When faced with the dilemma of how to motivate employees, many managers simply avoid offering employee incentives because they “don’t have it in the budget.” Yet most employees can be handsomely rewarded if managers budget time, effort and a bit of creativity.

In his book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman Publishing), Bob Nelson cites a recent survey of 1,500 employees who ranked “personal congratulations by a manager” as the number one work incentive they would choose out of a list of 67 others. Here are eight more suggestions on how you can motivate your employees without using additional funds.

Public Recognition

Research suggests that most assistants would rather receive flowers of appreciation sent to their workplace rather than their home. Why? Public recognition.

Most assistants I know work very hard for their wages. Moreover, most of them know when they’re doing a fantastic job. What they want from a recognition standpoint is for the rest of the office to know that the boss thinks the world of them. When supervisors give gifts to employees for display in their work areas, they in effect have just walked into each cubicle and said, “I appreciate the job this person is doing!”

Public recognition is very powerful in a business setting. Rewarding the positive behavior of one employee sends a clear message to everyone else about the type of performance you desire. We know from years and years of research that behavior is shaped by its consequences. If you publicly recognize and reward the effectiveness of one employee, that behavior will tend to be
repeated by everyone else.

Peer Praise

An often unexpected form of workplace recognition can come from one’s colleagues. Again, all
employees wish to be recognized for a job well done, but most realize that such acknowledgments usually come from supervisors. Consequently, peer praise takes on special

Appreciation from one’s co-workers is unique for two reasons: 1) managerial favoritism plays no part in the selection process; 2) employees
revere the sincerity and authenticity of praise from contemporaries, many of whom may understand the workload details better than the boss. In fact, the process can benefit managers. If an employee is recognized by his or her peers, it’s likely to be accurate.

To encourage more praise among
co-workers, ask them to develop a plan outlining how the recognition system will work. For example, the communication could be as simple as a quick e-mail to all employees about a job well done
or as detailed as a formal employee recognition day.

Family Letter

Remember how proud your parents were when you received a fantastic report card in school? Ever wished your family members knew what a terrific job you were doing at work? Sending formal correspondence to your employees’ loved ones outlining their outstanding performance can instill family pride and illustrate that hard work, long hours or added responsibility don’t go unnoticed in your company.

Jot down a few lines about an employee’s achievements every so often and mail it to the people closest to that individual. This recognition is particularly appropriate when a staff member sacrifices family time for work time.

Special Parking Space

Reserving a parking space in your company’s parking lot is one of the easiest ways to reward employees month after month. That’s why thousands of companies do it. It works.

Make sure the spot you choose is conveniently located close to the entrance of your facility (a particular bonus during inclement weather!) You will incur the one-time cost of installing a sign and/or painting the spot, but your employees will enjoy the benefits of company, customer and co-worker recognition month after month.

Gift Certificates
or Services

Who doesn’t like gift certificates? With a little time and effort, you can persuade area vendors to donate gift certificates to your employees of the month. Offer to do the same for their employees. Granted, a free fitness lesson may not be exactly “free,” but the out-of-pocket expenses are nil.

Consider establishing an “Employee Appreciation Friday.” Arrange to swap services with, say, a local massage
therapist, who will provide 15-minute neck and back massages. In exchange, allow the therapist to use your facility to promote his or her services.

Along these same lines, try this approach. Is there a juice bar or coffee house that your employees frequent? Offer the owner $100 off your regular membership fee in exchange for $100 worth of products via redeemable vouchers.

Lunch With VIPs

Most employees enjoy being recognized by their company’s owner, CEO or other influential VIPs. Set up a program that enables the VIPs to reward outstanding work by taking employees to lunch. In my experience, this type of luncheon does two things: 1) it keeps those in upper management in touch with subordinates; 2) it fully—and publicly—recognizes the achievements of great performers.

With this one, there’s one caveat: Some workers enjoy rubbing shoulders with the top brass; others may feel awkward dining with VIPs. For this incentive, choose recipients carefully and have a backup plan. You don’t want to turn a reward into a trip to the principal’s office.

Show Off Employees

Have you ever considered featuring
employees in your advertisements? Whether it’s for radio, television, billboard or flyer promotions, most workers will view the opportunity to model as an extraordinary perk. Who doesn’t want their 15 minutes of fame?

Many large corporations already have used this type of recognition with success, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Here’s an additional bonus with this idea: no model or announcer fees.

Creative Awards

The more creative and appropriate an employee award, the longer-lasting and more impacting the effect. Become familiar with your employees’ hobbies, interests and passions. A unique gift need not be an expensive gift.

Do you have an employee who’s a real lifesaver? Award her with a bulk supply of LifeSavers candies at your next meeting. Do you have another
employee who can fix any problem? Give him a personalized toolbox. How about a staffer who keeps everyone motivated? Consider giving her a personalized megaphone.

Your Role

The role of managers has shifted in recent years from commander and drill sergeant to coach and cheerleader. Bring out the best in employees by making them feel their best. Effective managers frequently motivate, reward, thank and recognize employees. In my experience, it’s as important to your business as returning telephone calls and greeting customers.