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New, Innovative, Low-Cost Ways to Motivate Employees Your Company Have Survived. Now, How Can You Energize People?

Posted on Tue, Jun 23, 2009

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By Suzanne Bates

Surveys show that employee motivation is actually higher than it was a year ago at this time. Why? It's only logical that those who have survived layoffs and cutbacks are grateful to have a job. However, survival can only motivate people for so long. Eventually, they will feel less urgency or threat. They won't be energized by the crisis forever. They will fall back into a lower level of engagement, unless leaders take action to inspire them and connect them to the organization.

Recently, at a gathering of Human Resources leaders we asked them, "What are the biggest challenges you face in motivating and inspiring employees right now?" Not surprisingly, most say they are still reeling from budget cuts, layoffs, and shuffling employees across the organization. Repercussions linger over salary freezes, furloughs, and elimination or reduction of bonuses. Some employees are cynical; others fearful. Creating a sense of optimism among survivors has been challenging.

Now that your company has survived, how do you go about inspiring and energizing people to drive your company forward and execute your recovery strategy?

We've been informally surveying companies and leaders to gather innovative ideas for motivating employees in the current economy. It's clear that employee engagement is a major concern for most organizations. Most of us don't have a lot of money to throw at the challenge. We don't have the luxury of raising pay and giving out big bonuses. So you have to get creative. What works? What are other companies doing?

We thought it would be helpful to share a list of low-cost and no-cost options for motivating employees through the recovery. This is by no means a complete list - we welcome your ideas. We'll continue to share these ideas for the benefit of the readers of The Voice of Leadership, because we know this is one of the most important things you can do right now - keep people engaged.

Before I get to the list, let me share this important observation: communication is the KEY to motivating people. If you've had to cancel your company's summer party; cut pay across the board; reduce hours; eliminate travel-these are legitimate actions - but they require explanation. People may assume things are worse, or better than they are - unless you let them know what's going on. Communication needs to be present and consistent in good times and bad. By communicating a big picture vision and helping people to see how they fit into that picture, you will energize people in a powerful way.

There are countless ways that you can create a more fun, creative, energized atmosphere. In challenging times, it's even more important for people to get together, talk, even laugh.

Here are some low cost ways to motivate people and create this atmosphere:

  • Move summer casual dress code up a few weeks.
  • Host summer potlucks - a cheap way for employees to get together and connect, meet each others' families, and socialize.
  • Plan low-cost trips and outings on the weekends that employees can sign up for, such as bus trips to attractions.
  • Ask employees what they would like to do for events and meetings, rather than assuming!
  • If it makes sense in terms of productivity and operations, offer flexible summer schedules.
  • Support learning and development by making employees aware of free or low-cost webinars and conferences.
  • Send out a Friday email with "good news" from the week, highlighting the achievements of each of your team members.
  • If he/she is willing, go even further and have the CEO speak to the team every Friday on hot topics, concerns, achievements.
  • If your company has a corporate blog, blog about something you heard from an employee that you found interesting, or an achievement. If your company doesn't have an internal blog, start one!
  • Invite people who don't usually travel with you to visit a customer - they'll appreciate the chance to travel and also interact with customers.
  • Make up some new awards and give them out to employees at the next meeting.
  • Make a part of every Friday a "walk-around time" to visit people you don't see all the time.
  • Publicly praise others as accomplishments happen - send out a note/email etc. whenever someone achieves something noteworthy.
  • Encourage employees to actually take a lunch break; get some fresh air; take a walk…this can make a huge difference in their motivation and daily productivity.
  • Be open and honest with employees about what's going on in your company, and offer venues for their suggestions, concerns, or thoughts.

Of course, as you employ these ideas, you'll want to know -- how well are they working?

As you know, companies of all sizes routinely measure employee engagement. Some surveys are formal, others more informal. Either way, if you start by getting a baseline, you can track your progress. Perhaps if the cost is minimal, you will benefit by conducting surveys more often - instead of once a year, twice a year, or even quarterly.

You can also conduct "stay" interviews - like exit interviews - the same questions, but with people who are still there! Talk about what's on people's minds - they love to be asked and appreciate the chance to share what's really going on.

We'd love to hear your ideas and comments about low-cost ways to motivate employees. I'll be copying this list onto my blog - - if you have any ideas or thoughts, please leave me a comment!


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