A couple of years ago, the story of Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity, a Seattle-based credit card company, and his decision to raise the minimum salary for everyone in his company to $70,000 went viral.

The news coverage caused a frenzy at Gravity…

Thousands of people, including high-level tech executives willing to take drastic pay cuts, applied to work for his company.

Companies all over the world followed suit and gave raises to their employees too, and six-months after the announcement, Gravity’s revenue doubled!

While I was happy for all the people benefiting from this modern-day Robin Hood story, I couldn’t help but ask myself:

“What about all the startups, small companies, and non-profits that simply cannot afford to give substantial raises like these to their employees?”

Money can buy organizations out of many problems, but some organizations simply do not have the capital to use that strategy.

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In this article, I’ll discuss alternative strategies for improving employees’ experiences at work and increasing companies bottom line without the need for millions of dollars of added payroll costs.

Small Changes, Big Impact, No Cost

Many businesses prioritize shareholder value, but new research is showing that if employees are put first they in turn will take care of the customers who will be more satisfied, will buy more, and will in turn increase shareholder value.

So, what free and inexpensive changes can you make to improve your employees’ experiences at work? Consider trying some of the following in your organization:

1. Allow Employees to be Themselves

If you’ve ever been on a Southwest flight you’ve most likely experienced this first hand. Employees have to discuss safety features before the plane takes off but are given the freedom to do so how they choose. Some will add jokes into their safety speech, others will rap it out.

To try this strategy, think about ways that you can let people be themselves in your organization.

Could you allow them to have freedom in their wardrobe or work different schedules instead of the traditional nine to five?

Could your employees have team meetings while taking a walk instead of being in a stuffy conference room?

While you’ll need to stay in alignment with your company’s core values and culture, don’t underestimate the power of small changes and a bit of creativity on your employees’ attitudes towards their work and the organization.

2. Be Transparent

Have you ever learned that someone close to you went through a tough time after the fact?

Often times, surprises like this leave us feeling frustrated and even guilty thinking, “Had I known, I could’ve done more to help.”

The same is true in organizations.

With transparency and trust, you can develop a culture of trust. Furthermore, as organizations become more transparent from the top down, employees may begin to open up and share key insights with their supervisors thus adding value back to the company.

Interested in trying this on for size? Try holding a brainstorming session and sharing a key business challenge with your employees and eliciting honest feedback from them. Another option is to host a semi-annual all-staff meeting where you share the current position of the business with your staff and allow them to ask questions.

Being transparent with employees can seem scary at first, but often times you will find that if they have the whole picture they are able to think through problems and offer advice from angles you are unable to see.

3. Show Appreciation for Their Work Through Recognition

In Tom Rath and Donald Clifton’s book “How Full Is Your Bucket?” they discuss that the majority of people don’t give or receive enough praise. The book discusses Clifton’s theory based on a simple metaphor of a “dipper” and a “bucket.” According to his theory, we all have an invisible bucket that is constantly being emptied or filled by the experiences we have in our life including what others say and do to us.

For example, if others give us a compliment, or appreciate our work, our bucket is filled. If people reprimand us, or make snide remarks our bucket is emptied.

How can you fill your employees’ buckets?

Make sure your recognition is personal, immediate, sincere, specific, based on performance, and comes from an immediate manager or someone that’s held in high regard in the organization.

For example, every week you could have your managers and/or the CEO take 15 minutes out of their day to hand write thank-you cards (with sincere and specific details of what they appreciate) for people in the organization that they felt made a compelling contribution to the company that week. Another inexpensive option is to give people “gold stars” or certificates when they are caught doing something right. All too often people get written-up or “talked to” when they do something wrong, yet positive reinforcement is rarely used. This strategy can help change that and bring more positive experiences to your employees’ lives.


In a perfect world, employees are well-paid, highly engaged and love going to work every day. Unfortunately, we’ve all run into organizations where people are underpaid, highly disengaged, and hate going to work.

If you cannot afford to pay your employees more, then spend some time and energy improving your employees’ experiences at work.

The great news is that companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged employees. They see increases in retention, customer satisfaction, and revenue growth. So even if you don’t have a surplus of money now, taking steps to improve your employees’ experiences at work can be the first step in financial stability, more shareholder value, and raises for everyone in the long run.

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