HR & Management

The best ways to lure, and then retain, the best staff

8 min read

22 February 2016

Employers could increase employee motivation by understanding the science behind the impact of pay and reward on employee behaviour. As such, here are five low-cost hacks to incentivising staff.

Essentially, employees’ perceptions of rewards are defined by the circumstances in which they are received. For example, a bonus received during tough economic times will be perceived as having much greater value than the same reward given in times of prosperity. On the other hand, a bonus may be perceived as having less value if the recipient considers their own performance to be stronger than other employees who receive the same amount as part of a team reward.

In the end, we need to acknowledge that monetary rewards aren’t everything and that they can even distort people’s motivation. For example, enticing the workforce with financial incentives and a strong bonus culture can lead to unwanted, risky and even unethical behaviours. 

But for the SME business owners looking to boost motivation on a low-cost scale, here are five things that would be appreciated by staff.

(1) Choice is key

Sian Robbins, HR manager at maths and English tuition company Explore Learning, explained that you should give employees what they want – that and “choice is key”.
How are you supposed to know what they want? It’s a fair question. Here’s an easy answer: Ask them. Some HR systems allow you to record the interests, hobbies and gifts each individual employees want. For example, in Redii, users can add their interests and reward preferences to their individual profiles. 

You could also simply explore a range of other incentives spanning cycle to work schemes, childcare vouchers and cash payments.

However, the main purpose of exploring benefits is to gain the engagement of your workforce.

“We aim to give our employees a voice,” Robbins said. “We have a ‘you spoke, we listened’ approach, where any offerings that we put out are as a direct result of the feedback that they have given us. The key purpose of our benefits is to ensure our staff feel listened to, that they feel engaged, challenged and that they enjoy coming to work every day.”

(2) Help staff balance work and personal time

Far from jeopardising productivity, flexible working arrangements and other measures could actually improve work-life balance, motivate staff and boost efficiency.

This was echoed by Patricia Hind, director of the Ashridge Centre for Research in Executive Development at Hult International Business School, who claimed that while SMEs tended to believe flexible working was costly, and hence the preserve of larger firms, small business bosses could implement a “cafeteria approach”.

“In a cafeteria you can choose what you want and only pay for what’s in your tray,” Hind said. “So some staff might want fewer hours or more holidays, and businesses can provide these in return for lower salaries. It’s about employees getting the salaries that are good for them.”

Read more about retaining staff:

(3) Develop your talent

Furthermore, Hind claimed that talented individuals expected to be developed. She said: “They aren’t prepared to wait for dead man’s shoes.”

While it’s true that in recent times most companies have cut back on expenses and look to swing the axe on several jobs, leading edge companies are still continuing to invest in training and development and will come out far ahead of businesses whose only management strategy is to cut, slash and burn.

And with a third of UK workers wanting new jobs in 2016, attracting top talent has never been more important. But it needn’t purely be in the form of promotions, career development could comprise of training through external advisors and the creation of an efficient appraisal and feedback process.

“It’s always worth investing in development,” Hind said. “If you can create a culture where people are being developed, you are creating loyalty.”

(4) Fitness and wellbeing should be a top priority

“Giving staff discounted gym memberships is an outdated approach,” according to Julie Creffield, founder of sports advisory company Too Fat to Run, and advisor to Sports.

Let’s face it, rolling out a “one size fits all” policy rarely helps given that everyone works different hours and exercise different amounts throughout the week.

But given how critical fitness is to overall health, it’s worth taking a look at exercise in the one place where nearly all of us will spend a good chunk of our lives: the workplace.

As such, Creffield recommended that business owners took into account the fitness requirements of their time-poor staff and ensure they don’t inadvertently prevent them from doing the sport they love.

“The key is creating a culture where staff can pursue whichever sport or physical activity best suits their lifestyle,” she said. “This might mean having a more relaxed dress code, turning a blind eye to wet hair after lunch, or providing lockers or bike storage facilities.”

(5) Have a little fun

Though it may be last on the list, it’s probably one of the most important aspects of raising motivation and boosting productivity, and should not be ignored by any employer – no matter the sector or size of the business.

Andy Atalla, founder and MD of digital agency atom42, is of the belief that none of the above incentives will help you attain or retain staff if they don’t love where they work.

“I’ve always tried to create the sort of culture at atom42 that I would want to have at a company where I was employed,” he explained. “If you visit us at lunchtime, you’ll see people playing table tennis or chatting in our comfy kitchen area. We’ve got a really busy social calendar. There are drinks at the pub and BBQs on the terrace, plus a few big events every year.

“I think of atom42 as a big family and, once we are sure someone is right for the company, we look after them. I think we’ve had good staff retention over the years – with quite a lot of staff who joined early on still here five or more years later – and that’s been vital to our growth and success.”

Alternatively, find out how cultivating and maintaining a strong employer brand runs through the entire employee journey. From hiring the right people, to retaining and engaging them and making ambassadors out of ex-employees.