What You Can Do When You Can't Offer Your Employees Raises Who Deserve Them

Your employees are doing a great job, but the budget doesn't allow you to give them the raises they deserve. You want—and need—to do something to show your appreciation—but what? While salary definitely matters, there are other approaches you can take to reward your employees for their good work, keep them motivated, and not hit your bottom line too hard.

employees raise deserve them

Host Lunches/Outings

A recent study found more employees preferred free pizza to some extra cash when given the choice. Hosting a special event to show your hardworking employees how much they’re valued is one way to express your gratitude.

  • Plan an employee luncheon at a restaurant
  • Order lunch in (bi-weekly, weekly, even just a couple of times a year)
  • Get your staff out of the office for a fun team-building event
  • Schedule a picnic, ball game, or other entertaining day out for employees and their families (perhaps include individual rewards, maybe a small plaque or another token to share during the festivities)

While a free lunch or activity doesn't replace a salary bump, these kinds of efforts do show employees they're appreciated, and those sentiments don't go unnoticed.

Offer Time Off

Years ago, I had a job that required working after hours for specially scheduled events throughout the year. Traditionally, employees would get overtime for these evenings, but our boss offered flexible comp hours off as an option. Some of us jumped at that opportunity. There are a number of different ways you can approach offering time off in ways employees will appreciate.

  • Designated or flexible telework days
  • Compensation time to be taken at the employees' discretion
  • Flexible work hours, either scheduled or unscheduled, depending on your coverage needs
  • Design a flex-time program allowing one day off a week by giving employees the option to work four longer days (i.e. 10 hour days to make up for 8 hours)
  • Boost their vacation by adding an extra day

Offering extra or flexible time off is a win-win. It helps you save much-needed cash in your budget and allows employees the ability to make appointments, run errands or just take some "me" time without eating into their official leave time.

Give A Single Bonus

While you can't afford raises for employees, perhaps you can find room in your budget to offer deserving personnel one-time bonuses. It gives them some extra pocket money and shows your goodwill and desire to give them something more. A bonus demonstrates you know they’re worth the extra money.

Other Intrinsic Rewards

Money is an extrinsic reward but studies have shown intrinsic rewards can actually get better responses. Some ways you can do this include:

  • Giving ongoing praise, recognition, and feedback
  • Offering more work autonomy and empowering your employees to stretch their proverbial wings
  • Providing opportunities for employees to grow professionally
  • Soliciting staff input for individual projects or long-term planning
  • Cross-training employees; it allows employees to expand skill sets and mixes up the daily routine (after all, who doesn't like to shake things up once in a while?)

Many intrinsic rewards won't cost a cent. Motivating employees is not necessarily about carrots and sticks. Yet, these keep employees inspired and, ultimately, shows them how much you appreciate them. Plus, it helps your organization—intrinsic rewards often lead to stronger engagement levels.

If you can't give deserving employees a raise, it's important to be honest. Lying to them, offering lame excuses, or putting off the conversation if they've asked for a raise will ultimately backfire. Plus, if they even remotely believe you don't think they're worth a salary boost, they'll probably start looking for greener pastures, and you could ultimately find yourself dealing with ongoing high employee turnover. It's better to talk openly about the situation, and find other ways to reward deserving employees. In the end, everyone's happy.

The trusted source for DC's Employers

Sign up and post a job now

Post a job today

Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market