Keeping morale, engagement up when bonuses, raises take a tumble

Improving employee communication, work-life balance, recognition can go far
By Margot Uson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/15/2012

When the well runs dry for bonus and incentive programs, it seems like motivating employees will — automatically — become a problem.

But not being able to pay salary increases or bonuses doesn’t necessarily mean employees must go without rewards for improved behaviour or meeting objectives.

The phrase “compensation and benefits” doesn’t always have to relate to “bonuses and raises.” Money frequently falls far down the list of what really motivates employees, even though it is pointed to by some as the prime motivator or the way to keep employees engaged in their jobs.

Taking the time to tap into what it is that makes employees want, or not want, to come to work in the morning is critical when striving to overcome an inability to pay greater salaries or bonuses.

Talk to new employees for feedback on benefits

Start by taking stock of what is already offered to employees. Ask a few new employees for feedback about what they like about the company and what persuaded them to join in the first place (besides the salary, of course). You always find interesting information from new employees.

Since motivated employees are one of the most valuable assets of any organization, it is in a company’s best interest to keep employees motivated and fully engaged — no easy task when the workforce is made up of multiple generations.

Employees often overlook the value of the benefits they see every day. Things such as on-site daycares, gyms or fitness subsidies are often part of their total benefits, along with a subsidized cafeteria, free parking or transit passes, free coffee, employee lounges with TVs or computer stations and monthly social events for the staff.

Reminding employees of the cost of some of these “free” everyday benefits could be an eye-opener for those who take them for granted.

Communicating the value of these benefits to employees is crucial, particularly at a time when bonuses and raises are lower than expected. This is when employees most need to understand money is not the only advantage they gain from their employer.

Here are four areas any organization can focus on instead of cash compensation to increase the overall satisfaction of employees, regardless of whether they belong to the X, Y or baby boomer generations.


Managers who sit down with their employees and take the time to explore their career goals can find out what they need in order to feel motivated. Building a sense of career empowerment can foster meaning for their work that, in turn, will motivate them.

Channelling career desires can have a significant impact on employees’ morale and level of engagement.

Two main strategies can be more influential than salary or incentives. Horizontal movement to create professional enrichment enables employees to learn a new business function or work in a different department and broadens their knowledge. It will also create a sense of enrichment in their career.

Setting career goals and assigning a task in line with those goals will also boost motivation.

These strategies benefit both the organization and the individual by providing mobility and versatility of resources.

Learning and development

At one company we worked with, managers who suggested training to an employee or sent an employee to a course did so because the employee was doing a poor job. In effect, training held no value and was viewed as a punishment. Also, the company viewed training as too expensive and a waste of time.

As a result, that organization missed out on the advantages of having a workforce that was continually developing and learning. It reinforced the status quo and the “We’ve always done it this way” style of management.

However, once the company’s management was engaged and employees were convinced the training created value at the organization, everyone wanted to be included. Motivation soared as employees understood learning made the job more enjoyable.

The employees understood more about their jobs and how their job connected with the rest of the business.

Training and development is a key element that promotes continual learning and increases job satisfaction and morale.

For example, Accenture, a management consulting company that was named one of Canada’s 100 Top Employers for 2012, supports employee development through tuition subsidies for courses related to the employee’s position, online training programs, formal mentoring and subsidies for professional accreditation. These are great motivators.

Performance recognition

The top benefits of a recognition program are: lower negative effects from absenteeism and stress; increased employee satisfaction and enjoyment of work; and increased individual productivity, according to 2003 research by Gallup.

Recognition doesn’t have to involve large amounts of cash. For example, some companies give employees gift certificates, vouchers for dinner or tickets to sporting events.

Sometimes the recognition comes as an annual event where exemplary employees are presented with special awards by the CEO or given a cheque for a nominal amount of money and a short speech of recognition.

In short, as long as the recognition is appropriate to the achievement, it will make a difference.

Effective recognition needs to be personal, thoughtful and original. It can range from a handwritten thank-you card to treating an employee to afternoon coffee or lunch.

Appreciation is an essential human need; everyone wants to be recognized in an appropriate way.

Work-life balance and work environment

Implementing work-life balance programs can accommodate a variety of demographics and cultural backgrounds. Helping people manage their varied schedules will result in happier and more productive employees.

Many employers have experimented successfully with telecommuting, compressed workweeks and summer hours. This enables employees to feel they can maintain a fulfilling personal life without compromising their jobs.

In addition, the employee and employer are environmentally conscious as people are not required to travel to the office every day.

Providing an environment where employees can decompress during the day can also boost productivity. Some companies provide employee lounges, quiet rooms for meditation, rooms with computers, music, television and comfortable seating.

Companies also organize office sports teams in local leagues or for charity events to encourage employees to participate in activities that build teamwork and motivation, such as baseball or volleyball.

In short, employees like to know they are doing a good job. It doesn’t have to be a salary increase or a bonus — they just want recognition.

Margot Uson is president of AlternaSolutions in Kirkland, Que., a consulting firm providing services in HR strategy, process and policy development, compensation, performance and talent management, and learning and development. For more information, visit or call (514) 910-7594.

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *