How to reward and keep your best employees — for free

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It’s tempting to say that your best employees don’t require rewards because they are probably already highly engaged. I’m sure some businesses operate that way, but it’s certainly not sustainable.

When you have employees you would like to keep, there are a few simple — and free — measures you can take to both reward and retain them.

1. Share your vision

Unless they know what they are working towards, it’s difficult for even the most highly motivated team members to stay enthusiastic and productive in the long term. On the other hand, if they expect their efforts to result in them being part of a team (or leading the team) that excels at what they do, they will work hard to get somewhere they can be proud of.

More money in their pockets — or your pockets — is not a sustainable reward and retention strategy. There’ll always be someone else who will pay an employee more if they’re a top performer. As Simon Sinek reminds us in his book Start with Why, profit is an outcome; it is not a purpose. Like you, your team want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing.

2. Keep them in the loop

How often have you set KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for staff based on your business plan, then not referred to them until their next performance review?

As a business owner or manager, you are constantly monitoring results. Are you keeping the people who are responsible for achieving those results up to date with their progress against their targets? Of course, this involves sharing the bad news as well as the good.

While it seems to come naturally to be careful about what information we share, it’s just as important to be mindful of how you share information. It’s your job to communicate. You are responsible for doing as much as you can to ensure your message is clear and appropriate for the person receiving it.

3. Challenge them

Your best employees often have the capacity to offer more, so don’t be afraid to ask them, provided the two steps above are already in place.

A sense of mastery is experienced when a new and challenging task is equal to the person’s ability to complete that task. By providing new opportunities, you are providing your best employees with the chance to experience mastery and ‘flow’ at work. This is an intrinsic reward task that can’t be counted in dollars and cents, but it will certainly have an impact on your bottom line.

Rewarding and keeping your best employees requires giving them purpose, a sense of belonging and a chance to shine. These are covered in the points above, but there is one more thing — and it’s probably the most important of all.

Your best employees achieve that status because they know their job, know your business, know your industry and know your market. By asking for their input and really listening to them, you will not only learn a lot, you will also uncover the secret ingredient to engagement and retention.

Acknowledgement and recognition are basic human needs. We can believe these needs are satisfied with a bonus, pay rise or award. To some extent, they are. However, recognising your best employee’s value by seeking and respecting their opinion can be a much more powerful reward.