5 Unlikely Incentives That Help Keep Talent On Board
Interviews / Opinions

5 Unlikely Incentives That Help Keep Talent On Board

Discovering, hiring, and nurturing great talent used to be quite a difficult task, a half art, half science kind of affair. This was doubly true for regular companies, meaning ones without boatloads of cash lying around or easy access to VC money to spend in “acquihires”, wages way above market average and ridiculous staff incentives, as “unicorn” startups are known to do.

Nowadays, of course, thanks to modern Learning Management Systems, growing your in-house people to rise to the occasion has become much more approachable.

Talent retention, on the other hand? That’s as hard a problem as it ever was. Employees today don’t feel the same sense of loyalty to their job as “company people” did in past decades, and are more likely than not to try to further their career by skipping from company to company. And with some industries, such as IT, having become a “buyer’s market” with regard to jobs, business should really ramp up their staff incentives if they wish to keep their talent around.

In this article, we’ll have a look at the kind of company incentives and employee rewards companies provide their staff with, to keep their people happy, engaged, and, well, on board.

We’ll spare you any mention of the typical workplace incentives (bonuses, stock options, and such), since those are well known, and probably already practiced by your company.

Instead, we’ll go straight into the more creative, imaginative, unexpected, and bizarre incentives for employees which organizations around the world have successfully used to reward their people and reduce churn.

1. Office space

If there is something most modern-day enterprise employees hate about their job is the lack of privacy and the constant distractions of open plan offices. In contrast with that, even cubicles look good.

Offering talented employees their own space is not just a great way to show them that the company appreciates their work or a mere status symbol over other employees. It is both of these things, but it’s also a great way to increase their productivity and focus by helping them minimize distractions and noise. It’s one of those employee incentives that might cost a little more than the alternatives but is totally worth it in the long run.

Companies like Microsoft swear by their “real offices” policy, and famous CEOs, like Joel Spolsky, of Stack Overflow and Trello fame, have openly spoken against the practice of open floor plans.

2. Unlimited Vacation time

Who doesn’t like vacations? And who doesn’t feel that the days afforded to them by their company are not enough to really relax?

No, it’s not the same thing as not having them work at all. And, yes, it’s actually a thing in an increasing number of companies.

The key idea is that employees can take as much vacation time as they want — as long as they get their work done. Given this last proviso, “unlimited vacation time” turns out to be quite limited in practice, but still useful as a motivation for employees to soldier through a difficult project (and the enjoy a week or more of rest before the next one). In other words, it’s more about rewarding employees than offering them a carte blanche to move to the Caribbean.

It’s probably not for all kind of businesses, and it might fit your company more if work usually comes in project-sized chunks, instead of it being an everyday, year-long, 9-to-5 grind. In any case, it’s one of the staff incentives that really is worth a shot.

3. Flexibility

Keeping talent while they are still learning and developing their skills is easy. Especially if your company invests in talent development and eLearning, which younger employees see as valuable for their career advancement.

During that time, employees can be especially committed, staying up late to finish their work, enjoying learning new things, and generally being focused on their work. But what happens when they are not as young anymore, and start having families and children and all the responsibilities that come with these?

Just as they have fully mastered their skills and have the experience to start leading others, they are suddenly tempted to look for employment elsewhere, for example, to get a more managerial job and higher compensation, or to be closer to their home and avoid the commute, so they can spend more time with the family.

Why not give them the option to work from home or to have more flexible working hours, so that they can make it for that doctor’s appointment or their kid’s soccer practice?

It’s not like working from home is some great novelty, after all. Telecommuting has been more popular than ever these past few years, and has spawned an increasing number of services and tools, like enterprise IM tools like Slack and even whole cultures, like “digital nomads”. It’s a fairly simple example of staff incentives that could be easy for you to implement but could mean the world to your people.

Still, it’s far from the norm everywhere, which means that by offering your staff something that other businesses are not offering, they will be more inclined to stick with you and take advantage of the extra freedom it affords them.

4. Playfulness

All work and no play made Jack a dull boy. And it might also make your employees jump ship too.

Sure, we are all adults and professionals here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate some good old fun, especially after yet another soul-crushing meeting.

Having a fun and relaxed corporate culture with an element of “play”, which can span from permitting casual attire to ping pong games and Nerf wars, and from gamification in your Learning Management System to full blown office karaoke parties, can be an important factor in employee retention.

As long as you don’t overdo it, of course, and provided that you allow for employee contributions to your corporate culture, relaxing staff incentives can go a long way to boosting talent retention.

5. Gourmet food

You have probably read all about the private chefs and luxurious employee cafeterias at companies like Google and Facebook, and if you’re anything like me, you probably thought to yourselves: “that’s a company I’d like to work at”.

Well, my point exactly.

See, your employees spend most of their day in the office. Shouldn’t they at least be given something decent and healthy to eat? Compared to the average salary at a company like Google, having a few professional chefs around will hardly make a dent — but their food will surely help convince a lot of their employees that their work perks are great.

As an added staff incentive, you could make sure that the bosses eat there too. It makes it all the more enticing.

The Best Practices for Staff Incentives

In this post, we had a look at several staff incentives and creative ways to motivate employees, with a focus beyond the typical employee reward schemes (bonuses, etc.) and into more unusual approaches.

There are of course many more employee incentive ideas beyond the ones we’ve examined. We tried to focus on proven ideas, popular with modern startups and enterprises, that combine proven but neglected (personal office space) incentives in the workplace with the wilder but strangely successful ones, like unlimited vacation time. How many and which you can implement in your organization is up to you.

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