How to make staff happier and more productive with a small budget

Startup culture is many things – quirky meeting rooms, free haircuts at the office and so on – but the most important thing to take from it is that there’s no one right way to run a small business.

Every business wants to grow though, so they need the best team of people around them. When it comes to actually building that team, and increasing productivity in an organisation, it all comes back to one thing – they need to be kept happy.

Incentives and rewards don’t have to be pricey

Office incentives can sound a bit ‘dangling carrot’, but they actually establish an office environment where people are rewarded for their hard work. A 2010 study of 145 US-based businesses found that performance increased by 27% when a team was “motivated by incentive programmes”, and by 44% when those rewards became a long-term promise. Not only is it about the physical reward, it’s about trusting that it’s consistent and deserved.

Some small businesses and startups get nervous about the idea of giving out bonuses when budgets are already tight, but you can make people feel valued without spending a fortune. Going out for lunch or a few drinks at the end of a long, tough month with lots of deadlines is a great way to thank people for their hard work.

Non-financial incentives can help people stay motivated too. A simple “Thanks, you really helped me out this week”, or even giving people a late start on a Monday or an early finish on a Friday can make all the difference. Sometimes a break in the routine is all it takes to refresh everyone.

Keep the office democratic

Thankfully, the large majority of bosses aren’t sociopathic enough to enforce bizarre rules for their own amusement or demand coffees every half an hour, but even the most magnanimous have personal habits that can affect the office environment.

If everyone feels collectively responsible for the future of the company, and knows the rules are the same for everyone from the intern to the MD, they’re more likely to feel motivated. If the majority of the staff feel relatively powerless, why should they care about where the company’s going?

Top-down management might work for big corporations, but small businesses can design their environment however they want. It’s a perfect opportunity to experiment with decision-making and discussion.

Delegate. Even if it’s really hard to do.

One of those habits that can damage office morale is not feeling able to delegate. The boss walks around feeling stressed, and the team doesn’t feel trusted – not a great combo.

It’s hard to let go of portions of a business you’ve nurtured on your own or with a close partner, but it does no one any good if you hoard the majority of the tough stuff. The staff worth holding onto are those who accept responsibility and challenges happily, so delegating cleverly will encourage everyone to stretch themselves.

Have clear, shared goals for everyone

Small businesses and startups need to grow fast, so those short-term and long-term goals should be front and centre in everyone’s minds. Personal goals are all very well and good if they add up to a big change for the company, but they unavoidably encourage single-mindedness.

Some scientists from Aarhus University put this to the test in 2013 and found that focusing on goals rather than individual processes “increased…perception of cooperation and trust”.

People within a team know what they’re working towards and they’re all going there together. It sounds quite warm and fuzzy, but it also leads to more cold, hard cash for the business. Best of both worlds, right?


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