Employee motivation: making sense out of employee benefits and other perks

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” – Warren Buffet

My morning honey yuzu green tea routine was interrupted today by a friend of mine asking me what to do to motivate a Senior Manager in her business team. A Senior Manager that has been in her team for long and whose salary is already higher than she can afford, but who constantly receives better offers from competitors and other players in the market.

I know we talked about employee motivation some time ago and I gave you my view on obtaining team motivation. To sum it up, I believe in matching people with positions they are passionate to fill, empowering them to obtain results, setting a clear vision and strategy with attainable goals people should stretch out for and appraising high performers whenever necessary.

I am sure this does work, but what do you do when it is not enough? Enough how? Well, maybe your team is motivated, but they do get better offers from your competitors. Just as it happened to my friend. Another potential problem is that salary is a hygiene factor. Once your employee obtained it in a negotiation, your employee is no longer motivated by it. So that is when they want more and strive to obtain results in order to obtain a raise or bonus. What do you do when you no longer afford to pay such financial rewards? You look into the non-financial rewards you offer as an employer. Or, as Dilbert comics put it: “finding a way to have people work more for the same pay“.

Any employee of yours sets a gap between their desired professional state and their actual professional state. Once they attain the desired state, they will move forward to a new desired state. This gap is the motivation space you should play in and focus on. Influence this gap as a manager or leader and you will have more loyal and motivated employees.

To help you in your play with the work status gap, here are some employee benefits or perks that you could provide as motivators and that would cost you less than salary increase could be:

  • Special treatment – differentiating between top performers and low performers in your team – that could mean being more in contact with high performers, more opportunities for top players, special projects offered to high achievers etc.;
  • Setting goals and offering appraisal when goals are reached and make sure company’s reward system should be linked to performance; – I keep repeating this and I can’t emphasize this enough. Setting clear objectives and key results for each Quarter is key. Evaluating and appraising results is even more important;
  • Career advancement opportunities – Setting clear career paths and offering improvement, coaching and training opportunities is a big motivator and this is especially so for high achievers. Give the best people opportunity for advancement and you will make it pretty clear what it is that you value;
  • Work conditions – special drinks or refreshments, relaxation areas, superb office spaces are not high on the list, but they represent some of the small things that could improve employee morale and could help when a team member compares between your company and another one with less perks;
  • Health plans, dental plans, vision plans, life insurance plans – They are less than a salary raise for you as a company and they save your employees money and time even. And also show that you care;
  • Wellness programs or other leisure activities on work time;
  • Flexible working hours – Since “The 4-hour workweek” by Tim Ferriss, it’s become pretty clear that Generation Y and Millennials are not very excited about fixed working schedules;
  • Discount offers from certain shops;
  • Teambuildings or company team programs or night-outs – The team they work in is an important factor for some of your employees. I’ve heard people say often enough that they will not leave a company because of the wonderful colleagues they have or that what they most love about their company is their team. So why not put more emphasis on this aspect? Invest in your company culture and the results will be visible;
  • Childcare program – Especially useful when hiring Seniors. Seniors may be married, may have their own families and may appreciate your help as a company a lot. So kindergarten or afterschool programs, children playing areas are all great to increase loyalty in your employees where family plays an important part;
  • Transit benefits – Help with work transportation is definitely appreciated as it both saves time and money. It also offers commuters a new opportunity to socialize;
  • Communication with direct and top management and constant feedback & transparency – Make your employees part of the bigger picture, get high performers involved in strategy and seat them at the decision makers’ table. This together with company, goals and even salary transparency will offer a workplace where they will look forward to get to daily;
  • Employer brand – Being proud to work for a certain company is a high motivator for your employees. Investing in your company brand is a double result action: you obtain both more visibility for your company in clients’ eyes and also in your employees’ eyes;
  • Employee personal brand promotion – If you get your top people in the news pages, offer them some free PR, get them to talk at conferences and never hide them away from public eyes, you set yourself out for very motivated employees. You also set yourself out for highly headhunted employees. But are there so many other companies offering this type of exposure?;
  • Cut back on emails and meetings – Meetings are one of the top drivers for employee demotivation. Especially when they are long, often and pointless. Even more so when they get off track, people talk so that they can hear themselves talking, there is a culture of blame or people become subjective and talks start to resemble gossip;
  • Work on employee empowerment, authority and ownership – Once the employee gets used to being empowered to perform a job and feels they have authority over their schedule and means, they will immediately appreciate this type of job compared to one where control is strict and periodical;
  • Appreciation – Last but not least at all, it is important for employees to feel appreciated. They will not put so much focus on salaries when they feel appreciated. We are all human and this is one of our basic needs in relationships as well as in our professional life.

Now that we’ve gone through all these perks, I feel like I need to emphasize again that, as an employee, I am definitely not a big fan of employee benefits. I believe they are some sort of pieces of glue tying employees to organizations. It is complicated to get out once your company has attached a certain amount of glue to keep you. However, if I look at it from the employer’s point of view, I do see the bright side and it is brighter than any of us could hope. Nevertheless, I think the job of a leader is first of all that of getting the best out of the people he works with and getting these people do their best work. And if confort and security coming through these employee benefits is great, he still have a really tough job as a leader on communicating an ambitious and desirable vision and on getting people motivated to get to that vision through their daily activities.

In other words, these perks may boost motivation temporarily, may bring more job satisfaction to your team, may minimize the intention to quit in your colleagues and may increase their loyalty and commitment. However, these benefits will not do your job. That of being a motivating and empowering leader.

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