Keeping Your Staff Happy

There are many ways to motivate your team. Sometimes a small or spontaneous reward can be a great motivator. But before sticking your foot in HR's mouth, you must consider other factors.


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Posted January 27, 2005

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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I really thought it was a good idea. Many of my team members had been working late, so I approached HR about a new policy that would allow employees working ten hours or more to claim a $10 dinner expense. They would just submit a simple expense form and get a check for ten bucks. This worked well at a large consulting firm I worked with in the past, so I was sure it would work well again.

I went to lunch with some team members and casually asked what they thought of this $10 perk. "What an insulting idea," said one of the developers. "The CEO says we can't afford to pay the annual bonus and then they slap my face with a $10 thank-you note? Ridiculous!" So much for my good idea.

There are many ways to motivate your team. Some times it is the little things that matter and a small or spontaneous reward can be a great motivator. But before sticking your foot in HR's mouth, you must consider other factors.

Not too long ago IT professionals were offered great salaries, promising stock options and many perks such as on-site dry cleaning pickup. Although it seems we are verging on a rebound in technology jobs, many IT staffs are still stuck with low raises and small, if any, bonuses. For most of us the back of those stock options turned into nice scratch paper for our kids crayons. And the on-site services like dry cleaning were considered a management ploy to entice longer unpaid overtime hours.

Now we have cynical IT staffs that realize the era of company paid BMW leases for employees is over. These days you are lucky if the company pays for parking (Beemer not included).

Before implementing any rewards program, you have to take a long look at the culture of your organization, the personalities on your team and the your desired results.

Understand Company Rewards Culture

Evaluate your company compensation policies and benefit plans to determine if you are operating in a positive or negative rewards culture. For whatever reason (like insanity) if you pay below market salaries, small bonuses aren't going to be greeted with open arms. However, paying market or better salaries leaves the door open to motivate with creative perks.

The same thought process works for benefit plans that require employees to pay a substantial amount for health care each paycheck. If you require someone to pay $300 per month for a health plan, they aren't going to be very receptive to a free dinner. But additional benefit perks like matching 401(k) contributions or reimbursing health club memberships can create a very positive rewards culture.

Listen To Your Team

Not all of us are lucky enough to work in a positive rewards culture. However, you can mitigate the collateral damage a negative rewards culture has on your team's motivation by finding out what lights each individual's fire. Each person is motivated by their own unique personal situations. Let's say your lead developer worked late into the night to fix a production problem and her long-distance boyfriend is coming into town for a visit the next day. Why not let her leave early that day and give her a gift certificate to a local restaurant?

You can also draw reward ideas from your team's shared work environment. If your team is working with 17-inch (or, heaven forbid, 15-inch) monitors, consider upgrading them to 21- inch flat screens. Sometimes it is simply easier to get an equipment upgrade approved rather than a bonus. Or ask them what tools would make their work easier. Your QA team might like an automated testing tool or your developers may want a better integrated development environment. And certainly if your team is working a lot of late nights, do offer to bring in dinner. Just be sure to stick around to eat it with them.

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