"No pay raises this year."
"Everyone is going to have to take 10 days of unpaid vacation."
"Everyone is going to have to take 10 days of unpaid vacation and a 1% (or more) pay cut."
I don't know about you, but as a manager, those are messages I definitely wouldn't want to share with my staff. I'd much rather be spending my time coming up with alternatives to reward peak performance and boost employee morale . The subject is top of mind because I spent part of my morning doing just that.
Maybe it's cheesy, but with a little spray paint and some inspiration from Bud Foster and the Virginia Tech football team's defensive unit , I created the "Golden Lunch Pail Extra Effort Award" which will be given quarterly to a member of the staff as voted on by his or her peers. And, like the Stanley Cup, it will remain in his or her possession for the quarter until a new winner is named. To make sure the process is straightforward and fair (as we all know, awards can sometimes turn into a popularity contest), the next step is going to be developing a few guidelines. And, as the title states, the award will be for extra effort--going above and beyond what is expected of the person in that role.
A colleague is going one step further. He's granting his employees comp time  so they can each take one day off every other week during the month of July. It doesn't seem like much, but an additional 4-5 days of vacation, if nothing else, can provide some much needed time out of the office.
In addition to the comp time, he's also buying breakfast for his team every Tuesday. I really like this idea 1) because it's a nice gesture and 2) because a regularly scheduled weekly breakfast can help bring them closer together as a team. And along those lines, I'm trying to find a time when our group can volunteer at a local soup kitchen. In my experience, getting out of the office to volunteer in the community is one of the most rewarding things we can do as a team.
What are some other low cost alternatives you've implemented to reward your staff?
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job .