include making sure you have senior managers on side, and that your flexible working policies and procedures are clear and transparent.

For a more in-depth look at how HR can prepare for a future of more flexible working, follow this link to discover 5 critical action points.

Offer regular praise and encouragement

Simply providing positive support and feedback is a much under-used motivational tool. Of course, people don’t want you constantly looking over their shoulder. But, if as a manager you know someone is working hard or has been given a particularly challenging task, it doesn’t harm to check in occasionally, see how they’re getting on and ask if there is anything you can do to help. This is especially true if your staff are working remotely or during non-standard working hours.

  • Encourage simple acts of kindness

Kindness is conveyed through both words and actions. Sometimes, just a simple act of offering to make a cup of tea (or in my case, genuinely heroic amounts of decent coffee) can spur people on if they are beginning to flag.

It’s a simple, day-to-day part of good performance management that tends to get overlooked – often because everyone can be so busy dealing with their own priorities that they forget the need to feed-back to, reassure and praise their teams.

  • Give kudos via your internal communications

Publicly acknowledging the input of others into the success of a business – or a team – can do wonders for morale. Make it a habit to give credit to others via your internal communications or on shared workspaces and show your people that their good work doesn’t go unnoticed.

Your internal communications can also help drive collaboration – especially if employees don’t all work in the same place, or work different hours. When communication and information flows freely and openly between colleagues, it inspires efforts to collaborate, improves knowledge sharing, and gives employees access to other peoples’ skills that might help them do their job better.

  • Make rewards personal

Small but personally significant rewards can also hit the spot when it comes to effective employee engagement. A retail or leisure voucher, a bunch of flowers (or the latest Xbox game), handed over at the end of a successful project, can give people a real boost. The face value may be small, but the gesture will be appreciated and will make the recipient see their business in a whole new light.

Making it personal is the key, though. After all, it’s no good presenting someone with a bottle of wine if they don’t drink. Taking the trouble to find out what people would really value is a great way to build relationships with your team and make people feel they are more than just a ‘number’ to the business.

To give an example, BryneLooby, a thriving engineering, technology and consultancy business, regularly reach out to their employees. As Head of HR, Sharon Quinn explained: “We take inspiration from our anonymous employee engagement surveys. In these surveys, we ask employees what they want, what’s working, and what isn’t. For example, the reward and recognition programme, which has been very well received, came about from our employee’s survey feedback.”

  • Help enrich careers

The opportunity to learn and develop new skills is also a great way to boost employee engagement and keep people enthusiastic participants, rather than dispirited passengers, in the business.

This doesn’t have to mean sending staff on expensive training programmes. Letting people test their wings on a new project or providing an opportunity to shadow a more senior colleague are both great ways to build competence and confidence.

New skills have been developed and important lessons learned in our house this weekend (mainly, don’t lean against the wall you’ve just painted). But it’s quite clear that the glow of satisfaction from a job well done and much appreciated has been just as valuable as a wad of cash.

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