Knowing how to motivate employees without money can be hard as often the go-to option is salary increase or bonuses.

You might not want to go down that route, or not have the resources to support it. Especially now, in the COVID-19 era, businesses are tightening purse strings and looking at other options to retain employees.

Yes, financially based methods can bring short-term enjoyment. However, in order to keep people engaged and happy in the long term, motivation comes from the intrinsic factors such as:

  • Recognition and appreciation
  • Career advancement opportunities
  • Personal growth
  • Responsibility
  • Interesting work

Read our Top Tips on Employee Motivation here for more ideas on how to motivate employees without money.

Happiness at work

Some managers and organisations would argue that making people happy at work is not their purpose.  People come to work to earn their salary and should automatically do their best.

But that is a false concept.  Happiness at work, as in life, is about being satisfied and content.

Of course, issues will occur. But employees having faith in a manager and the organisation is key.

Knowing there is a commitment to doing their best to minimise issues will prevent too much obsessive thinking. It will also eliminate a high change of negative behaviour around any given situation.

motivation at work


Small business and employee motivation

A small business must make many financial investments in its early years. It must make a return, the most important being the investment made in people.

They must be the right people, closely aligned with the business culture. They must also have the right skills so that they can quickly bring about that return on investment.

Let’s look at the above factors which motivate over a longer period.

It’s clear that people who like what they are doing are engaged in their work and can see a clear career path. This provides a reason to:

  • Not look for another role
  • Encourage job longevity
  • Form stronger work ethics ensuring that the business is able to grow and compete

Understanding people and what motivates them is the best way to keep them engaged.

The best thing about this… it can all be achieved at a low cost or even no cost! By supporting from all angles, there is more of a chance you will be able to motivate employees without money.

Motivating factors at work

People have different factors that motivate them, and these can and will change throughout the course of a career.  Let’s look at different types of motivation:

A young person starting off is likely to be concerned about financial reward and career progression.

An employee within a few years of retirement will be more focused on a pension and secure retirement.

Employees with a young family will be looking for job security and sufficient financial reward to feel secure. They will also be motivated by opportunity and the chance to grow and develop as their career progresses.

Then there are the staff who just want to come to work, do a good job, enjoy what they do and leave it all behind at the end of the day.

Recognition of a job well done can be enough, although how this recognition is given will determine how much it is appreciated.

Motivation and ‘interesting’ work

“Interesting work” is often quoted as an important issue in motivation.

Naturally, some tasks are by nature repetitive and lacking in any need for creative input.

But, by matching a personality to the role such tasks will not be demotivating. Instead they will bring a measure of comfort and enjoyment to the individual who carries them out.

They will be proud of their work and recognising and appreciating this is motivation enough.

How this is done is very much down to what the individual perceives as motivating. Again, this taps back into the question of ‘how to motivate employees without money?’

Here’s an example…

A receptionist is critical to how the business is perceived as a first impression and also for organisation communication.  Their job usually includes:

  • Greeting visitors
  • Offering refreshment
  • Opening and distributing the post
  • Taking messages and ensuring they are passed on
  • And much more

While this job might not be for everyone, it will suit some peoples’ ways of working and it is also an important job in the eyes of an organisation.

Every job matters, and it is essential that the organisation recognises and appreciates this.

Work motivation


Logistics of employee motivation

Recognition and appreciation can be formalised by a weekly or monthly employee recognition scheme. Rewards don’t have to be huge to be appreciated by the recipient.

The public recognition of a job well done can be sufficient.  It doesn’t have to be top down, either.

Nomination by peers and from the floor up can be more satisfying than from a manager or leader with whom there is less daily contact.

A job is often defined by a job description or role profile and, sadly, this is often no more than a list of tasks with no definition of what is important to the organisation’s success.

This is an unappreciated and underused document, often filed away and never used beyond recruitment and induction.

It can identify the opportunities for advancement and growth and show a pathway to achievement.  For example, by including such factors as:

How long should it take to be fully competent in the role?

What is the next direct step to progress?

How long should it take to reach the next step?

What are the next set of skills necessary to take the next step?

Including this information in the profile can be valuable to both the organisation and the individual, giving a basis for discussions at monthly and annual reviews, showing that the organisation is committed to giving growth opportunities to its existing staff.

If money is available…

If there is some leeway to assign money for rewards, consider how this can be used in small portions to achieve a good return.

A weekly breakfast, for example, when staff get to give ideas and thoughts on how the organisation is performing.

This can also be an opportunity for those who want to present more formally on a work issue that interests them.

Small gifts with inscriptions such as tumblers, key rings and pens are a simple way to say; ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ (but be sure to avoid the P11D limit).

These gifts should always be delivered with humility and in a way appropriate to the individual.

Employee engagement and motivation

Engagement can be strengthened by matters that go beyond the confines of the work environment. Here are some ideas:

  • How green is the organisation?  What more could be done?  There is likely to be a champion within the organisation who has the enthusiasm to work with the leadership and management to make this a serious workplace issue.
  • Perhaps a charitable venture, that staff can support if they want to?  This could be something personal to an individual, or the choice of the organisation.

Ultimately there are many, many ways in which an organisation can be a motivating place to work.  “People are our greatest asset” is the most quoted phrase in business culture.

We would say “people are your only asset.”

So, treat and use them well and they will respond in kind.