Addressing management issues

Dec. 1, 2009

How to recognize and reward staff with a shoestring budget

Q We have several
programs in place to recognize individuals for exceptional work, but I
am looking for creative ways to show general appreciation for my
hard-working staff. I want to keep my facility a great place to work,
but the budget does not allow for much in the way of monetary rewards.
Do you have any other ideas?

As lower reimbursements, rising costs, and the economic crisis
take their toll on budgets, many managers are grappling with the
challenge of how to reward their staffs.

A I applaud your concern
for your staff. How you treat your staff is representative of your
values; and if you treat your staff well, you will earn their loyalty in
return. As lower reimbursements, rising costs, and the economic crisis
take their toll on budgets, many managers are grappling with the
challenge of how to reward their staffs. Tight budgetary times, however,
can provide management with the opportunity to develop new ideas for
creative, low-cost or no-cost perks.

Offer flextime. Flexible schedules are
often the most sought after benefit by staff members with families. If
you can find a way to cross-train enough staff, consider giving
employees the opportunity to work shorter days or shorter weeks.

Give the gift of education. If your budget
allows, offer partial or full reimbursement for certification classes.
If your budget does not allow for tuition assistance, maybe you can
offer paid time off for staff members to attend classes. Explore a
variety of opportunities to bring education to the staff, such as
speakers who come to your site or computer programs and DVDs that can be
utilized by numerous staff members.

Provide positive feedback often.
Unfortunately, busy managers often fail to regularly recognize employee
efforts, so be sure to show your employees they are appreciated. If your
staff knows you value them, they can more easily accept that there will
be no bonus this year. The simple act of recognizing your staff is a
major factor in keeping morale high, which is especially important when
raises are out of the question. Publicly acknowledge your staff at every
opportunity. Say a word of thanks at staff meetings or praise them in
front of colleagues, but be sure it is a genuine sentiment. Be specific
about what your staff has done — not only will they feel appreciated,
but they will do it again.

Keep your staff in the loop. Let them know
what you know about the financial difficulties your department is
facing. Talk to employees about how the economy may be affecting their
benefits. Keep everyone informed through staff meetings to keep the
rumor mill from running amok. Honest and open communication is one of
the most important ways to reward employees. Supervisors and managers
should be available to the staff to address all employee concerns. All
news, bad and good, should be communicated so employees are aware of
where they stand. This will stifle errant rumors and allow employees to
feel like they are an integral part of the company. Make sure employees
know they are an important part of the organization, because your staff
is your greatest asset.

Times are tough, so many businesses are unable to
give cash rewards, bonuses, or raises to their employees. Offering
perks, such as paid time off, parking privileges, and educational
opportunities, can be a great way to reward employees. Get feedback from
your staff. Involve employees in your search for creative non-monetary

Remember, employers generally get what they give.
Be generous with what you have — attention, gratitude, praise, concern,
and information — and you will be repaid with a loyal productive staff.

—Christine Dobb,
MT(ASCP), Retired

Columbus, OH

A I commend you for
recognizing that you need to show appreciation to your staff for their
hard work. To maintain this peak performance, you need to demonstrate
that you recognize their value. In Peter Block’s book, “The Empowered
Manager,” he writes that a positive working environment — an
entrepreneurial organization — is one in which the manager encourages
self-expression and feelings. To operationalize this concept you need to
ask each employee two simple questions: “What do you think?” and “How do
you feel?”

Individuals feel appreciated when their opinions
are solicited. These questions encourage your staff to be engaged in
their work. This provides an opportunity for your staff to be more aware
of their work effort and have an objective view of their reality. When
you allow your staff to become a greater part of decision making, they
become more committed to the organization and will support change with a
clear focus. These concepts support the development of self-esteem —
which is self-rewarding.

—Diana Mass, MA,

Clinical Professor and Director

Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program

Arizona State University

School of Life Sciences

Tempe, AZ

A As a manager, it is up
to you to let your employees know that they are important to the
organization. Take the time to give staff members the recognition they

  • Make sure none of your employees have the opportunity to say
    they have a “thankless” job. Consider the special talents every
    employee brings, and thank each one personally for her
  • Show employees they are valued by saying a public “thank you” at
    the next company meeting. An attitude of gratitude is always well
  • Provide opportunities for growth. Allow employees to participate
    on committees or projects where their talents may be noticed.
  • Bring in motivating guest speakers.
  • Nominate staff for institutional awards.
  • Nominate employees for special recognition through professional
    societies or government agencies.
  • If possible, offer early dismissal on a holiday weekends.
  • Give positive feedback.
  • Send personal letters of recommendation to be added to employee
  • Provide the staff a voice regarding working conditions, perhaps
    via a suggestion box.
  • Use a newsletter, bulletin board, blog, Web page or Facebook
    page to post employee news. Announce birthdays, weddings, and
    personal milestones, and offer humorous and inspirational messages.
    Ask staff to participate.
  • Provide a “fun outlet.” Hold a contest where employees share
    their goofiest mistake or funniest faux pas. You can offer a
    prize for the best story. Offer a creative (no-cost) prize, such as
    your prime parking spot for a month.

And one final note, many places are scaling back
or eliminating their holiday parties because of finances. This is a bad
idea. People need to have a bit of fun and socialize with co-workers
without their lab coats on. A fun end-of-year celebration is good for
morale. When employees exhibit low morale, turnover is high. When
employees genuinely feel valued, however, they will pay you back with
higher productivity, better all-around job performance, and loyalty.

—Linda Rodriguez,

LAB Consulting Services

San Antonio, TX

A In our lab, each
employee is recognized annually on their start anniversary. We send each
employee a personal handwritten note on good-quality note cards printed
with the hospital logo. Each employee actually receives three or four
notes — from his supervisor and two or more individuals from the lab
management group, including our university hospital’s department chair.
I know — both personally and anecdotally — that these notes are well
received and appreciated. They are so thoughtfully written that I have
saved several sent to me. Some of my employees have thanked me for those
they received, and some have these notes tacked up in their work spaces.
In this age of e-mails, texting, skyping, and instant messaging, the
handwritten note stands out as something special, particularly when it
includes words of honest appreciation of the employee’s value to the
company. We also send birthday cards to our employees.

Food is generally popular, and I believe that
upper management should periodically dig into their own pockets to treat
the staff to bagels, doughnuts, or pizza. Managers should not expect the
company to be responsible for funding all recognition activities.

—Marti Bailey,

Work Unit Leader, Pathology
Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Hershey, PA

Bottom line: When direct financial rewards
are less attainable to promote morale and motivate staff, management
must be creative with innovative ways to encourage staff to stay on the
job and be productive. Each MLO contributor has shared great
ideas. Consider incentives and rewards that are meaningful to specific
generations (i.e., baby boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials). What is
attractive to one, may not be for another. For instance, when giving an
hour off for a reward, the baby boomer wants it on a certificate he can
post on the wall; the Gen-Xer will put it in a stack to add to vacation
time, and the Millennial will give it right back and head out the door
for an hour. Allow employees to choose the reward that suits their

Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice
consultant with State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN,
and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at
[email protected].