Cost Effective Ways to Recognize Employees and Volunteers

During tough budgetary times, you may have to cut expenses across the board, including costly perks, bonuses and rewards.

But one thing you should not stop doing is recognizing employees and volunteers for exemplary performance.

One of the primary causes of job stress and burnout is feeling that no one notices or appreciates the hard work you do.


Fortunately, there are many low-cost and no-cost ways to recognize and reward employees and volunteers. Here are a few.

Give high-quality praise

Giving effective positive feedback or praise is a bit of an art.  Simply saying “Nice job” is fine for the little things. But when an employee has exerted extra effort for an extended period of time, it warrants a little more than that. Following are the main components of high-quality praise:

  • Be specific. Tell them exactly what they did that you value and how it helps the organization.
  • Be timely. Don’t wait until you are scheduled to meet with the person. Give praise during or right after the performance.
  • Give praise privately first. Then look for an opportunity to reinforce the message in front of others. This has the added benefit of showing others what kind of behavior is valued by the organization.
  • Don’t make praise “back-handed.” Don’t add a qualifier, such as “You could have done a little more of X” or “I wish you would do that more often.”


Find out what motivates people

The same type of reward or recognition does not fit everyone. During new-hire and volunteer orientation, have your HR manager find out what motivates each person so that you can customize the way you recognize them. This is more complicated than simply asking “What motivates you?” It requires time, good interviewing skills and active listening. The results should be kept in each person’s personnel file.


Leverage your own skills or assets

If money to buy rewards is tight, look around at what you have at hand. Start with yourself. Are you a gourmet cook? How about cooking up a delectable meal for your star team? Do you own a boat? How about taking deserving folks out fishing or sailing? Do you own a beach cottage or mountain cabin? You get the idea.


Give the gift of time

Surveys consistently reveal that employees value flexible scheduling so they can balance their work and personal lives as much as they value higher pay or more benefits. Some examples of how to do this include:

  • Extra time off as a reward for hard work
  • Ability to adjust their schedule to attend children’s events, medical appointments, etc.
  • Telecommuting from home a day or so a week


Allow employees and volunteers opportunities

Most employees and volunteers are interested in new challenges and opportunities to learn new skills. Try to match people with special projects in a way that is best for the organization and is seen as rewarding by the individual.


Give them a great time to remember

Finally, plan a fun event that will be remembered for a long time. Laughing, playing, having a bang-up good time can be low-cost and is likely to have greater impact than a monetary bonus that goes into the checking account to pay bills. Ask a few of your more creative staff for ideas about specifics.


These are a few of the many low-cost and no-cost ways to ­recognize employees and volunteers during tight budgetary times. There is no reason they should be left to feel unappreciated