Low-Cost Ways To Show Employees They're Highly Valued

Small businesses can compete for talent without breaking the bank. Yes, you still need to pay competitive wages to get people in the door, but it’s the perks that will help you retain them. Here are 30 low-cost ideas for small businesses who want to show employees that they are highly valued.

1. Flex time.  Some organizations require employees to be at work during core hours, and employee can set their schedule around this. Others allow employees to put in hours at their own discretion. Most require employees to have a set schedule so managers can plan for coverage. The schedule may be adjusted to accommodate personal matters like doctor's appointments.

2. Innovation days.  Set aside several days a year to allow employees to step away from their usual responsibilities to tackle projects related to the way they work and the spaces they work in. Results are shared in a company meeting the following morning.

3. Monthly commuter benefits.  Offer a monthly stipend ($100 or so) for those who commute by public transportation. In many cities where mass transit is used, companies offer tax-free transit fare programs; you can learn more about the options available from programs like TransitChek or Commuter Check. These programs also save companies money in payroll taxes. 

4. Fully stocked kitchen.  Provide free coffee, soft drinks, and snacks for employees during work hours. Want to bump this up a notch? Keep organic milk in stock and add fresh fruit and healthy options to the shopping list.

5. Wellness benefits.  Employees can receive reimbursement for purchases related to fitness (up to $300/year). Typical items reimbursed include gym memberships, running shoes, yoga mats, bicycles, and so on.

6. Free lunch.  Order in for all your employees once a week to foster community and give employees a break from packing their lunches. 

7. Canine colleagues.  Got an office full of dog lovers? Then invite house-trained visitors to join the team.

8. Parental leave.   As this infographic shows, the U.S. has some of the weakest paid family-leave benefits anywhere—while some states guarantee paid leave, it's not a federal mandate. You can immediately differentiate your company by making sure all employees are eligible for paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child.

9. No dress code.  Relax—ties are optional in this work environment.

10. Summer hours.  Employees kick back early on Fridays during the summer months, allowing them to beat the heat as well as the traffic if they're heading out to the beach for a weekend.

11. Free chair massages.  Fifteen minutes in the chair once a week, and employees will return to their desks refreshed and ready to tackle their to-do lists.

12. Optional telecommuting.  In an increasingly mobile and digitally connected world, many employees can easily and successfully work from home part- or full-time. Here are some tips on working from home that will make the transition smooth.

13. Tech neutrality.  Offer the choice of PCs or Macs so employees can work on the machine with which they're more comfortable. 

14. Flexibility in paid time off.  Employees can choose how to use their paid time off bank (vacation, sick, and personal time) to best meet the needs of their individual situations.

15. A culture of work/life balance. Create an atmosphere where it really is okay to leave the office before 8 p.m.

16. Perks for part-time employees.  Many organizations treat part-time workers like they were temps. Provide part-time workers with perks and they’ll be acting like full-time workers in no time.

17. Cultural extras.  Keep the workplace exciting by mixing in rewards like concert tickets, movie outings, or passes to sporting events. Don’t forget to throw some cash your employee’s way to cover the babysitter.

18. Sabbaticals.  Offer month-long sabbaticals after five years of service, or two months after 10 years of service.

19. Laundry service.  Employ a service to pick up employees' clothes and drop them back at work, clean and folded.

20. Car care.  Who has time to take their car in for an oil change? Companies have arranged for a service to come to the office and take care of this messy task while employees are working.

21. Gift matching.  The company matches employee's charitable donations, with the match based on what the company can afford.

22. Adoption assistance.  This financial assistance can be used for legal expenses, adoption agencies, or other professional fees.

23. Take-out meals.  To help make things easier, new moms and dads are able to expense up to $300 for take-out meals during the first three months that they are home with their new baby.

24. Employee referral programs.  Good people know other good people, and the best employees are usually hired through referrals. Those who refer candidates who are hired receive a cash bonus award.

25. Green initiatives.  Preferred parking and/or subsidies for those who purchase and drive hybrid vehicles.

26. Paid time off to volunteer.  Employees are given a specific amount of time to volunteer in their communities.

27. Cleaning services.  Sweep employees off their feet—hire professional cleaners to tidy up employees' homes every two weeks.

28. Tuition forgiveness.  Offer to pay a percentage of tuition owed, per year of employment, for hard-to-fill positions that are appropriate for recent grads.

29. Easier dinnertimes.  Take care of the people who matter by enlisting a vendor to deliver ready-to-eat healthy dinners that employees can elect to purchase and take home to their families.

30. Acknowledgment of significant others.  When employees do have to work late hours, the people who really pick up the slack are their spouses who are forced to work double duty. Acknowledge their contributions by sending flowers or gift cards, along with a personal note to acknowledge their contribution.

Incorporating perks like these into your organization will help you attract top talent, increase employee satisfaction, and reduce costly employee turnover, which in the end is far more profitable than scaling back on your benefit expenses to save a few bucks.

Have you incorporated any of these benefits into your business, or found any other unique ideas that work? 

Related: Want To Keep And Motivate Your Best Employees? It's Not About The Money

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Author Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions (yourhrexperts.com) and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters. Register today for Roberta’s free Profitability Accelerator Teleconference Series.

[Image: Flickr user Max Geiger]

Add New Comment


  • Eva Rinaldi

    I would add one thing. 

    Don't hire "fill-ins."
    If you're going to hire a part time employee, treat them with not only dignity and respect while they're in the office, but in the interview and on the schedule as well. If you have 8 extra hours a week, you need to encourage your current employees to find ways to fill those hours and have more discipline, not hire someone to do work that barely pays their transport costs to your location. If you must hire someone to work less than 15 hours per week, be honest in your job board or employment ads and when interviewing and let the person know the kind of work it is, even if it means losing out on qualified applicants who may not be interested in such a position.

  • Andre'

    Very good points! However, I probably missed this but did you also have a "Health & Fitness" gym or good health intiatives? Many companies have realized a healthy employees minimizes time off due to health concerns, and a healthy body is a healthy mind. If you did not have "Health & Fitness" I would add that...if you did I'm sorry I missed that.

  • Chris Dickinson

    I hear you Jelly.  I think it's easy to get caught up in a laundry list of perks.  The point is creating an environment where employee feel authentically cared about.  A large part of this comes down to policies that respect the individual's decision-making ability -- e.g  flex-time, (the choice to use) innovation days and sabbaticals, "work-life" flexibility (although I'm not a fan of the notion of compartmentalization).  I see progressive corporate "caring" as focusing the lion's share of energy (and $) on performance and related choices.  Not that I have a problem with Captain Crunch but I'd rather have more funneled into my pocket if I do a great job, and have the freedom to make $-related trade-offs that work for me.  Limeade Advisor Wendy Lynch is a leader in this line of thinking: http://www.prweb.com/releases/...

  • Jelly Donut

    I worked for a company - Google - that famously offers all these perks. Every day in the office was a cascade of decisions and a battle of discipline. Trying not to eat the cookies, trying to get work done while Barack Obama and other luminaries are visiting and you'd really rather be there, feeling guilty for being in the gym instead of work, and feeling guilty for not going in the gym. Managing the dry cleaning services. Oil changes. Walking the dog who gets bored at the office. It's possible to spend all day at Google doing everything BUT work, and some people do.

    Not to mention the energy that got spent by some people on email lists if one kind of gourmet organic cookie was removed from the free offerings. The injustice! The outrage!

    In Roy Baumeister's "Willpower", we learn that all our decisions come from the same reserve of brain power. Employers who shower employees with in-office perks, waste their decision-making power.

    Pay me more and let me go home earlier. I can get my dry cleaning done without handholding just fine.

  • Eva Rinaldi

    Also, why is it that when employers give out free food, it's always massively unhealthy? I would like to see an employer giving out salads or trail mix or fruit rather than pizza, cookies, and cake.

  • Roberta Matuson

     You stated that beautifully Paul and I couldn't agree more. The intent of this list is to bring ideas front and center, but it's best to ask your people what they would most value.

  • Paul White

    Great, practical suggestions, Roberta. We have found that it is key to find out from employees what actually makes them feel valued and appreciated -- otherwise, we're "shooting in the dark".  Your suggestions cover a wide variety of languages of appreciation -- words, acts of service, tangible gifts. The challenge is to match the action with what people really want. 

    Paul White, PhD

  • Steve Slader

    My company brings in Pino Gelato during the warm summers on friday afternoons. Wonderful!..the new fruit flavors are out of this world.

  • Jake

    Very Informative,  I had few of these ideas formulated for my employees at all level.  For eg. Travel Expenses (Fuel / Public Transport Bill), Bi-Weekly Entertainment Perks, Insurance Payment, Medicinal Bills and Fitness Bill. Though, it won't cost me much, people at work seems to be content.  Although they don't express themselves, has balanced environment at work and quality is at par.

  • Brett

    I just shared this with my company, Limeade. It's a great piece! At Limeade, we too believe in identifying productivity as well as health improvement opportunities for our large employer and health plan clients. So these employee recognition tools are helpful not just to us as an employer in motivating our employees, but also to us as wellness experts helping our clients brainstorm innovative approaches to motivating talent to get the most from them health and productivity-wise. I love this article, including the great bear pic at top.

  • OscarMarroquin

    Frederick Herzberg, in his book ‘The Motivation to Work’ wrote
    about studies he conducted where he concluded that there are some things that
    motivate employees and others that simply satisfy them.  

    The “motivators” that he identified were:  1) Recognition 2) the work itself 3)
    responsibility   4) advancement   5) growth. 

    The “hygiene factors” or things that don’t necessarily
    motivate but may lead to dissatisfaction include:  1) company policy   2) supervision   3) relationship with the boss   4) work conditions   5) salary   6) relationship with peers.

    Based on the Herzberg theory, it is still a good idea to
    offer perks, the employees will appreciate them however, don’t overlook the
    primary motivating factor which is the work itself.  

  • Eva Rinaldi

    The factor that usually saps my motivation most as an employee is feeling that I'm not doing much at work because there's a lot of downtime, or spending a lot of time on "busywork" tasks that don't need doing but keep me looking busy.

    Another factor that's very demotivating is the dynamic at certain workplaces that allows people to advance more from networking rather than working, or working with someone who achieves less during a work day than you but who gets paid more or the same amount.

  • OscarMarroquin

    Eva, you make excellent observations of situations that
    create a negative work environment.  You
    mention periods of "down time" and then periods of "busy
    work."  It’s important to know
    whether this is a natural element of the business you are in where there are
    periods of high demand periodically or a result of poor management.  The second issue, promotions based on
    networking (who you know) rather than the work itself.  Unfortunately, networking is something you
    must do (in most cases) to move up. 
    Getting yourself out there and known to others in your organization is important
    I agree that the work itself needs to be the number one priority; unless you
    have a manager who promotes your work to others... you need to network.  Your final point you made is about people
    earning more than you and achieving less. 
    This is probably more common than most people would like to admit.  A person with more experience (with average
    performance) will move up the salary scale. 
    A newer employee that has exceptional performance will need a few years
    to catch and pass up the average employee, it will happen eventually.

    In summary, make sure you know what your "purpose"
    is at work and how what you do contributes to that end.  Network; make sure others know who you are
    and how great of a performer you are. 
    And finally, don't worry about others, its just energy that is better
    served enriching yourself.  

  • Tom R Texas

    You forgot the least expensive and most meaningful way of all.  Say Thank You!

  • Roberta Matuson

    Kate, Can I come work for you??? It sounds like you and your husband are doing a great job showing people they are valued.

    Kathryn, I completely agree about bringing in the right talent. But you gotta admit, it would be a lot easier to do so if an organization incorporated some of these ideas into their workplace. That's how you build a magnetic organization that pulls good people in.

    Roberta Matuson

  • rick maurer

    What a great list. If leaders can't find some ideas in that list, they just aren't looking.

  • tom

    Mario, I think the industries that you listed are the type of companies that aren't doing this.  Many newer companies and start-ups are incorporating these kinds of these benefits for their employees.  The my last  company and the one I'm currently working at have had a combination of what was listed above.  

    Gord, definitely agree with you on that.  And it's free!

  • Mario

    I get it, those environments are poisonous and to avoid at all costs.  

    Where to work then? 

    This would it be a GREAT article if someone dares enough to write some tips. 

  • kathryn

    While there are some great ideas here, I think it is equally important to ensure the individuals you are bringing on board are the right fit -- ie they can drive the correct ROI (have the right skills and behavior) and align with your company values.  Without this focus, your efforts in "valuing" your employees may not yield the results you are hoping it will.