10 Staff Motivation Tips That Cost You Next To Nothing

Businesses are in a challenging space right now. Coming into our third year with COVID-19 impacting the economy, our reserves are dry while potential employees demand more wages and better benefits.

With higher demands and less money, the only viable solution is to find low-cost ways to keep motivation among your team high. Common factors reliably boost motivation are:

  • Money
  • Recognition/praise
  • Power/authority
  • Passion
  • Meaning
  • Community

Money’s off the table until the economy recovers. But you can try these 10 techniques to boost productivity and inspire loyalty during these difficult times.

10 Inexpensive Ways to Keep Staff Motivated

1. Create Simple Incentives

Motivating Factor(s):Recognition/praise

Set up marked and signposted goals for short-term successes that contribute to reaching your long-term metrics. As employees achieve those goals (either individually or as a team), reward them with simple, low-cost incentives like:

  • Free lunch or breakfast
  • Bringing in alcohol on Friday afternoon
  • A paid afternoon or full day off
  • Chair massages from a professional brought in for the occasion

The reward should be meaningful enough to be appreciated. However, what reward you choose is less important than creating a culture of setting goals and tracking progress toward them.

This method turns work tasks into a game, where score is kept and people can “win.” Gamification is a massively powerful motivating tool you can put to work for you.

2. Train and Groom

Motivating Factor(s): Recognition/praise; power/authority

Talk with each team member about where they would like to be in two to five years. Find out how you can help them achieve that goal.

In a larger company, this might mean grooming a team member for promotion to the job they want. In a medium-sized company, you might create a position that sets them up to use their best skills. In a smaller company, it might mean helping them with time off for classes to get a certification or skill they’ve always wanted.

Again, the details don’t matter. What’s critical is that you show a legitimate, sincere interest in each team member and take concrete steps to help them. When they see you do that, they’ll be motivated by that personal connection.

3. Allow More Flexibility

Motivating Factor(s): Power/authority;passion; meaning

Some jobs require boots on the ground and hands at the console for a certain amount of time, in a particular place, without fail. It’s hard to be flexible about time and location for those positions.

For all other jobs, it doesn’t matter where someone completes our work as long as they finish it. We learned this during recent shut-downs. If your employees want to work from home some days, shift their schedule to miss rush hour or catch a yoga class, or even work a four-day week, that’s OK.

Offering staff more work-life balance can be highly motivating. As long as they’re getting their work done, you can give them more autonomy and freedom over their time.

Even though this policy is on the rise, it still sets you apart from other employers. It directly improves your employees’ quality of life, which will enhance the quality of effort they give to their jobs.

4. Allow Pets When Possible

Motivating Factor(s): Meaning; community

A dog-friendly workplace might seem like a recipe for chaos, but multiple studies have identified the benefits of letting employees bring their pets to work. These range from stress reduction to improved productivity to reducing health care costs and absenteeism from illness. It’s a good policy all around.

Too much continuous focus on a work problem degrades productivity, morale, and health. Pets in the workplace force short breaks in the form of a walk, some cuddle time, or a brief play session.

Whether you opt for a full-time pro-pet policy or occasional bring-your-dog-to-work days, this policy costs you nothing and can render significant results.

5. Rearrange the Work Space

Motivating Factor(s): Community; meaning

Drab, industrial, vanilla spaces inspire drab, industrial, vanilla attitudes. A quick paint job, some art, and rearranging the furniture into a more open and friendly configuration can make a surprising difference in how your team feels when they’re at the office.

While you’re at it, look into the ergonomics of the workspace. Are there places that cause jams to traffic flow? Do some employees have desks in noisy or stressful areas? Do you have to go through extra motions to do a job?

This demonstrates that you care enough about your employees to physically change the environment to enhance their work experience. Even if they never think about it consciously, it sends a message your team will appreciate.

6. Encourage Risk-Taking

Motivating Factor(s): Recognition/praise; power/authority

People who feel they have to play it safe have less enriching lives than those who feel free to fail. Those who are allowed to take risks feel more empowered and motivated and will trust you more with their ideas and energy.

When an employee has an opportunity to take a risk — especially one where failure will be merely inconvenient rather than disastrous — encourage them to go for it. Step back in your management style and guide them through the risk with questions rather than advice.

If it goes well, celebrate the success but underline that you would have been supportive if it all went sideways.

If it goes poorly, be supportive with encouragement and space for them to process their emotions about it. Once they’re ready, discuss what went wrong with the goal of learning and exploring ,without making them feel pressured or worry about their jobs.

7. Know Your Team

Motivating Factor(s): Recognition/praise; community

Don’t be the bad boss who doesn’t know or care about their team and sees every one of them as a replaceable cog


Instead, take the time to know about the lives, hobbies, background, pets, and interests of the people who work for you. In large organizations, do that for your team leaders and encourage them to do the same with the people who work under them.

Take a page out of The Office. Michael Scott was in many ways the epitome of a terrible boss, but despite all his issues, his workers and customers loved him. That’s because he took the time to know about them and honestly cared about what he learned. That kind of personal connection is irreplaceable.

8. Support What They Support

Motivating Factor(s):Passion; meaning

Each employee in your organization cares deeply about one cause or another. One might run marathons for cancer research. Another might raise funds for their PTA.

Find ways and a little money to encourage them in these pursuits. Some examples of how to do that include:

  • Fund-matching part of what they raise for charities of their choice
  • Allowing paid time off to volunteer
  • Mentioning their efforts in company communications
  • Following and liking their social media posts about their efforts
  • Forging partnerships with charitable organizations they’re a part of

This concrete support for what your team members care about most shows that you care about them, motivating them to care more about you.

9. Be Specific in Your Praise

Motivating Factor(s): Praise/recognition; passion

Every employee likes to be praised for doing something well, but most people also know when praise is insincere.

To make your praise feel more sincere, be as specific as possible. It shows you’re interested, paying attention, and were motivated by their performance to call it out.

For example, instead of saying, “Great job on the Jackson account,” say, “I liked how you went the extra mile on the Jackson account this week. I didn’t even know his son was getting married, but you took the initiative and sent flowers. Well done.”

Instead of saying, “I appreciate your work around here,” say, “I appreciate how you make people feel here at the office. If I need to find you, I can just follow the trail of smiles and good energy.”

OK, that one might be over the top, but you get the idea.

10. Be Supportive In Your Correction

Motivating Factor(s): Power/authority (over their performance); community

Every employee makes mistakes, and how you deal with those mistakes can make a big difference in their motivation. We already mentioned making them feel safe to fail, but you can take it a step beyond this in how you correct problems.

The age of the bully boss is over. Using the failure of a team member as an excuse to get loud, aggressive, or demeaning doesn’t work. It shows more about you than about the person you’re berating and embarrassing.

Instead, focus on solutions when you have to correct an employee. Identify what went wrong, then work to fix the causes. Was it a training issue? A lack of resources? Poor motivation or attention on their part? Work together to find out why it happened, then set up a plan for working together to prevent it in the future.

Final Thought

You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken. Here are a handful of common indicators of low employee motivation, according to HR management firm PeopleGoal.

  • Employees who are usually proactive become reactive
  • Normally active employees hang back and wait for others to do the work
  • Body language shifts from energized to closed or apathetic
  • Any form of clock-watching during a shift

Overall, watch for employee attitudes, productivity, and business KPI changes. In most things, what’s happening is less important than changes in what’s happening. It’s those inexplicable shifts you need to look at closely so you can explain them. In some cases, you’ll find that decreased motivation is behind the change.

Melanie Cooke is a freelance writer in Boston.