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Five ways to boost engagement on a $25 budget

In an era of low morale, and strapped salary budgets, there are things leaders can do to help
Driving engagement on a tight budget
With salary forecasts showing 2.8 per cent raises for 2018, leaders need to be creative and flexible to keep staff engaged and productive.

By Todd Humber

Are you making enough money? Are you compensated fairly, with dollars, for your work?

Few staff members, regardless of their level, would be inclined to say: “A raise? No, I’m good. You’re paying me more than enough.”

That’s why money is such a taboo subject in HR conversations about engagement, much to the chagrin of employees. Like it or not, dollars are hard to come by — and as we peel back the cover on the first batch of salary surveys coming out, that picture isn’t going to be changing for Canadian firms as we head into 2018.

A Willis Towers Watson survey found the average raise will be 2.8 per cent in 2018. So if you’re making $50,000 today, you can expect to be making $51,400 next year. Not chump change, but it doesn’t really move the needle much.

Lucille Raikes, a senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, said “most companies are not under pressure to significantly increase their salary budgets in the near term.”

While that may be music to the CFO’s ears, it’s a little tone deaf for front-line managers dealing with disgruntled staff and facing significant morale issues that won’t be improved by token raises that barely keep pace with the cost of living.

But once we take the taboo subject off the table, there are plenty of tactics employers and managers can use to make up for lower pay or a lack of raises — here are five of my favourites that require an actual cash investment of just $25.

Flex hours. Unless you’re running an assembly line, odds are you have a good chunk of your workforce where it doesn’t really matter when the work gets done. You may want to set some core hours — everybody has to be in the office from say 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but then flex it like crazy after that. It’s amazing what an extra hour in the morning or a night can do to help strike an effective work-life balance. Cost? Free.

Working at home. Can we stop having the debate about whether employees who are out of sight can be trusted to do the job? Just as it often doesn’t matter when work gets done, the where part is also irrelevant with all the technology we have at our disposal. If you don’t trust the professionals you hire to do their jobs, you have significant workforce issues. It won’t work for all employees, but give staff the option — even just one day a week can make a massive difference. Cost? Free.

Teambuilding. Forget the cynics. Organize a low-cost offsite activity — the media team here at Thomson Reuters has undertaken lawn bowling and mini-golf in recent years. Ignore the initial eye rolls — people will have a good time and it will build camaraderie. Having friends in the workplace is crucial for engagement and productivity. Cost $25 per person.

Get junior staff more involved. Senior managers thrive on making tough decisions, and have the luxury of being able to decide strategic direction. Giving staff a taste of that can make their work feel more meaningful. Give them time to brainstorm ideas and pursue projects they think will make a difference to your customers and to their own work. Google perfected this with its famous “20% time” — it allows every employee to take 20 per cent of their workday to pursue whatever they think will most benefit Google. It has spawned products including Google Maps, Gmail, AdSense and Google News. Yes, it’s Google. And sure, it may be more myth than fact. But the idea you can do this feels empowering — you likely can’t sacrifice 20 per cent of an employee’s time, but you can find ways to make them feel valued and to let them contribute to the direction rather than just taking marching orders. Cost? Free.

Be an authentic leader. None of us are perfect. But we all have the capacity to be authentic. If you’re a people manager – the toughest job there is in any industry – then be humble. Admit your mistakes openly. Never take credit for someone else’s work or ideas. Give credit where it is due, but also hold people to account. We can all be better leaders. We all know the idiom that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Don’t be the type of manager people want to leave. Cost? Free.

What are some of your favourite free and low-cost ways to boost engagement and morale? I’d love to hear about them the comments section below.

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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