5 ways to motivate employees without free beer

Andrew Heath · June 11, 2018

Okay, so there are plenty of other company perks around but ‘free beer’ sums up a general trend for employers at the moment. Who are now more aware of the need to consider wellbeing at work – result – but a little off track relying on freebies and office perks to fix the issue – not so good.

There’s nothing wrong with free beer, on the contrary some employees may well appreciate these kind of perks and for that moment feel valued by their employer. What is not helping though is a growing tendency to throw money (or beer) at an issue that requires a lot more thought to actually make a real difference. Leaving employers to believe they have ticked a box that very much needs a lot more ticks. Something we touched on in our recent blog reviewing the current state of wellbeing in the UK.

Today we want to look at motivation specifically and help you find alternative and more meaningful ways to motivate employees – without relying on those quirky perks like free beers and that token office pool table.

1. Flexible hours – let your employees breathe a little

Sometimes life just gets in the way and the added stress of being late in a clock-watching office culture is not going to help anyone. If you’re struggling to motivate employees or increase employee engagement in general then simply giving them more freedom with a flexible hours policy can make a huge difference. Not only because your employees will be more able to achieve a healthier work life balance and be in a better mood, but also because they will feel trusted to get the job done. Even if you have to reconsider some of the logistics in the office, such as who is opening up early and locking up late, the effort will be well worth it in the long run.

Not convinced it will work for your business? Well, you only need to look to others paving the way for proof it can work. For example, last year one of our clients Expand Executive Search shared their experience introducing flexible working and unlimited holidays. During our thriving at work event in Brighton, CEO Sam Maxwell-Reed explained:

“In 2013 we implemented flexible working and last year [2016] we introduced unlimited holiday…. It was a really bold move for us and it’s been a big success. Our contracted holiday was 25 days, the average across the company was 28 and one of our people took 45 and business performance was exceptional… From a business perspective all of the classic measurements that tell you how your business are doing, we are succeeding. Sick days are down, business growth up churn is down. All the classic measures of people performance are in the right direction.”

If you’re nervous that your employees will take advantage and not deliver under a flexible working arrangement, then perhaps it’s time to consider whether you have the right people. Trust breeds trust and loyalty breeds loyalty. Demonstrate that you care about your employees work life balance and trust them to still deliver. In return you will get all of the motivated employee productivity impact without the huge bill for free beers.

2. Open the dialogue – make wellbeing or duvet days a thing

Thousands of employees are losing their jobs due to mental health each year, yet the majority of us just don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health at work. Coined by Metro as a ‘Millennial work perk’,  duvet days or wellbeing days are becoming an increasingly popular way to address mental health in the workplace. In fact, a recent survey by Time 4 Sleep revealed that 61% of participants had taken a duvet day to recover from a hectic work schedule. In the Metro article, Managing Director of Type A Media Ross Tavendale also shared their success story:

“We give our employees a four-day work week, so that every Friday is a duvet day. It has led to a massive spike in productivity and a reduction in sick days. Also, it really helps when hiring, as lots of people want a better work-life balance. Our charts show that, since the introduction of four-day weeks in September last year, we are burning really hot with focus on output.”

If you make wellbeing or duvet days a thing i.e. allow employees to take a certain amount of time off or work from home in a given year – you will open the dialogue on the issue of mental health. Employees will then feel understood, valued and come back to work feeling refreshed, motivated and more productive.

Incidentally, opening the dialogue on mental health at work is something that also hit the headlines last year when Madalyn Parker publicly shared her bosses response to her Out of Office. A refreshing account of a boss celebrating honesty about mental health that demonstrated just how much the workplace is changing. 

3. Health and wellness related company perks

Not everyone will appreciate a low cost gym membership, free fruit or free office massages – but a lot of them will. Rather than forcing free beers on someone who is T-total and preparing to run the marathon this year, make sure you are offering employees a balanced range of company perks so that they can choose one that suits their lifestyle and values.

An extreme of this approach in action would be Google – who else right? Who have medical doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists on the Google campus. Capital One Financial also have health and fitness centers to help employees to stay financially, physically and emotionally healthy. Even if you don’t have a big budget, there are still ways you can feed some of that free beer money into healthier benefits. Here are a few trending healthy employee perks that could inspire:

  • Power nap rooms or pods
  • Treadmill or standing desks
  • Games or activity room
  • Onsite yoga / meditation sessions
  • Onsite masseur – private room and / or desk massages
  • Health insurance / gym membership
  • An office dog – encourage employees to bring their well-behaved dogs
  • Onsite health services

4. Ignite passion through Hackathons

The key to motivating employees is aligning their own mission and values with the business. Low motivation often means employees have lost that connection. To reactivate employees that were previously engaged or ignite those coasting along, spend some time finding out their unique strengths and talents. A great way to do this is to give everyone a specific afternoon or day in the month that is set aside for a passion project. A project they choose at the beginning of each quarter with their Line Manager that will not only help the business but also help them develop and grow with the business.

Silicon Valley tech companies have been turning this into a growing trend running hackathons, which is basically a challenge that employees are to complete in a set amount of time – whether that is a day or a week. Not heard of it yet? Well, it’s actually been a growing trend for a while now with a Capgemini study finding that 38% of the largest 200 companies had already set them up in 2015, including the likes of BMW, Sephora, and Target. Some employers have now even created innovation centres or internal think tanks to test new ideas.

Whatever way you decide to do it and however much time you can offer, encouraging employees to work on passion projects during working hours will help them to feel valued, increase their sense of purpose and help them feel more connected to the business. Thus boosting their motivation.

5. React to feedback: Listen and then do something

There are so many employers ticking a box with an annual employee or 360 degree survey in place, but not many actually do anything with the data. Not because they are outwardly trying to be difficult, but because the data doesn’t really take them beyond the surface of what’s going on and the survey providers don’t offer any actionable direction on what to do next. Not being heard is one thing but knowing you’ve had your say and then being ignored is definitely not very motivating.

That’s why we have cultivated employee survey questions that go deeper and help employers get to the route of what’s going on with their employees. Then follow up with actionable steps they can take to make progress.

About WeThrive

Employee Engagement, Evolved

WeThrive is the agile employee engagement platform that uncovers how your people truly feel, enabling managers to create highly effective teams, increase employee retention and employee wellbeing and deliver better business results.

At organisation, team or individual level WeThive’s unique 4C model leverages the latest psychological understanding to quickly and easily deliver insights, actions and learning content to help your managers become better managers, creating a high performance culture and improving business results. UK based, WeThrive has an average 91% employee engagement survey completion rate and to date has made over 5000 company-wide recommendations.