How to Keep Employees Happy When Bonuses Don’t

Picture this: There’s a person on your team who’s just been killing it. Amazing productivity, stellar performance, and quality work overall. You want to reward them for a job well-done, so you call them into your office and present them with … a bonus. Their excited expression dims just a bit, and two weeks later, they give their notice, letting you know they’ve decided to accept a position elsewhere. You might think What did I do wrong?

Workers move out to move up

It’s been a few years since most of us felt the sting of the Great Recession, and unemployment rates are at an 18-year low. Most folks are making more now than they were just a few years ago, but according to a recent survey by QuickBooks Payroll, those rising wages aren’t going up fast enough.

When asked if their pay has kept up with their cost of living, 65 percent of survey respondents said no. That’s tough for employees and employers alike, especially since half of the respondents still felt they were being paid fairly for the work they do. On the flip side, half did not.

When asked if they planned on sticking around, 43 percent said they were likely to leave their job within the next two years, and that’s despite being happy with the work. Just 24 percent of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their job.

If correlation denotes causation, it’s possible workers aren’t getting the pay they need to live the life they want. So despite enjoying their job, their team, or even their company’s culture, they might think the only way they can achieve that higher paycheck is to find a better paying post elsewhere.

What’s better than a bonus?

The good news is many employers are aware of the gap, and they’re willing to put their money where the talent is. Among those employees surveyed by QuickBooks, 74 percent said they’d had a pay raise this year. Twenty-three percent said they were eligible for a bonus.

But as it turns out, bonuses aren’t as coveted as they once were. Sometimes they can actually work against employers. More than 1 in 4 survey respondents (28 percent) said they thought their employer used bonuses to keep base pay low. And that poor perception can damage a reputation and retention.

So what do workers want instead?

If survey results speak for the whole, most workers really want more flexibility and better base pay. They also might want a challenge.

These were the top three reasons workers gave for leaving their current job:

  1. For better career opportunities (perhaps more responsibility and power).
  2. For better pay (this one speaks for itself).
  3. To reduce stress (think the opportunity to work from home, to come in late or leave early, and a better work-life balance overall).

When asked what benefit they wanted most, 76 percent of respondents said they wanted a flexible work schedule. Just 18 percent said they were already getting this.

A better way to reward good work

That data says two things. The first is if a company doesn’t have the money to pay its workers more, offering a flexible work schedule could be an enticing alternative.

The second is that offering workers more flexibility may be an easy win. If fewer than 1 in 5 employees is currently being offered a flexible schedule, providing such a benefit could put your company head and shoulders above the competition. Retain talent without overextending the company financially! It’s a win-win-win for employees, employers, and HR reps looking to innovate.

**This guest post was provided by our friends at TSheets by Quickbooks.

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Danielle Higley is a copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking and scheduling solution. She has a BA in English literature and has spent her career writing and editing marketing materials for small businesses. She recently started an editorial consulting company.