Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Rewards, Free of Charge

June 15, 2010  By Andrew Hind

It’s not always possible to reward employees for work well done with
financial incentive. The money, often times, just isn’t there. How then
does one motivate workers to excel without the promise of a raise or

Show your staff you appreciate their hard work with such perks as movie tickets, a free lunch, a gift card or even a note that simply says thanks.

It’s not always possible to reward employees for work well done with financial incentive. The money, often times, just isn’t there. How then does one motivate workers to excel without the promise of a raise or bonus?


It’s easier than you think. In fact, many business owners and retail consultants argue that non-financial rewards, which come in a variety of forms, are just as effective, in some cases even more so, in engendering loyalty and commitment to work.

Most people value job satisfaction. They want a job where they are content, where they feel needed and respected, where their skills – whatever they might be – are valued. That’s why motivating staff must be about more than good salaries, regardless of the economic climate or the relative wealth of your business.

Here’s how to motivate your staff.

Say thank you
It may be self-evident and a cliché, but a simple thank-you goes a long way. Appreciating staff and letting them know you value their contributions is the foundation of a happy and productive workplace.

Words of encouragement and praise work on all workers, whether it is a 16- year-old summer hire or a full-time staff member with years of service. Everybody wants to be valued, and when they are, they come to work ready to give their best.

David Carr, founder of David Carr and Associates, Retail Consultants and Trainers, located in Mallorytown, Ont., offers his advice. “Good work should be acknowledged, recognized, and rewarded sincerely, promptly and publicly. The full value of a reward is only realized when others are aware of it,” he says. “Any visible expression of trust in, and appreciation of an employee by a superior has significant impact on an employee’s self-esteem and motivation.”

In the event that a staff member goes above and beyond in some meaningful way, a thank-you card with a personalized note may be appropriate. If an employee has given extra time and effort to the job (perhaps during restructuring or renovation, as part of the hectic inventory period or a busy long weekend, or when you are unexpectedly short-staffed) a letter of thanks to the employee’s family would be particularly well received.

Think outside the box

Be creative when considering non-monetary incentives; take the time to devise exciting and meaningful ways to reward your staff. Victoria Whitney, Manager at Griffin’s Greenhouses in Peterborough, Ont., did just that, and the response has been fantastic.

“Recently, we signed a contract to be a sponsor at a local summer-long music fest in our area. It is an advertising expense that we turned into a staff bonus; included in the sponsorship are tickets to each concert in the VIP section,” she explains. “At one concert we are the main sponsor and as a result our staff attending that night have the opportunity to meet the artist. One staff in particular is over the moon about meeting one of her favourite musicians.”

Get to know your staff
The best way to create loyal workers is to recognize and reward them for the exceptional things they do and do it in a way they want. The problem here is that everyone is unique and what one person wants out of work might well differ from the employee beside him.

To learn effective ways to reward your staff, you need to get to know them on an individual basis. Each employee is looking for something different. Some might want more authority, but others don’t and it shouldn’t be forced on them. The advantage garden centres and other small retailers enjoy is that they have the opportunity to really get to know their employees beyond just their name, and therefore be able reward them for hard work in ways they personally appreciate.

“During the busy times in May and June we tuck gift certificates into pay envelopes that offer a chance for a manicure, tea-for-two at a local café, a movie with a spouse or partner – little motivators to let staff now we recognize how hard they are working and that we appreciate it,” says Whitney, noting that such certificates would mean little if they weren’t targeted towards the specific interests of the individual. “Many of these gift certificates are purchased on a local barter system that we are a part of, so the traditioal monetary outlay is insignificant.”

Flexible work hours
One of the easiest and most effective rewards for small retailers to offer employees is flexibility in terms of hours of work and scheduling. This is especially true in the case of workers who are parents or students, who have to juggle other important commitments with work. Knowing that you are willing – within reason – to accommodate their needs in return for excellence can be an important motivator.

“Time is one of our most valuable commodities. We all live our personal lives around our working lives and value greatly our ‘time off,’” says Carr. “An occasional afternoon or extra hour or two off may be appreciated more than money or other more tangible rewards.”  

Who gets rewarded
It’s often tricky deciding who gets rewarded, and when. After all, most of us are kind-hearted and want to do good things for our workers. But you have to be selective – otherwise you risk undermining the very loyalty and satisfaction you’re trying to create.

It’s important that you reward workers only for exceptional work, when they go above and beyond. Keeping expectations high is important to your business’ success, because if you reward average work, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Also, note that nothing irritates your good performers more than tolerating, or even rewarding, those who are non-productive.

Make sure that everyone has the same opportunities to succeed, whether they are part-timers, full-timers, or seasonal employees. Rewards must be fair and achievable. This means you also have to recognize that newer employees are, by their definition, not going to be able to ‘compete’ against more experienced staff and therefore you should also consider rewarding those who are showing the greatest improvement.

Develop a partnership with employees
“Want your employees to feel better about working for you, especially when you can’t dangle better-than-market pay?” rhetorically asks Susan M. O’Dell, retail strategist and best-selling author of The Butterfly Consumer. “Try treating them like a business partner.”

The first step is honesty and openness. O’Dell recommends that you share information, even the tough stuff, since employees ‘in the know’ feel valued and appreciated. As a follow-up to this, ask for their advice. Having suggestions listened to, and acted upon, confirms to staff that they do matter. And their closeness to the customer can make the input invaluable. Perhaps most importantly, make a point of fostering a sense of teamwork that makes the worker feel a vital part of something greater. It’s only natural that people take greater pride in a company in which they feel they have a vested interest. 

“It may feel easier to ‘do’ a laundry list of neat things like picnics and contests,” explains O’Dell, “but investing the time and energy to develop and nurture a partnership every day is the best way I know to improve morale.”

Taking the time to reward and motivate staff using non-financial methods requires a bit of thought and effort, and must become a part of your operating routine. The rewards will more than compensate for the time: greater employee self-esteem and higher performance levels.

Print this page


Stories continue below