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Workplace perks are often one of the first things to get axed when sales slow down. In the Great Recession, 72% of companies cut workplace incentives to control costs. Though incentives seem like an easy area to cut, eliminating the majority of them can have detrimental effects on your workforce morale and productivity.

How you treat your employees during a recession has a massive impact on their engagement and whether or not they stay with you once the economy stabilizes and other opportunities. Instead of eliminating all workplace incentives, you should reduce the ones that don’t have a meaningful impact and hone in on the ones that boost performance.

Here are five workplace incentives that will help you support and retain your top performers during a recession.

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1) Training & Professional Development

Research from the Associate for Talent Development found that companies that offer comprehensive professional development programs achieve an average of 218% more income per employee than those that don’t provide structured learning opportunities.

Training and professional development opportunities are among the most impactful perks to offer employees during recessions since they help your team develop the skills needed to tackle new projects as market needs evolve.

If you don’t have resources to offer ongoing customized training, consider purchasing your team subscriptions to learning platforms including:

  • Udemy,
  • Udacity
  • LinkedIn Learning

These platforms provide courses on a wide range of topics and add new content regularly, which allows this incentive to provide continuous value to your workplace without you having to invest any additional resources.

 

2) Coveted Mentorship Opportunities

One of the most effective ways to motivate ambitious professionals is to offer them mentorship opportunities. Though mentoring should already be a part of your employee development program, you can use critical people who ordinarily wouldn’t mentor lower-level employees to provide an exciting - and free - incentive.

Depending on if you want to encourage a competitive work environment or not, there are two ways to implement this workplace incentive:

  1. Make it a competition. Let your team know that senior executives will mentor the individuals with the best performance for a specific number of weeks. This will excite employees who are eager to get a leg up the ladder.
  2. Monitor your team’s performance and have senior managers quietly engage with your top performers. This incentive will help you boost the loyalty of those employees without creating a highly competitive environment.

Keep in mind that choosing executives who are committed to engaging in meaningful conversations with their mentees is critical for this workplace incentive to have an impact on performance.

 

3) Four Day Work Weeks

The COVID-19 crisis destroyed the boundaries between our work and personal lives. Even as kids go back to school, and we go back to offices, many personal responsibilities have evolved, and it will be challenging to reinstate the same separation that many employees used to have. Thus, one of the most impactful workplace incentives you can offer during these tough times is work-life balance.

A New Zealand firm that experimented with a four day work week found that the number of employees who felt like they achieved work-life balance increased by 24%. Four day work weeks give people more time to manage all of their personal responsibilities, so they’re able to focus better on the days they work.

Though implementing offering four day work weeks may not be possible for your entire organization, it can be a powerful workplace incentive for those that can do it.

There are two ways you can implement this depending on your financial situation:

  1. If you need to cut staffing costs but want to keep your team motivated and avoid layoffs, you can offer four day work weeks in exchange for employees taking a proportional pay cut. Many people will happily volunteer to attain greater work-life balance.
  2. If pay cuts aren’t necessary, but you still want to motivate your employees with a four-day work week, you can implement a policy where people are allowed to take Fridays off as long as they’ve achieved their goals for the week. This works best for roles in sales, engineering, marketing, and other areas that have tangible goals that people can get ahead on if they want a three-day weekend.

If you’re concerned about the effects of a four day work week on your team’s productivity and motivation, start with small groups of employees. Carefully track their performance and survey them on their happiness and motivation throughout the experiment so you can determine if this is a productive workplace incentive for your organization.

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4) Introduce New Forms of Employee Recognition

Research from O.C. Tanner, a Great Place to Work certified company, found that feeling recognized is the biggest factor that employees believe drive great work. In their survey, recognition was ranked significantly higher than even pay raises and promotions.

People have a natural desire to feel valued. The more actions you take to recognize your employees’ hard work, the more motivated they’ll be to deliver positive results.

Here are some easy recognition activities you can adopt:

  • Monthly awards based on your company’s values. At Prialto, we host these every month, which helps our team remain committed to positive behaviors.
  • Giving employees small gifts after they complete big projects or solve a difficult problem.
  • Inviting top employees for lunch with senior executives.
  • Writing personal notes detailing why people are great employees.

Plus, any other new actions you can take to make your employees feel valued. Though these incentives are simple, making them an integral part of your company culture motivates employees to perform their best even when times are tough.

 

5) Administrative Support

During recessions, you need your top performers to be solely focused on strategic initiatives to help your company recover stronger than ever. They can’t do that if they’re weighed down by tedious tasks such as running reports, coordinating key parties, managing follow-ups, and other functions that don’t require their authority or expertise.

To enable your executives to focus on the activities that matter most, consider giving them administrative support. A good assistant will handle all of the small tasks that come up so your team can focus on driving key strategies forward.

If you’re interested in offering this workplace incentive but don’t want to take on the cost-burden of an in-house assistant, consider hiring a virtual assistant through a managed service like Prialto. We train, coach, and overall manage our V.A.s so your executives can get essential support without having to take on the responsibility of another direct report.

To learn more, download our free guide to working with a Priatlo virtual assistant.

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About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.

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