It is worth thinking through motivation techniques, rather than simply showering staff with unwanted gifts says Nick Golding
Case study: Hugh Symons Communications
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Although thousands of Chelsea Football Club supporters may well disagree, it is generally understood that money can’t buy happiness. And although it may be a wonderful experience for the west London club to finally be among Europe’s football elite, its supporters must occasionally ask themselves, when gazing at the quickly-accumulated silverware, how long this fairytale will last. Throwing money at a problem is often viewed as a quick fix rather than a long-term solution. Yet some employers spend vast sums of money on expensive motivation schemes, which may end up only serving a purpose for a short while. Equally, others may simply be unable to afford to do so, prompting them to seek cheaper alternatives to achieve the same aims. Splashing out on tickets to high-profile events such as the Grand Prix, World Cup games or Centre Court at Wimbledon might be a poor distribution of a company’s profits.
If employers are prepared to invest a little time and effort in shopping around they could find ways to motivate employees without lavish spending. Jerry Edmondson, senior consultant at Hewitt’s Talent and Organisation Consulting Practice, explains: "It is often a knee-jerk reaction for employers to offer a weekend away for staff to improve motivation, but these can be expensive and unnecessary." So by focusing on an ongoing motivation scheme as opposed to a costly one-off reward, employers may find that their money and the effects of the scheme last a lot longer. Firstly, employers would be wise to reassess an employee’s job, focusing on aspects such as working conditions, environment and whether the individual maintains a good relationship with his or her peers.
Maintaining a healthy working environment, for example, can improve an employee’s productivity, and is sustainable. Clive Wright, European partner at Mercer Human Resources Consulting, explains: "It is not always necessary for employers to motivate around pay and bonuses. Employers should look at other aspects of the working environment, such as personal progression and trust. These can be just as effective in motivating, and without the cost." While it is true that improving conditions go some way to boosting staff motivation, recognition is also an important part of improving morale. This can be done without breaking the bank as employers shouldn’t underestimate the effect that simply saying ‘thank you’ can have. "Of course it is nice to go away for a weekend, but motivation can be as simple as simply saying ‘thanks very much’ or encouraging interaction between departments can help recognise effort and motivate," adds Wright. Where employers do offer staff tangible rewards for their efforts, no matter what the cost, giving employees choice is vital. This not only empowers individuals, and makes them feel important but it also ensures relevant benefits are offered to the right employees. "From the start, when employers first decide to motivate employees, they should be getting the opinion of staff, asking what would motivate them and why.
This way, you are engaging staff which is motivating in itself," explains Edmondson. If employers are to save money and keep motivation schemes to a tight budget, they must be sure of their audience. "Bottles of champagne or a Red Letter Day are great gifts for staff, but what if an employee wants something completely different? "Employers mustn’t assume they know what employees want, and more importantly, what will motivate that particular individual," says Wright. Choice can also add value to budget gifts, without employers having to splash out extra cash. Aman Berhane, former marketing manager at motivation provider The Full Experience Company, explains: "Firstly, if employers bulk on gifts they will always save money. And secondly by increasing the amount of choice for staff, you are increasing the perceived value of the gift. "We think that offering 40 choices of gift is more valuable than one [reward option] which is more expensive."
Bonus cards that can be used to reward employees have also proved popular with organisations which are trying to cut the costs of motivating staff. These operate as an online points system whereby employees are awarded points from managers for achieving certain goals, which can be spent on a wide choice of gifts with prices to suit all budgets. In the past, employers have often spent huge amounts of money on one-off prizes, which have been restricted to senior employees. Online points schemes, however, enable employers to open up plans to all employees. The money put aside to motivate staff is also being effectively distributed among them and spent. Sean Wilkinson, managing director at Corporate Rewards, says: "Rather than give cash or prizes to certain employees, the bonus card allows you to use one online tool to target and motivate the whole workforce. "So you are not just blowing the budget on one prize, but spreading it across a wider audience."
Luckily for employers, the motivation market is growing, and it is currently a good time to be buying motivational gifts for staff. As increasing numbers of employers are realising the value of a motivated workforce, so more providers are entering the fray to capitalise on this. This busy market means that providers need to remain competitive, so employers are being urged to look at the available products and provide employees with schemes which are right for them. "The competitive market has driven the cost of achieving this down, so it is important employers shop around for the most cost-effective products for their company. To remain one step ahead, we need to keep coming up with cost-effective ways to motivate our employees," explains Berhane.
First of all, focus on improving the working environment for staff. It is inexpensive to re-arrange working practices, breaks and job roles, but it may just be what it takes to motivate the workforce.
Speak to employees and find out what they want to spend money on. Avoid motivational schemes that turn out to be unpopular.
Offer employees the chance to get involved from the very beginning, through questionnaires, focus groups and surveys. Making them feel included and part of a team can be a powerful motivator.
Ensure that you give employees choice over the gifts they receive as often this can have a higher perceived value than just one more expensive gift.
Case study: Hugh Symons Communications
There are now so many providers of motivation products in the marketplace, offering all kinds of schemes and gimmicks, that employers should take their time to ensure they find the right one at the right price for their workforce. Perks need certain mobility Hugh Symons Communications is constantly looking for new ways to motivate employees in its 850 retail outlets across the UK. The mobile phone airtime distributor introduced an online bonus reward scheme four years ago, as a cost-effective way to reward and recognise employee efforts. Theresa Williams, head of marketing, explains: "The online scheme means that we do not need to commit to a big spend, and instead can buy and allocate rewards as and when is necessary through IncentiveDirect’s point scheme." Previously, it had rewarded its top three employees several times a year. This was ultimately considered to be a poor distribution of the reward budget and de-motivational for all the employees who narrowly missed out. "The problem is when you have a large number [of employees] involved and you only have three gifts, the vast majority are left with nothing, even if they have put the effort in," she says. The online scheme also provides access to a vast number of prizes, and employees are not restricted to single rewards, which may not be suitable. "Choice is important, employers should not dictate to staff what they are rewarded with. Choice can make [motivation schemes] much more cost effective," Williams explains.