Sure, it’s easy to attract top talent when the money’s flowing—who’s going to pass up a 20% raise or a yearly bonus—but what about when it’s not? When employees know that no big fat paycheck or shiny expense account is coming around the pike, how are you supposed to keep them motivated? Can you?

The answer is yes. While money may be the oldest motivator, it’s not the only one. In fact, plenty of non-monetary staff incentives motivate employees to meet new goals, be passionate about projects, stay inspired, etc. Use these incentives to motivate your staff, boost productivity, and improve office morale.


No surprise here: people like to be praised. Getting recognized for a job well done is more than encouraging—it’s motivating. When your employees know that their hard work is actually appreciated, they are much more likely to keep at it. Here are a few specific ways to recognize your staff’s good work:

  • Verbal Praise: Whether it’s publicly at a board meeting or privately by the water cooler, take time to specifically thank the employee that made that last project sing.
  • Written Acknowledgement: Write a letter to an employee who deserves special commendation and let him or her know that you noticed.
  • Awards: An award doesn’t have to be backed up by money to be valuable; it just needs a sense of prestige. To build power behind awards, don’t give them to everyone and don’t offer them every day. Set up awards as something special.

Warning: Forget Empty Praise. Recognition works only if it’s genuine, so keep in mind that employees can smell false praise a mile away. Don’t waste their time with token awards or empty flattery. Rather, invest the time to know who actually deserves an award, and then call their achievement out.


You want your employees to get more involved? Listen to them. According to one business study, “The No. 1 reason employees don’t take more initiative at work… is that their leaders fail to get their input before making decisions.”

Ask your team for ideas and feedback, and listen to their concerns. This means more than simply nodding your head—consider complaints and work to find solutions. When employees feel like they have a voice, they are glad to stay around and use it.

Work/Life Balance

Just ask Claire Danes, the Hollywood starlet turning down a raise to stay home with her child: There’s more to life than money. Being able to help your employees pursue other goals and dreams is an invaluable job perk—when you can help them find a better work/life balance, you can bet they’ll stick around. 

  • Flexible Hours: It worked for Best Buy; why not for you? By granting your staff some flexibility, you give them a big reason to stay put. What’s more, as long as you have checks and balances in place to keep the privilege from being abused, flexible hours build trust and responsibility within your workforce.
  • Telecommuting: Everybody likes a little freedom—and telecommuting is the kind of freedom that benefits both employee and employer. One Berkeley study showed that employees consistently perform better when given opportunities to work outside of the office, probably “because the more desirable and attractive working conditions result in higher levels of employee motivation.”

Morale Boosting

Happy employees are motivated employees—so beyond day-to-day responsibilities, are your employees enjoying their jobs? Here are a few ideas for boosting morale:

  • Social Activities: Be careful with this one. Forced fun is no fun at all. But done well, holiday parties and monthly staff challenges add excitement to the office routine.
  • Networking: Help employees connect with happy customers, key distributors, and other team members.
  • Passion Projects: When employees work on projects that they care about, they become more invested. When possible, connect staff with assignments that are the right fit.

So, as you can see, there are many ways to motivate staff that do not necessarily involve cold hard cash. Improving little things can generate some big payoffs by decreasing staff turnover and improving employee job satisfaction.

What do you think? Could implementing some of the above ideas make a difference in your workforce? What other motivators have you seen that work well? Please share your experience or ideas in the comments below.