8 Ways to Keep Employees Happy Without Giving Them a Big Pay Raise

The first assumption is money. The more money, the happier the employee, right?

Money certainly helps, but many studies have shown that as long as employees feel they are fairly paid, then there are many other factors that determine their workplace happiness and whether they will quit or not. Or, if they decide to stay, whether they will continue to work hard.

So, what can a business owner or manager do to keep good employees happy, especially if there is little cash to provide raises?

1. Make sure your employees are led by the best managers

Want employees who are passionate about their work? Train, coach, and supervise your leaders, and make sure you get training and coaching yourself. Good leadership rarely comes naturally.

The deleterious impact of mediocre leadership was my motivation to get into coaching after two decades of leading cutting-edge technology work. Mediocre leadership crushes great ideas and great people. Good leadership is desperately missing from businesses.

People don’t leave companies; they leave bad managers.

2. Give your employees a sense of purpose

Besides pay, there is no ONE thing that keeps ALL employees happy. We have never worked in an environment with so much diversity than we have today, which includes generational, gender, cultural, and many other forms of diversity. Therefore, an employer must offer a wide variety of important “perks” and keep those perks fresh, as well.

In general, companies need to improve benefits tied to health, family, and financial stability. The good news: within each of these three categories, there are many creative solutions that are not negative impacts on the bottom line.

A recent study by the Harvard Business Review and The Energy Project polled over 12,000 white collar employees and found that “feeling a sense of purpose at work” is the single biggest driver of employee satisfaction, engagement and tenure. Employees who feel a sense of purpose are:

– 3 times more likely to stay in their jobs
– 1.7 times higher to feel job satisfaction
– 1.4 times more engaged at work

3. Stop being impersonal with your staff

Employees appreciate pay raises, bonuses, promotions and perks, but they can seem impersonal. Many employees respond just as favorably to the personal touch.

A pat on the back or public praise from a hard-to-please boss can work wonders, putting the employee on an intrinsic high that translates into increased engagement, improved company loyalty, and greater productivity for months to come. It may work even better if it comes with a small award.

On a more general level, team-wide gestures of appreciation like taking the whole team out for a nice lunch will increase solidarity and purpose. Do things unexpectedly to boost morale or celebrate a job well done. Make a big deal of milestones like birthdays, job anniversaries, landing a client with high lifetime value, or finishing a big project. You¹ll boost motivation and help your team blow off steam.

4. Remind your best employees that they are rock stars

Taking the time to call somebody into your office (or even better, drop by theirs) to laud them and remind them what a rock star they are gives them a gift and reward for their hard work that no amount of money can buy. It also creates a more cohesive bond between managers and their team members, creates a sense of fulfillment for a job well done, and creates willingness for team members to step up to take on tough challenges in the future.

Financial rewards will motivate most people to a certain degree, but helping team members feel more valued and important can go a long way toward increasing team productivity, creating satisfied employees, and making for a more enjoyable workplace for all.

5. Be spontaneous and surprising (in a good way)

Money matters. Meaningfulness and recognition though sometimes matter more than money. Here are three things that show employees you are thinking about them as people, not just as employees who deliver work product.

One caveat: Do these things with authenticity and because you want to. Anything less will be quickly sussed out.

Be spontaneous: On the first warm spring day, walk into the office at 8 a.m. and let everyone know that Spring Fever has struck and
that everyone gets a half-day off. Take care of the critical stuff by 11:30 that morning. Then go out and enjoy the sunshine.
Recognize the achievement of an employee’s child with a gift certificate for the child. A parent will remember a kindness to
their child for a very long time.
Spruce up the bathrooms. A plant manager I know upgraded the employee’s bathrooms and received more thank-you messages for
that than any other thing he had done.

6. Time is more valuable than money

Time is much more valuable than money.

At the end of a big project, when burn out is imminent, spontaneously give someone a day off. Make it a “requirement” that the day be spent on something fun, not housework and errands. When they return, ask them to “report out” on their fun day and supply mighty cheers if they really let go and relaxed.

Provide opportunities and encouragement for learning and growth. Money spent on skill development is truly invested well. Not only does growth motivate and engage, it is a big hook for retention. Who will leave an employer who is concerned about your future?

7. Give them flexibility

I was once brought in to run a company that was in financial trouble. We couldn’t afford raises and we certainly couldn’t afford to lose top-tier talent.

One of the things I discovered when I took over was that the prior leader wouldn’t let people move their desks around, have personal items on their desks, and was very regimented about when they had to arrive and leave.

I told them the employees they could decorate their offices anyway they liked as long as it wasn’t offensive to anyone. And most importantly, they could come in when they wanted, leave when they wanted, and work at home when they wanted as long as they met their obligations.

We actually had friends of employees sending in their resumes to join us.

8. Remember that people want to enjoy coming to work

Workplace culture is touted as an intangible benefit of choosing one firm over another in similar fields. Does it exist in reality?

Years ago I came across a law firm in Southeastern Pennsylvania that made its culture a major part of its identity.

They threw a huge St. Patrick’s Day party annually. It was legendary. The office would close on the first day of baseball season. During the summer an outdoor bar offering a signature cocktail would be set up in the parking lot at the close of business every Friday. When employees would reach a milestone work anniversary, they would receive a vacation package to the (reasonable) destination of their choice.

Was salary the primary motivator for their employees? Probably not. Was retention a major problem? Quite the opposite. It was said when a staff vacancy occurred, there was a waiting list of applicants for the position.

Money isn’t the only motivator. People want to enjoy coming to work.