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Motivating employees can be a touchy subject for many business owners and managers.

It's nice to believe that a 'good job' offering a decent salary and reasonable benefits package will do the trick, but in today's highly-competitive business environment, the truth is that it's more complicated than that.

The devil is often in the details, and motivating employees requires a thoughtful approach to compensation, benefits and perks -- both tangible and intangible. Here are 10 specific things companies can offer employees to keep them motivated.

1. Side projects

A lot of business owners look to high-performing companies like Google when they need ideas, and one of Google's most talked-about policies is that employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time working on side projects. The rationale is simple: not only will employees appreciate being able to indulge in building something of their own, it just might produce a great innovation that the search giant can profit from.

2. A month of doing your own thing

Google's 20% policy may make a lot of sense, but for Jason Fried of 37signals, it has its flaws. "In spirit I like this idea, but usually it’s executed by carving out a day here or a day there – or every Friday, for example – to work on your own projects." So this June, he decided to give his employees a full month to work on a project of their choosing. At the end of June, they'd pitch their creations to the company at large, which could be the start of something bigger. "Hopefully our customers will see the results of some of these pitches over the coming months," Fried wrote.

3. A financial stake in the business

Although it's common for American startups to grant employees equity in its various forms, there are plenty of industries and regions in which this is less common. While equity compensation isn't without its challenges, finding a way to make key employees feel like they have a direct investment in the success of the business can be a significant motivator.

4. Paid, paid vacation

What could be better that taking time off from work to go on vacation? How about a vacation paid for by the company?

A startup named FullContact recently made headlines for publicizing the fact that it will cover a vacation to the tune of $7,500 each year for every employee. There are a few catches though: employees must physically go somewhere, can't work while they're gone and must disconnect from email and social networking. For FullContact's CEO, Bart Lorang, it all boils down to one thing: what's healthy. When employees don't take vacations and disconnect because they mistakenly believe everything is riding on their shoulders, "It’s not good for the employee or the company."

5. A clear career path

For the most talented and hardworking employees, money and benefits are but one part of the equation when it comes to job satisfaction. Another big factor: having a clear idea of where they can go in the future. While this can be somewhat difficult to provide, particularly at early-stage startups that are rapidly growing and evolving, letting employees know that there's room to progress and take on more responsibility can be an important part of keeping them motivated.

At some companies, a clear career path might mean something far more than just a series of promotions. At companies like Square and Redfin, workers with entrepreneurial ambitions are given resources for starting their own companies -- when they're ready. As Glen Kelman, Redfin's CEO put it, "It helps people stay but also helps them to go."

6. Serious hardware

It may seem like a no-brainer, but one of the ways many technology companies sweeten the deal for new employees is by giving them the ability to pick out their own hardware, expensive as that may be. It was a good idea when this first became popular, and it's a good idea today.

7. Telecommuting

Telecommuting may not be the best thing for someone looking to get ahead, but one thing is for sure: research has shown that plenty of individuals would like the ability to telecommute and many would even give up a portion of their salary for the privilege. And there's good reason for companies to consider it: a Cisco study found that telecommuting can raise productivity and job satisfaction.

8. Flexible schedules

Even if telecommuting isn't viable, giving employees the opportunity to set their own schedules is one way companies can keep their employees happy. Obviously, this presents some challenges, particularly when employees are part of functional teams, but work-life balance is important and in industries (like tech) where coding late into the night isn't unheard of, making it okay for an employee to come in a little bit later or a little bit earlier can go a long way.

9. Catered lunches

Is the fastest way to an employee's heart through the stomach? In cities like San Francisco, a growing number of companies seem to think it may be. While most businesses can't build on-site cafeterias and restaurants like the Googles and Facebooks of the world, services like Cater2.me and ZeroCater are building interesting businesses of their own helping companies with as few as a dozen employees serve up hot meals from local dining establishments.

10. Meaningful work

Companies can compensate their employees well, throw perks at them, and bend over backwards to make them happy, but at the end of the day, one of the best ways to keep employees motivated is to ensure that their work is meaningful to them. If it isn't, all of the other stuff won't be enough to keep them looking forward to Monday, or from looking for another job.

Patricio Robles

Published 23 July, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

Definitely some good ideas, it's great to work in an industry where this sort of thing can happen. One more idea:

11. Competitions - we have a few different ones at Koozai and they're great for getting us motivated for different things, especially as they have good prizes.

over 4 years ago

Johan de Keulenaer

Johan de Keulenaer, Senior Director - Business Consultancy at These Days

Nothing to disagree, but curious how much of this is happening in European tech companies or digital agencies where we can tick of 70-80% of the list. Speak up readers!

over 4 years ago


James Dadd

Connecting employees with customers to let them see the difference your product or service is making is valuable. In short being able to see the fruits of your labour is great and often not done.

over 4 years ago

Nick Andrews

Nick Andrews, Head of Search at Mediarun

Some good ideas here, time to print screen and go visit the boss.. ;)

over 4 years ago


Elena Savvides, International Marketing Manager at Telligent

Totally agree on the telecommuting front – Actually, we conducted a survey recently of UK employees nationwide, which showed
[http://telligent.com/resources/m/white_papers/1353367.aspx], that 66% would use a social tool to improve their productivity” if their employer were to offer it

This will play a vital role for employee motivation and will be interesting to see how companies fair during the summer games. What does everyone else think? Anyone agree?

over 4 years ago


David Greenbrown, Founder at Green Man Projects

Tried all these techniques. Some work for some people, others for other people. Some people need them all, whilst other people are just motivated by life and wonder why you are trying to motivate them further. What I am saying is that it's totally down to the individual, and more often than not, the chemistry between the team.

over 4 years ago

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