Making Cents: Inexpensive ways to say thank you

John P. Napolitano

Now that lavish holiday gatherings, bonuses and other costly expressions of gratitude for employees are unaffordable for many small firms, employers should consider other ways to express their thanks.

Many small-business owners do not realize there may be things that employees value more than money. One of the most commonly requested noncash benefits is more time off, flex time or the ability to work from home now and then.

Other inexpensive forms of recognition may include new titles, an upgrade to an office or cube, and the arrangement of personal services such as dry-cleaning pickup or car-clearing services for when it snows during the workday.

The company can decide to implement an employee-paid long-term care insurance program or after-tax 529 contributions. The employer would not be required to contribute to the cost or benefit but is merely making the opportunity available to the employees.

What about a holiday party at an employee's home with the meal served potluck-style? In my 30-plus years of going to company holiday parties, the most memorable ones were always done this way.

Today many of us expect to hear the wage freeze language in our annual reviews, but your boss can be a leader at making the company profitable by creating an incentive compensation plan. So instead of bickering with employees about a raise, simply lay out exactly what it would take to achieve that desired pay increase. Doing this is not as easy as it sounds, but if you can find a good blend of performance metrics, everyone will walk away satisfied.

Are you the type of business owner who always needs to make the final decision? If so, find a way to stop that. Employees need some authority. One fun way to grant authority is to give an employee flexibility in deciding which clients they want to work with. Some firms have even given the employees the authority to fire at least one pain-in-the-butt client.

Many successful businesses use some combination of free and low-cost tools to keep morale as high as possible. Maybe this year you are looking for freebies because you have to. But if you do a great job at the freebies, there may be enough cash in the till next year to spice it up with some financial rewards.

John P. Napolitano is the CEO of U.S. Wealth Management in Braintree, Mass. He may be reached For online discussion and more information, go to