For many companies, financial reward for top performers is not a viable option at the moment. After an extended period of uncertainty, there’s not much money in the pot and business leaders are treading cautiously. So how can you show your people that you value their work and commitment?

The good news is that money isn’t everything. Recent research by Ayelet Fishbach at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that “usually people aren’t happy because they aren’t intrinsically motivated.” Yes, people want to increase their salary and climb the ladder but, more importantly, they want to feel good about going to work, have something exciting to do, and enjoy their co-workers.

If you have typically relied on extrinsic motivators, such as commission, cash bonuses, fringe benefits and raises, now could be the ideal time to redesign your reward structure. A well-designed intrinsic reward system should help boost employee performance and productivity at work and stop people from walking away. Here are some tried and tested approaches to consider. Many are free, and none will break the bank.

Provide positive reinforcement

It can be easy to overlook good work, especially if an individual consistently performs well in their job. Make a point of regularly showing your appreciation, in one-on-one meetings, emails or team get-togethers. While some people may bask in quiet praise, others will thrive when the announcement is made in front of others.

Empower your people

Give individuals more say in what they do every day. Consult with them and ask what they enjoy doing or what responsibilities or projects they would like to take on. Tailor their role so it maximises their knowledge, skills, abilities and interests, and support them to set challenging goals for themselves. You could also tweak their job title so it more accurately reflects the work they are doing.

Be flexible

Allowing your people to work autonomously and flexibly is a clear sign of respect for their work ethic. You are also acknowledging that everyone juggles multiple responsibilities, both at work and outside it. Perhaps you could implement flexible hours in the workplace or allow individuals to work from home once a week. Or surprise them with an extra half-day of leave.

Check-in regularly

At least once a week, make the time to sit down and chat with your people on a one-on-one basis. This is a great opportunity to ask how individuals are travelling and deal with any issues. It is also the chance to ask for their feedback and ideas. Your people will appreciate you taking the time to check in with them, especially if you follow up on their concerns and ideas.

Offer learning opportunities

External courses can be costly, so why not consider internal learning opportunities that respond to an individual’s wants and needs. You could buddy them up with a senior member of your team, or subject matter expert in the organisation. Another option is to look into government-subsidised courses or MOOCs. For information on short online courses, including MOOCs, take a look at our recent article.

Treat them!

A box of doughnuts or a basket of snacks in the staff kitchen won’t create a hole in your wallet. But they will no doubt be a big hit in your team (and not just a sugary one), especially if accompanied with a personalised “thank you” message for their hard work.

As with anything new, an intrinsic reward system may not find immediate favour with your people. Give it time! If you have designed a clear structure that can be tailored to individual requirements – and implemented it with consistency and commitment – you may find that it soon pays dividends.

What non-financial incentives do you use to motivate and reward your people? We would love to hear your ideas.