10 Ridiculously Cheap Ways to Raise Morale

It’s a really good time for making excuses. Each week seems to bring new highs, but not the kind that cause us to jump with glee.

Instead, we hear about the high unemployment numbers, the high rate of foreclosures, the high price of gas, the high number of people who want to strip down and jump into the frigid ocean in the middle of winter (Okay, so I know that is a bit off subject, but did you know that a group of semi-crazy but oh-so-lovable New Yorkers do this every January for charity?).

The point is, there are plenty of reasons to argue that it’s not exactly prime time to be ramping up incentive tactics, when we are really just paranoid about survival…Or is it?

I see it all differently. As someone who lost a successful company overnight in a fire, survived and eventually thrived solely on the changes I was able to make to my attitude (and some delicious lasagna from my mother), I say that hard times are just the time to worry about motivating your employees. More than ever, you need their morale to keep your company afloat. You need their ideas, their energy, their creativity and their loyalty…And you will only get those traits by keeping them as happy as you possibly can.

So, without breaking the bank with European vacations or fancy bling, here are some incentive tips that won’t cost you much. In some cases, they might even save you a few dollars:

1. Run a weekly contest in your office, with a small prize. Find out who has the ugliest baby picture, or who cooks the most wicked soup, or who has the most out-of-character hobby. Make it interactive and fun, and allow the staff to vote. Keep the prize small but sweet—a free lunch, a $50 gift certificate to the grocery store or 30 minutes of free time at the end of the day.

2. Allow your employees to work at home one or two days per week, if possible. (This is not recommended for those who manage surgeons, or hazardous waste removal folks, or cod fisherman—if this is you, skip to No. 3.) Set up instant messaging so you can keep in touch online. Not only does this allow staff the opportunity to work in their pajamas, but it also saves them a buck or two on gas.

3. Host a monthly potluck for employees to get to know one another and network. Have a theme to each event—such as Retro ’70s—and encourage people to title their dishes to match, like Betty’s Bellbottom Beans.

4. Provide blank name labels, and allow everyone to make up their new “name of the day.” Call each person by his or her chosen title, for just eight hours. This will keep people awake, and paying attention.

5. Ask each staff member to compliment another staff member of his or her choice, each day, in writing, for a month. No one may compliment the same person twice until having complimented everyone at least once. Not only does this benefit the one who receives the compliment, but it also gets everyone thinking positively about those around them.

6. Be open to input from everyone in the company about how to operate more efficiently. I’ve seen so many instances when one employee who is low on the totem pole has some of the most brilliant ideas, which never get heard. Also, when staff members feel like their input is valued, they are more apt to outperform expectations.

7. Be funny, even if you don’t think you have it in you. Humor in the workplace is like a plate of spaghetti to a marathon runner. Call a staff meeting just to announce that there is no staff meeting. Hide under a visible table in the break room, and when people question you, tell them you are trying to get a new perspective. Mix it up, add your own authentic flare, and don’t be afraid to be laughed “at,” rather than just “with.”

8. Bring in marshmallows, and allow people to roast them over the stove at lunch.

9. Create an online blog for your company, and allow each person to provide one (monitored, on their own time) entry per month (or week, or quarter…whatever works), on any subject.

10. Now to shift to something more serious…Be available, and show empathy. If one of your staff has lost something due to the economy, listen and accommodate whenever possible by providing flex time or creative solutions.
Show that you care, and your employees will too.

So…While the economy tanks, try to think of your greatest challenge not so much as how to weather the storm, but how to have fun with it…thriving in whatever way possible. Bring your employees along for the ride, raincoat or not.

What do you do to motivate staff on a budget? Post your tips!

5 thoughts on “10 Ridiculously Cheap Ways to Raise Morale”

  1. Sam, I love these ideas. I had a team of 40 people at a previous job and we asked each person to bring in baby or toddler photos (under age 5). We posted all the pictures and had a contest to see who could identify the most team members from their baby photos. Other people in the organization heard about our contest and wanted to participate. Now that I work on a small team I find there are many ways to have fun and be funny including dancing while the “on hold” music is playing before a conference call starts.

  2. Chilie Cookoff Contest during the winter. Fun and good food for lunch time.

    Photo Contest. We then use them to decorate the common areas of the building.

    Halloween costume contest and trick or treat the offices that day.

    For Christmas time a Door Decoration Contest.

  3. Set up an office Wii tourney called “March Madness.” Pair up the staff for a competition in bowling, tennis, etc. You can do weekly for 4 weeks leading to a final round.

  4. We had an “office warming” party when we moved to a new location in our building. Part of our team was located at the front of the building, and four of us were located at the back of the building. So, we got a mullet wig and everyone who came to the “office warming” party got to try on the mullet wig and have their picture made. We put them on a wall with a caption that represented our thoughts about being seated in the back of the building, “Business in the front, party in the back!”

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